CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Why would a 36-year-old mother of four want to join the rough-and-tumble world of roller derby?
It was a silly question, really, considering Franny Lawrence-Walker was at home last week on Piccadilly Street with four children under age 9 and three dogs.
"I needed an outlet," she said. "It turned out to be the greatest thing for me. It's exciting, fun. I go for the exercise."
And the stay-at-home mom gets out of the house for two hours, three times a week to practice as a blocker for the Heart of Appalachia Roller Derby team, known as H.A.R.D.
H.A.R.D. is an amateur athletic and social group that is involved in community events. For instance, it's a tradition to donate proceeds from each home bout to a charity.
Franny's recommendation that the Childhood Language Center be the beneficiary of its July 28 bout was adopted by the members of the flat track roller derby team.
Franny has two special-needs children. Her 8-year-old son, Damian, has Asperger's syndrome. Luke, one of her 4-year-old twins, has been diagnosed with mild to moderate autism.
Luke has been a client at the Childhood Language Center for about a year. His parents have seen much improvement from the weekly 30-minute sessions.
Franny said Luke was late in speaking and, even then, was not consistent. He would say some words then stop using them. Franny wasn't much help. She has had a severe hearing impairment since childhood.
She said she understood the struggles children with special needs go through, even more so now that she has two autistic sons.
"We understand the importance of early intervention," she said of herself and husband, Shane.