by Beth Stauffer

“Mommy, help me!” called out a little dark haired girl from the end of the Schnelker Park playground on a warm afternoon in early September.  Two year old Julia crouched down, touching where the swinging bridge started with her little hand, her pastel sundress rippling in the breeze.

On her face she wore a troubled expression.

From a nearby bench, her mother hustled underneath the tunnel slide to where her daughter stood.  “What’s the matter?” she asked.

Melissa Greenwood and her biggest fan, daughter Julia

“Mommy, I’m scared!  It MOVES!” Julia replied, pointing at the bridge.

Julia’s mom, New Haven native Melissa Greenwood, simply holds out a hand for her daughter to hold.  Julia latches on to her hand and gingerly steps on to the bridge, taking one timid step after another until she reaches the other side.

Then, she proudly proclaims, “I did it!”

When your mom is a Fort Wayne Derby Girl like Julia’s is, not even the terrifying-to-a-2-year-old swinging bridge at Schnelker Park is unconquerable.

Long before Melissa Greenwood became mom to adorable little Julia and an official member of the Fort Wayne Derby Girls, she was your typical New Haven girl honing her mad skating skills at Bells Skating Rink during school skating parties and open skates.

Greenwood, the daughter of Carolyn Deweese and Ernie Greenwood (both of New Haven), recalls her childhood days at Bells, and Mr. John Dunlap, the owner of Bells, with fondness.

“I grew up at Bells,” Greenwood remembered with a smile during our interview on September 6th.  “I’ve always been a skater and loved it!”

Yet, like little girls do, Greenwood grew up and left her skating days behind.  After spending some time living in Tennessee, Greenwood returned to Northeast Indiana in 2007 and saw her friend Jamie Tyler (aka “Maddy Warbucks”) skating with the Fort Wayne Derby Girls.

Right away, Greenwood was drawn to the sport.

“I saw Jamie being a Derby Girl and thought it would be so awesome to be able to do it,” said Greenwood.

At first, however, she wasn’t quite sure about the intense physicality of being Derby Girl.

Greenwood had experienced both a broken jaw and a broken arm in the past and wasn’t keen on repeating either. Then, in 2009 Greenwood became pregnant with Julia, and as any mother knows, the first three years after a baby is born is, well, exhausting.  With Julia turning 3 on September 12th, Greenwood said she came to the realization that she needed to do something simply for herself.

“I’m a mom.  I’m an employee.  I’m an administrator.  The question was, ‘What does Melissa do?’” said Greenwood.

The answer had been in the back of her mind all along:  try out for the Fort Wayne Derby Girls.

“Becoming a Derby Girl wasn’t about getting  the name recognition or about the whole going out and hurting people thing,” said Greenwood with a laugh, “I just really wanted to be out there again on skates while being active and getting involved in the community.”

Melissa Greenwood relaxes for a moment in the final Derby Girls Boot Camp

Indeed, the match between the Fort Wayne Derby Girls and Melissa Greenwood is, in many ways, a match made in heaven.  Greenwood has a big heart for giving back to the community, as she is a founder and administrator for the Helping Neighbors Fort Wayne group that collects donations from the community and gives the items back to those in need.  The Derby Girls, on the other hand, have donated more than $100,000 to charitable organizations in Northeast Indiana since 2005.

Greenwood also recently successfully participated in Season 6 of the Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner in the Public Division.  She credits her involvement in the program with being able to try out for and be accepted into the Fort Wayne Derby Girls team.

“The only reason I’m able to be a Derby Girl is because of my involvement with Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner.  I did not make the cut as a contestant, so I opted to be a part of the public division which included a 3 month membership to Spiece Fitness,” said Greenwood.  “I made full use of the membership and was in Spiece all the time working out.  I lost over 30 pounds and I feel so much better having lost that weight!”

Becoming a Fort Wayne Derby Girl is a dream come true for Greenwood, but she is equally excited about some of the smaller victories she has achieved this past year as well.  “Being able to bend over and tie my shoes now without running out of breath is great!” she said with a smile.  “Seriously though, being able to run the Fort for Fitness this fall, running 13.1 miles, is exciting because I know I’ll be able to finish that.  I’ve done two 5Ks this year, and my daughter got to do one with me, which was a lot of fun.  Of course, I had to carry her on my hip and my shoulder and every which way, but it was awesome!” adds Greenwood.

While Greenwood says that the fitness aspect was obviously a very important part of getting in shape to try out for the Derby Girls, she is quick to point out that the nutrition component of her new lifestyle is just as important; and not just to her, but to her daughter, Julia, as well.  “I’ve been introducing the nutrition part to my daughter as well as the fitness.  Now she will eat a bowl of fruit or a bowl of vegetables and not even think about candy because candy’s not in our household,” said Greenwood.  “There’s no junk food , no pop in our household.  I don’t want my daughter to end up on Maury Povich.”

In late August, it was clear to me that Greenwood’s commitment to her health and fitness has paid off as I attended Derby Girls Boot Camp try-outs at Bells Skating Rink.  Greenwood, along with more than 8 other Derby Girl wannabes, went thru the paces at the rink during one of the final sessions before cuts were made.

For the record, let me just say that if you’ve ever questioned the validity of Women’s Flat Track Derby Racing as a competitive sport—you should seriously go check out the Fort Wayne Derby Girls Boot Camp before you speak, lest you end up looking like a fool.

These women are athletes in every sense of the word.

Later that night, Greenwood was officially named to the team, although she will have to wait until November to see if she makes it onto the official Derby Girls roster.  “Not everyone is going to make it on the roster right away, but everyone has the hope to and is out their busting their humps trying to get on it,” said Greenwood of the crucial next 8 weeks to work out with the team.  “But I really believe I will be on that roster when the time comes,” she adds with a confident smile.

Until then, Greenwood’s life is filled with moments that are both ordinary and extraordinary.  Take for instance today, which is her daughter Julia’s 3rd birthday.  “Julia saw me getting my skates out and getting them ready, and she decided that she wants a pair for her birthday,” said Greenwood, indicating that she was excited to be able to buy her daughter her first pair of skates for her birthday.  “Hopefully by the time her 4th birthday rolls around, she can have a birthday party Bells!”

This weekend, Greenwood will be busy running around without her skates (although she might very well need them!) at the free Helping Neighbors Fort Wayne Come and Get It from 10am-2pm at 5530 South Calhoun in Fort Wayne.  Free clothing and other items will all be given away for free to those who stop by on a first come, first serve basis.

Then, there are moments that, for Greenwood, will probably live on forever in her heart like the one that she shared that happened on the first night of practice with the Derby Girls.

“I was at practice on Tuesday night, and I was so stoked!   I was like, ’Oh my gosh, the Derby Girls are out there!’  They looked at me and said, ‘You are a Derby Girl.’” said Greenwood, her voice still filled with disbelief.  “It was a surreal moment for me.”

POSTED: 09/12/13 at 6:52 am. FILED UNDER: Entertainment, News, Sports