Public radio and roller derby seem to have about as much in common as chamomile tea and a double shot of espresso, until you sit down to chat with NPR reporter Alex Cohen. Cohen, a.k.a "Axles of Evil" claims they both provide a serious jolt of adrenalin.This roller derby queen fell in love with radio as a journalism student at U.C. Berkeley. She likens the first radio story she ever produced to "giving birth." It was "painful, and it just took forever and I felt like I had no idea what I was doing…I though 'Oh my gosh. This is just horrific, but I can't wait to do it again.'" She loved the idea that her stories were moving people, that they were going home and sharing them with their families, and she was immediately hooked.
Although she skated a lot as a kid, Cohen's other passion, roller derby, wasn't ignited until later, when she was in her thirties. A notorious cheapskate when it came to traveling, Cohen was searching for a story to cover on vacation in Austin, Texas, so she could write off the trip. A friend had a joined a new women's roller derby league in Austin and Cohen thought the roar of the crowd and screech of the wheels could make great radio. She spent the entire week hanging out at practice, interviewing the roller girls, and finally, watching their bout. When it was time to go home to Los Angeles, not only did she have her story, but "a huge hankering to do roller derby."The aim in roller derby is to protect and assist your scoring player, called a "jammer," who gets points by lapping the other team. Cohen acknowledges that it was tough to relearn how to skate for derby, a contact sport, and she says she's taken some "big hits" in the rink. However, she was captivated by the game's spirit of sisterhood. She likens it to a "sorority" drawing "smart, funny women from all walks of life."
Not to mention which, derby is a fantastic stress valve. "When you have had a really cruddy day at work, there is nothing better than being able to come into this space where you can just beat the crap out of someone and the better you do it, the more you are rewarded," quips the petite radio host.Her friends and colleagues weren't as quick to understand the connection between her day job and derby, and wondered if she were participating in some "weird WWF wrestling club." She says, "Everybody else seems to think it's so bizarre because…people have this notion that public radio types are very…pedantic and bookish and…just go home and put on our glasses and sit by the fireplace."
The most exciting episode in Cohen's derby career came when she was asked to be a consultant on the director Drew Barrymore's 2009 film Whip It. Hired to train star Ellen Page, Cohen ended up coaching the cast on everything from skating to how to put on their kneepads correctly. She says the job "exploded from trainer to choreographer to wardrobe consultant." She even wrote lines for the character of the announcer who was played by comedian Jimmy Fallon.Cohen says that taking up roller derby as a career woman in her thirties gave her the chance at "being young and crazy again." Would she recommend it to her baby daughter Eliza when she grows up? "Everyone's certain that she's going to go into derby...I don't know if I'm ready for her to as a mother. Of the two strands of my life, I think I'd much rather have her go into radio and keep both of her legs unbroken."