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Challenges don't jam roller derby mom

Kenny Kemp
Franny Lawrence-Walker, wearing her roller derby team shirt, stands guard while her four children bounce on a trampoline on the deck behind their home. Four-year-old twins Luke and Leia are in the foreground. In the background are Daelyn, 9, and Damian, 8.

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.

Franny has about 20 percent residual hearing. With hearing aids, she hears about 80 percent. She is a skilled lip reader. But she couldn't pick up on the words that Luke spoke spontaneously, so she was unable to encourage him to repeat them and to say them clearly.

Luke is now saying more words, and is more cooperative. She said he "plays" with his speech therapist and is exposed to other children with special needs, although he doesn't really interact with them. "Luke is in his own little world," she said.

In addition to the therapy sessions, the Language Center, at 406 Capitol St., organizes outings, such as ice skating and bowling. This week there's an arts and crafts camp for children at the center.

The Language Center is supported by the Scottish Rite Masons and donations from the community and local corporations to provide speech therapy to children with autism, Asperger's, speech and language disorders and hearing impairment, birth to age 16, free of charge.

"I felt they deserve recognition," Franny said. "It's a wonderful program with excellent staff, and the team members agreed."

H.A.R.D. captain Ariana Kincaid said she was impressed and surprised that the clinic charged no one and operated on donations from the Scottish Rite and others.

Franny said several other team members have children with special needs. She added that her teammates are very patient about her hearing impairment, and make sure she knows what was said and what she needs to do.

About 20 women are on the H.A.R.D. team, which have become like a second family, Franny said. They go as a team wearing their uniforms with their derby names emblazoned on the back of their shirts (Franny's is Franarchy) to walks to raise funds for other charities.

After a year on the track, Franny said her physique has slimmed down and her confidence built up.

The Heart of Appalachia Roller Derby will take on Morgantown Roller Vixens at 7 p.m. July 28 at the Nitro Community Center. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children, and are available online at www.brownpapertickets.com.

An iPad 2 will be raffled off at the event to benefit the Center. Raffle tickets are $1 each, or six for $5 inside the door. Results will be announced on the CLC's Facebook page.

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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