So the figure-skater-turned-roller-derby-girl learned to appreciate kneepads, even if their bulk took some getting used to. "The first time you go down straight on your knees, you're really glad they're there," said Donovan, who is helping bring roller derby into the mainstream.
Since 2007, Donovan has skated for the Bronx Gridlock, one of four teams making up New York's Gotham Girls Roller Derby league.
Donovan, 27, attended her first bout in 2006 as a spectator, along with her fiancé, Brendan Meyer, M.D., '03. The excitement was like nothing she had experienced as a figure skater. People painted their faces and waved signs.
"It was amazing," Donovan said.
When roller derby began making a comeback earlier this decade, the media covered it largely as a campy human-interest story. But the pastime is starting to land on sports pages, even as it retains its playful image.
The women skate under pseudonyms like Raggedy Animal, Lemony Kickit and Surly Temple. They dress in tiaras and fishnet stockings. Rookies are known as "fresh meat."
Donovan goes by Luna Impact, a reference to her day job as a graduate student in astronomy at Columbia University. Her jersey number, 29.5, is the amount of days in a lunar month.
But the Gotham Girls also have rules, referees and committees, which run the nonprofit league as a business. Last year, Donovan chaired the finance committee, but she stepped down so she could focus on defending her graduate thesis this summer. She studies early-type galaxies.
Donovan came to F&M to pursue a degree in international business, but found herself drawn to science after taking an astronomy class.
She ended up majoring in physics with a minor in astronomy. She figure-skatedin roller skatesfor much of her college career. "I'm kind of like the queen of niche sports," Donovan said.
The roller-derby pseudonym allows Donovan to keep her professional life separate, though the two worlds often collide. Fellow astronomers googling her name quickly discover the other side of her personality. Luna Impact has been featured in The New York Times and Reader's Digest.
It's not a side she expects to give up anytime soon. "I like having the costumes. I like the name. I like having a goofy number. It's just fun," Donovan said. "But it doesn't have to mean that we're taken less seriously."