Interview with a Roller Girl

This inaugural post of 2011 is dedicated to everyone who loves Flat Track Roller Derby.  As a woman who longs to don skates, hot pants and an alter ego, I wanted to do an interview with someone who knows the ins & outs of the sport.  Longtime friend, Kim – aka Supersonik! – a REAL LIFE ROLLER GIRL (!!) has graciously agreed to spill her derby beans via this blog.  If you’re curious about roller derby, have wondered what it’s like to be a roller girl, or think you have what it takes to kick ass and be kicked in return, then Friend, this one’s for YOU.

Kim – I mean, Supersonik!  Thanks so much for being a part of The Daily Dish.  Before we get started, first things first.  What team do you play for?  What’s your name & number and do they have any significance?

Photo Credit: Lucas Saugen Photography 2008

I am Supersonik! and I play on the Atomic Bombshells, one of the 4 home teams of the Minnesota RollerGirls. My number is 7 of 9, which comes from the Star Trek Voyager character.  My name Supersonik! was part of an inside joke around the song Elektronik Supersonik by Zlad, a fake rock star from a fake former Eastern Bloc country. Some people get excited thinking that I got my name from the JJ Fad song “Supersonic” and start singing it to me.  In reality, I’m just a big sci-fi dork.  Growing up during the 80s, with my formative years during the Cold War, the Zlad song was extra funny.

What’s your position? Can you briefly describe what that entails?

At home, I play the blocker position. Basically my job is to keep the other team’s
jammer (the person who scores the points for the team) from getting through the pack while clearing a path for our own jammer.  This is where you see a lot of the big hits. When I’ve played on other pick-up type games (i.e. RollerCon) where derby players come from all over the world and theme teams galore spring up, I play all positions.  For instance, I’ve played the pivot (who often sets the pace of the pack and acts as the last line of defense) or the jammer.  These pick-up games have themes, like Star Trek vs Star Wars, Vegetarians vs Meat Eaters (I think we were officially called Lentilly Deranged vs. Meat Curtains), cats vs dogs, diapers vs depends (under 30/ over 30), things like that.  These are just-for-fun games that don’t count for anything.  Last summer, I even played in a clockwise bout!  That was a lot of fun because we always play counterclockwise.

How long have you been involved with roller derby?  How did you get started?  Did you know the rules when you started or did you learn by doing?

I started the second season of our league. That was in 2005.  I’d won tickets to
the first MNRG bout and had remembered watching roller derby on TV when I was a kid, but the event I was at had these girls on roller skates with these
awesome names on their shirts, and I was like, Wow, this seems really cool.  It was NOTHING like what I saw on TV growing up.  For one thing, they were skating on a flat track and not a banked track like in the old days.  And the uniforms were all unique, there was awesome music; it was just a bit mind blowing!  I’d always hated the idea of team sports, partly because the uniforms were so awful.  In roller derby there were women of all shapes and sizes and skating level.  I knew I would be back.  I ran into a friend [at that first bout] and we decided to go roller skating (cuz heck, we both grew up on roller skates) and then came to future bouts.  When we heard they were having tryouts, we both went and made it; it was the hardest 4 hours I have ever been through.

Photo Credit: Peter Worth Dec 2010

I really had no idea what was going on on the track when I first started watching, I just knew that I wanted to be involved. When I started there were only about 5
pages of rules. Leagues around the country (there were only about 10 at the
time) were making it up as they went along. The rules have since been
standardized, as the sport has grown exponentially and playing inter-league games with different rule sets did not really work out too well.  There are over 40
pages of rules now!  And yes, we are tested on them.  If you are interested in learning more about the rules, this is the place to go.  The rules definitely needed to change to ensure the game was safe for all players, with the sorts of scenarios coming up and increased skill level of the skaters.

How much time do you spend practicing? Have you always been a great skater?

We have practice generally 3 times a week, 2 hours at a time.  All-stars have extra
time.  I grew up on ice skates and roller skates so I was okay with making the
transition.

What’s the worst injury you’ve sustained during play?

A few weeks into derby, we learned to do shoulder hits and then were sent out
to play Queen of the Rink [basically a derby version of Last Man Standing, with one remaining player skating in bounds.]  I got hit by a vet skater and landed on my shoulder. The result was a shoulder impingement. I didn’t get it treated right away and it still flares up a bit to this day. In subsequent years we have figured out ways to make it safer for new skaters.  Like I said earlier, in the beginning we were just making things up as we went along, because the re-emergence of the sport was so new.  Today our rookies go through a summer of boot camp to build up skills before they get to be put on a home team. This has been a wonderful way for them to bond and build up the confidence and skills before they get drafted.

Photo Credit: Peter Worth Nov 2010

What’s the best thing about playing roller derby?

I don’t know if I can say just one thing. It’s been awesome for me to learn to
play a team sport, get regular exercise, and meet really fabulous women.  We have a ton of awesome volunteers who keep us running smoothly and fans who support us.  I love the kids who are so excited to be at the bouts.  We now have co-ed junior derby in the twin cities for youngsters interested in becoming future players. It melts my heart when they want my autograph.  It’s strange to have these kids look up to us; I mean I get it, but I never thought I would be in that position.  Playing has also given me the opportunity to develop leadership skills, as our organization is owned and run by the skaters, for the skaters.

What’s the worst thing (if any) about playing roller derby?

I wish we had more public bouts. 🙂

How does your team travel? Are you sponsored? Do you get paid for playing or is it strictly volunteer?

We have a travel team called the All-Stars. They are comprised of skaters from
all 4 home teams. They are the ones that do the inter-league travel and
tournaments that count towards our rankings. This year though, our home teams have had opportunities to travel in the region to play other teams. It’s always a lot of fun to play new and unfamiliar people.  We are very fortunate to have a lot of support with awesome sponsors like PBR.  But we are unpaid athletes. We donate proceeds to charity.

How would you describe yourself? Age? Occupation? What else do you enjoy outside the arena?

I’m 38 and have historically earned my income in the non-profit/government/health care/education sectors. Currently I’m back in school through a great program made to retrain folks in “green” careers.  I’m now involved with starting a Transition Town in my neighborhood, something that’s been really exciting for me.  I tend to have a lot of interests that are all over the board. Off the bat, I can say I’m crazy about cats, organic gardening, low-impact living, science fiction, antiques and traveling. I also like to play tennis and ride my bike, and I want to learn how to sew.

So there you have it, folks.  Roller derby – one of the most empowering sports for women EVER, is growing exponentially and is only getting better.  A sport played by women, with teams owned by the players themselves, who – rather than capitalize on the proceeds, donate it all to charity.  Could it get any better??  My sincere thanks to Supersonik! for allowing me to do this interview, and to both Lucas Saugen & Peter Worth for kindly allowing me to reprint their photographs.

Think you’ve got what it takes?
Watch Supersonik! in MNRG’s 2009 Season Trailer: Bad Mother Rollers.

Neat facts about polar bears & penguins.

Last week I took my younger daughter to the Academy of Natural Sciences here in Philly. It is a nice museum. They have lots of old animals – some stuffed, some just bones. All very cool. They also have a new exhibit all about polar bears and penguins, appropriately called Ends of the Earth: From Polar Bears to Penguins. Since we were there on an afternoon, mid-week, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Which was great. We got to try out all of the new exhibit stuff – lots of computer-interative features, quizzes, videos, and so on. They had a really neat game my daughter loved where you’d push a button and then hit light-up fish on a panel to reach a quota and “feed” your own baby penguin. We played against each other a couple times and of course I won. Mostly b/c I am 5 ft.10 and have super long arms, whereas my 4 yr old daughter is way short with short arms and the coordination of a 4 yr old. As the game is sort of like a light-up version of whack-a-mole (a game I rule as champion and always win at the carnivals), she was none too pleased, b/c she too enjoys a good mole whacking and is pretty darn competitive. Probably something to do with being a younger sibling. So afterward she asked me to join her and we won together, which was altogether more pleasant for her and still fun for me too.

At this new exhibit I learned a great many facts I was surprised I did not already know. I found this surprising since I consider myself a real naturalist type through and through, but who am I kidding. So I am here to tell you some of what I learned so that we may all be smarter together. Isn’t that nice? Yes it is.

Did you know that polar bears are not just big ass scary meat-eating creatures? Me neither. They also do have a gentler side. It is called being a Mommy polar bear. The Daddy polar bears are just the mean flesh-ripping fiercesome types you were imagining. But the moms are really nice – well at least to their young. And that is good. These nice polar bears (and the mean ones too) live only in the Arctic circle. That is at the North Pole for those of you not in the know, around Canada, Siberia, Greenland. Up north. Above here. I think those liars out there who talk about Santa Claus say he also lives at the north pole. But if that were true he would surely get eaten by a polar bear. B/c He is FAT. WAy fatter than those seals. And that huge red suit would just scream TENDER JUICY STEAK!! to a hungry polar bear. But we all know THERE IS NO SANTA. Oh, you didn’t? Oh. I am sorry. …Please stop crying.

Penguins only live in the southern hemisphere. WOW. I did not know this before I went to this exhibit. Sure I knew some penguins were from the southern part of South America – like the Humboldt penguins they have at the Philadelphia zoo, but for some reason the whole “they live ONLY in the Southern Hemisphere,” escaped me. the PAST 34 YEARS. Yes, I do feel dumb. If you think about it – it’s pretty simple. If they lived with the polar bears they would be completely wiped out by now. So they must live where there simply are no polar bears. They still have to contend with the insanely sinister sea lions, but no big furry white bears. Now I am smart.

Unfortunately I let my daughter talk me into taking the computerized knowledge quizzes before we had gone through much of the exhibit and of course I scored poorly. In fact, my daughter did better on those computer quizzes at the Academy of Natural Sciences than I did. And she is 4. I normally would have laughed and thought no more of it, EXCEPT THAT I CAUGHT the exhibit worker guy watching us and witnessing my stupidity. Initially I spied him standing behind us, then once he noticed I had noticed him watching he went and courteously stood behind a pole still watching, but at least being slightly more discreet. Not like when I caught my plumber checking out my butt – YEAH YOU KNOW HE WAS – but then he still charged us over $1800 and did not take off a deduction for his eyeball ass grabs, which you KNOW he should have. Anyway, the exhibit man came over to us later and was trying to explain some facts to me since he believed I was slow. Which I didn’t appreciate. When you have been outplayed on a quiz TWICE by a 4 yr old, an adult’s demoralizing condescension IS NOT WELCOME. Oh well. You will be glad to know I do not feel stupid anymore. Thanks to that great exhibit and the nosy exhibit guy, I will never forget the whole northern vs. southern hemisphere thing. And now, neither will you.