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New Port Richey retirees were big names in roller derby world

NEW PORT RICHEY

Lenny and Gloria Murro have the kinds of photos you'd expect to find at any proud grandparent's house. Their walls and tables are covered with pictures of their six children, 11 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren. And beside them are pictures of the Murros in younger days, wearing roller skates and speeding past opponents on a sharply contoured derby track. "Gloria and I were big stars of the roller derby," Lenny, 81, said with a smile.

Indeed, when Lenny "Suicide" Murro met Gloria "The Body" Hager in 1949, the two were racing as part of the Brooklyn Red Devils, a nationally touring roller derby team that performed everywhere from Madison Square Garden to San Francisco's Cow Palace.

"I took one look at Gloria and told a friend of mine, 'I'm gonna marry that girl,' " said Lenny.

Lenny made good on that promise six months later, and for the next nine years the couple skated their way through the adventure of a lifetime.

"I was the craziest kid out there on the track," said Lenny.

"And we gals could hold our own against the guys," Gloria added.

The couple shared a love for skating that dated back to early youth. Lenny was a New Jersey street skater who went on to become a U.S. speed skating champion, listed in the World Almanac Book of Records. In 1951, he was named Rookie of the Year in the roller derby field at the old Madison Square Garden in New York City.

"Some of the cops who busted me for street skating later paid to see me skate in shows," he said.

Gloria, for her part, never got in trouble for skating — but the Chicago native was at one point leery of the possibility.

"I was discovered at a roller rink when I was 18," she said. "I was skating with some friends when the manager called us over.

"I was afraid he was going to throw us out. Instead he asked us if we wanted to join the roller derby."

Soon the Murros were skating their way across the country, participating in shows and championships, posing for promotional photos (Gloria's tasteful pinup shot adorned the cover of many an event program), meeting celebrities that included Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, being interviewed for the pages of major New York newspapers, and making promo appearances that included surprise visits to patients at children's hospitals.

"I guess we were considered celebrities," said Lenny, "but we were just kids having fun."

By the time the couple left the roller derby circuit in 1959, they had three children. They settled in New Jersey, turning down an offer to skate in Europe to make a new home for their growing family.

Lenny Murro became a commercial painter and a mixologist at the Ciba-Geigy pharmaceutical company in Summit, N.J.; Gloria Murro became a homemaker and exercise instructor. And in 1981, during a visit to one of their daughters in California, she was a contestant on The Price is Right game show.

They retired in 1987 and moved to Florida, where a couple of their children live. Yet, as always they are not content to rest on their laurels.

Gloria, now 82, is an avid student at Suzanne Carlson's Jazzercise class at the New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center.

"Jazzercise helps me stay fit," she said. "I can do pushups now!"

She is also vice president of the Suncoast Women's Bowling Association and is a member of two other bowling leagues.

Lenny bicycles on a regular basis, sometimes riding all the way to Spring Hill. He enjoys golfing and is a member of the Knights of Columbus Council 5869 of Port Richey.

They are members of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church and love to travel.

And the two have been known to dust off their roller skates for a good cause.

"We recently met with a group of kids that's trying to start a roller derby team here locally," Lenny said. Then, with an affectionate nod toward Gloria, he added: "My wife put on her skates and showed 'em how it's done."

New Port Richey retirees were big names in roller derby world 03/15/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 15, 2013 6:30pm]
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