As our season at Duke City Roller Derby comes to a close, we're celebrating with a skater who has served as co-captain, jammer, blocker, and story-teller extraordinaire. Join us as we learn more about everyone's favorite "blammer" (and tank!), Fighting Girlfriend.
Your derby name sparks a lot of conversations - tell us about that?
Fighting Girlfriend was the name of a tank that was driven by a Soviet woman named Mariya Oktyabrskaya during World War II. She got to name the tank because, after her husband died in the war, she sold everything she had, bought a T-34 tank, and donated it to the Red Army. She asked if she could please drive the tank and if she could call it Fighting Girlfriend. She was pretty much allowed to do so as a publicity stunt, but she was also AWESOME at tank driving, and was quickly promoted to Sergeant. She ended up getting the Hero of the Soviet Union award, which is their highest military honor. (I love talking about her, and other WWII stories, so hit me up, everybody!)
I like to say that tanks are my spirit animal, because they’re strong and heavy and unstoppable. It kind of matches my derby style—I tend to power through instead of going around, and I’m really bad at jumping.
"Science," or "SCIENCE!"? What's your day job?
I’m a mechanical engineer. I spent four years working on nuclear reactors for the Navy. Now I run hazard analyses and risk assessments for DoE experiments here in Albuquerque. I get to work with particle accelerators and wind turbines, so that’s neat. I’m SLOWLY working on a master’s degree in Systems Engineering. I’m obsessed with space, and octopuses, and alternative energy. Science!
You played hockey for ten years. Can you tell us how that's influenced your derby style and perhaps some of the not-so-obvious challenges in changing from inline skates to quads?
It took me a while to figure out that in derby, stopping is just as important and often much more important than going the fastest. And of course, stopping in quad skates is completely different than stopping in inline skates, so that was a learning curve. I’m right-handed, so as a hockey player I was always leaning to the right. Playing flat track derby and skating counter-clockwise means that now I’m always leaning to the left. I joke that I’m trying to straighten out my back from all those years playing hockey, but honestly? Whenever we do reverse-direction drills, my back immediately starts aching, so maybe there’s some truth to all that.
Who is your derby idol and why?
I love many roller derby athletes, but Freight Train is my current favorite. She’s so strong and so fast. It’s incredibly exciting to see her smash into people! She also starts jams by standing straight up on the line until the whistle blows. You don’t see a lot of other jammers doing that, and it inspires me because the old derby mantra of “get lower” isn’t true for all situations. We’re all different skaters!
I also love all these jammers-turned-pivots that are playing for highly-ranked teams. Any big strong lady who is great at blocking and also great at jamming, who can take a star pass and complete scoring laps, who forces the lead jammer to call it because she’s such a threat as a backup jammer is so inspiring. They are such assets to their teams.
You've been a core jammer for the Muñecas, but you're also a very skilled blocker. Do you have a preference for one over the other?
The positions are so different and lovely in their own ways. I love flinging my body against my opponents as a jammer. I love thinking of the opposing blockers as points, and problem-solving to collect points for my team. I love feeling unstoppable. I especially love knocking people over! But I also love feeling like a big, strong, immovable mountain as a blocker. There’s something very meaningful about literally holding my friends up on their feet, or taking a hit to give my jammer an opportunity to escape. When blockers lose an opposing jammer, they’ve got about ten seconds to reset, adjust, and face her again, and that fast turnaround between “failure” and another attempt is difficult but very satisfying. In either position, it’s possible to have big, obvious victories, but sometimes you also have to search for small successes when the game gets tough. I just love everything about roller derby, and I’ll play any position I can for as long as I can!
Can you tell me about your cats?
I have a big, young, black cat named Katniss Everdeen (derby name Join the Blockingjay, #D13) and a small, old, tabby cat named Mommy Cat (derby name Whozya Mama, #004). Katniss is tougher, but oh man does Mommy have a devastating game face. I’m a pretty new cat owner—I’ve only had them both for about a year and a half, but I’m obsessed with them, obviously.
Which part of roller derby is your favorite?
My favorite thing about roller derby is that it’s so different from the mindset that our culture trains women to adopt. Rolling out onto the track with the intention to take up spaceand not let anyone shove you around is an immediate reversal from most situations women experience. Working out with the goal of making my body stronger for myself and for my teammates, as opposed to making my body nicer-looking and more acceptable to society, is brain-changing. I like saying that roller derby is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, because it’s true!
My second-favorite thing is that roller derby really is a sport for all kinds of body types. One of the first derby lessons I learned was DO NOT make assumptions about people’s abilities based on who they are or how they look: I’ve met tiny women who can knock me down, large women who fly past me in a race, and much older or much younger women with the skills of my dreams. I love that people of all types and backgrounds can succeed in our sport.
What is your favorite derby story?
In 2016 at the Classic City Crush in Athens, Georgia, the Muñecas played four games, more than any other team at the event. We kept winning, but the games got progressively harder. Our final game was the last of the weekend, against the home team, and it was close, and we were exhausted. We figured we had one jam left, and we were up by seven. It was my turn to jam, but my teammate Meep Meep had been on fire all weekend, so I asked her if she wanted the last jam. She said, “Nah, you got this.” I got lead, got a track cut for cutting my own teammates, went to the box thinking I’d lost the game, and finished what had become a two-minute jam. We won by ten. All of the exhaustion and emotions of the weekend hit me at once and I skated back to the bench, just WEEPING, and we all shared a big, mushy, sweaty, boogery, gross group hug. The opportunity to finish the game as a first-season jammer meant the world to me, and I was so relieved that I hadn’t blown it!