Gary Powers wakes up every day in a museum. Located in New York, his home is host to the National Roller Derby Hall of Fame and Museum, which opened in 2004 and is perhaps the largest collection of original roller derby memorabilia out there.
His collection consists of about 5,000 jerseys, skates, pennants, media, programs and more, which he shares with fans by appointment.
Powers built his first campaign, the Roller Derby Foundation, in late 2000, and launched its eponymous eBay Store two years later as a way to give back to the sport's legendary skaters who provided hope to millions of fans around the world through their athleticism and courage.
And he should know. In 1969, when Powers was three weeks away from being 12 years old, his father died from a heart attack, leaving the young man with a broken heart and a downward spiral into a deep depression. It was the weekly roller derby broadcasts on television that helped him find hope again.
"From the moment I first saw those amazing athletes whizzing 'round the curved skating surface on TV, the color and excitement of the game, the competition and theatricality of it all, I was immediately hooked," Powers says.
In many ways, both simple and profound, roller derby was about hope and fighting for a better life
Roller derby captivates and inspires
Every week, Powers watched teams like the Philadelphia Warriors and San Francisco Bay Bombers whir around the rink in what he says was an emotional tug-of-war, fight-to-the finish competition.
There was a good-versus-evil component, which Chicago entrepreneur Leo Seltzer had captured to transform the game into the Transcontinental Roller Derby in 1935, Powers says. Sportswriter Damon Runyon helped the game evolve further when he noted fans' reactions to bodily contact on the rink.
In short, Powers believes fans across the globe, some broken and battered by life's various obstacles, found an outlet in these performances.
"In many ways, both simple and profound, roller derby was about hope and fighting for a better life," Powers says.
For a season in time, the sport had the nation captivated. Skaters like Midge "Toughie" Brasuhn, Gerry Murray, Johnnie Rosasco, Ann Calvello and several more were inducted into the first Roller Derby Hall of Fame between 1952 and 1973. From then on, the sport had its own tug-of-war to stay alive during the final decades of the 20th century, but fans remained hopeful.
Powers dreamed of being a skater in the roller derby himself. As a teen, he worked on his speed skating and form.
"It's all I thought about, until one day at a live game I saw a female skater get hurt," Powers says.
He went to visit her in the hospital, and it was then he finally realized he, too, could risk severe injury as a skater. Regardless of whether he'd still pursue his dream, the roller derby sport had ended by the time he graduated high school.
eBay has helped me connect to people all around the world. Over the past 13 years we have assisted numerous former skaters in a variety of ways
In 1997, Powers was rattled by the death of former skater Joanie Weston. At the time, the World Wide Web was only a few years old, but Powers says he used it to connect with other fans dealing with the loss of the "legendary skater" and to find the whereabouts of the rest of the teams.
Giving hope to childhood heroes
This connection and support led Powers to form fundraisers benefitting those early skaters and allowing fans to meet their childhood heroes. By selling memorabilia through the Roller Derby Foundation store on eBay, Powers raises funds to assist the former skaters who are now in their sixties to eighties and have "fallen on hard times," Powers says. He provides them with cash grants, phone cards, plane tickets and more.
Whatever it takes to help improve their quality of life, he adds.
"eBay has helped me connect to people all around the world," the eBay seller notes. "Over the past 13 years we have assisted numerous former skaters in a variety of ways."
Powers has also hosted parties across the U.S., allowing fans an opportunity to express the impact those skaters had on their lives, and giving the skaters a chance to relive the glory days of their youth, he reports.
Since his passion for the sport rekindled in 1997, Powers has formed friendships with many of his roller heroes. He continues to keep the history alive and raise funds by selling mid-century programs, magazines, DVD broadcasts of the sport and other paraphernalia.
Today, roller derby continues to make scuff marks on rinks across the country, but it's those first skaters and mid-century fans who laid the foundation and left a trail of grateful devotees.
Visit the Roller Derby Foundation eBay Store.