April 11, 2012
As co-founder of one of WFTDA’s newest member leagues, Bear City Roller Derby, and one of the organizers of the annual European Roller Derby Conference (EROC), this transplanted American has made quite an impact on European roller derby. She is also a passionate, aggressive skater and coach, training not only Bear City but also teams around Europe. When not skating, she runs the first brick and mortar roller derby store in Berlin. Read on to learn more about Master Blaster…
Derby name: Master Blaster
Home league: Bear City Roller Derby
Home team you play for: I'm on our charter team, the Berlin Bombshells, and play at home with the Kreuzberg CosmoKnocks.
What is your roller derby playing position of choice?
Oh, I'm all over the place. I'll go wherever I'm needed as long as I get to play.
What is your skate gear of choice?
I'm not sponsored and I don't do free advertising. That being said, there is so much great gear out there and it keeps getting better. Quality gear won't make the skater, but it will give you that extra edge.
Do you have a pre-bout ritual?
I look in the mirror and flex my muscles, and then I laugh. I walk my dog and order all my thoughts for the day. I go to my shop and take care of visiting skaters. I go to the venue as early as I can to welcome my team and be available to them. I let them distract me from over thinking.
What do you think about when you're lacing up your skates?
I don't think. I listen to my team chatter. I can get a good impression of where our heads are at by the tone and feelings they emanate when we gear up. If they're happy, we're good. If they're frantic, we need to focus a bit in warm up. If they're quiet, we need to pump up. I've spent so much time as coach and captain, my team has kind of become my brain.
Do you have a motivational quote?
“Show me a guy who is afraid to look bad and I'll show you a guy I can beat every time.” -- Lou Brock
Do you have a theme song?
“Don't Stop Me Now” from Queen (I have famously horrible taste in music).
What is your favorite derby moment?
Our league being accepted to the WFTDA as a member league.
How did you get involved with roller derby?
I was a fan for years in the States. I lived in Oakland, California and used to go watch the B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls bout. I thought about trying out, but never had the time. When I moved to Berlin, a friend had seen a bout while visiting the States and wanted to start a team. I was pretty reluctant at first, but remembered I was new to the city, didn't speak the language and didn't know anyone. So I went for it.
Any advice for girls who want to join roller derby?
Do it. Roller derby can make you a better person if you let it. I know that sounds a little over the top, so I'll explain. The team element will make you more patient and more compassionate. The time requirements will reveal what is really important in your life and what you will not sacrifice. You can learn to be goal oriented and improve your communication skills. You can discover the difference between a boundary and a limit, learning to set boundaries and grow past your limits.
How did you choose your derby name?
Two men enter, one man leaves.
Who are your derby heroes?
In derbydom: The newbie skaters who show up to a tryout alone. The NSOs who do this because they love it.
Officials: Dr. NoNo, our head ref whose love of derby is inspiring and Camp David of the London Rollergirls who serves as an example to everyone lucky enough to work with him. Euro refs in general get kudos for struggling through the language barriers together.
Skaters: All of them for showing up everyday to make this happen. You astonish and awe me in what we achieve.
How would you describe your derby playing style?
Hmm…aggressive and patient. Also, annoying, imprecise, intense.
Do you have a signature move?
Punching your guts out with my behind.
What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
I played basketball for years as a kid and raced long distance running through school. Then I went to art school…
What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
Last year we played a closed door bout against London Brawling and had an amazing game with a respectable score. Our team held its own, and as a skater I was able to see how I held up against a new caliber of opponent. We had been working so hard toward this game, to have that work pay off and provide us with a clear plan of where to go next gave us everything we've needed for 2012.
Off the track?
Whoo, helping to found the league in 2008; organizing and moderating the first EROC in 2009; organizing the first German roller derby tournament, ROLL DMC, in 2010; organizing and moderating the second EROC in 2011; being accepted to the WFTDA Apprentice Program in 2011; graduating and gaining WFTDA membership this year; organizing and moderating the third EROC in 2012; opening my shop, QUAD Roller Skate Shop.
Can you talk a bit about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby?
Can you say DIY? If you like me, you would describe me as confident. People who don't like me describe me as pushy and controlling. When we decided to start the league I knew I wanted to play a central role and since no one believed they could do it, I became the head trainer. Having never really skated and not understanding the game, I went online and gave myself a crash course with all the information I could scrape together. I couldn't speak German, so I began to learn how to break down skills visually and find creative ways to describe what I wanted to see from my skaters (I still train in English, mainly because I'm lazy). Then it was about dedicating myself to finding materials and resources, learning to teach material when I could barely skate myself.
We had a bit of a culture clash at the beginning. I came from a background of competitive sports, which means an expectation of mental intensity and desire to win built into me by my cultural makeup. The Germans don't have that (excuse the broad generalization). They do not grow up in school doing competitive sports the same way we do in the States, so we spent the first year redefining expectations and learning to embrace competition.
The cultural understanding of athletics here simply does not push competition as a key principle. Americans play sports competitively in gym class, the Germans play sports for fun in gym class. It's not that competition doesn't exist, but you have to sign up for it. Most people don't. That desire to win isn't a part of how kids are raised here, and as adults the skaters in the team had difficulty understanding how I could be so competitive and intense at training. It wasn't a backlash of thinking it was dumb or "jockish," they just really couldn't relate.
So we worked through it and nothing teaches competitiveness like the thrill of winning and the roller coaster of loss. As we started to experience both those things as a team, competition as a concept became less foreign, and we moved on.
Your league, Bear City Roller Derby of Berlin, Germany, has recently graduated to full WFTDA membership. Congratulations! As the co-founder and current coach for Bear City Roller Derby, can you speak a bit about why it was important to your league to become a WFTDA member league?
We were actually working on our application for WFTDA membership in 2009. We had received a transfer skater, Diane Rott, from the B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls, who brought with her a wealth of knowledge and experience, both on and off track. She really opened our eyes about what it means to be part of the derby community and the importance of giving back to it. We started talking about how we were using the WFTDA rule set, using all the officiating best practices, using every bit of information we could get our hands on, and realized that we weren't interested in just consuming, we wanted to give back and participate.
It took until 2010 to get to a point where the application was ready, and during this time we had also changed our perspective in how we approached our goals as a league, by taking on a leadership role for European roller derby in general. For me, being a part of the development of the WFTDA is just as relevant as being a part of the development of European derby.
What were the challenges associated with becoming a WFTDA member league? (For example, your relatively remote location in relation to other member leagues.)
Not many. The London Rollergirls were able to come out and give us our two “mock sanctioned” bouts without much trouble. The challenges really stemmed from attempting to meet the requirements of the WFTDA’s current systems. Things that seem commonplace in the States, aren't here or don't have an equivalent.
For example, when we were getting the documents together for our AP application, we had to make copies of each skater's ID. In the States, you show your ID for everything, but in Germany that is really uncommon. Most skaters wanted to know why this was needed. When we had to get the application notarized, that just didn't match up. In the States you can get something notarized at the Post Office. A notary here is on the level of a government lawyer and notarizations are like getting law consultation for hundreds of euros. So we had to find the actual German equivalent, a 'Beglaubigung'.
The insurance is another ongoing issue. The WFTDA is currently organized to collect information from skaters in a system where insurance coverage is inconsistent, if it's there at all. In Germany, everyone is insured. Period. Skaters don't have to think about whether they are covered for playing or training, they know they are. Therefore insurance data is highly protected, so skaters were wary about giving up that information for sanctioning paperwork.
Bear City Roller Derby will be celebrating its 4th anniversary this May. As a skater from the very beginning, how much have things changed for you since the league started? Can you describe what your first practices were like compared to how things are run now?
When we first started training no one had skates, we trained for two hours once a week, and most of the players had never seen a bout. I had to work them up to believing they could run for ten minutes without a break. Now we have one of the best fitness trainings in Europe; with three training days a week, my skaters are pushing themselves forward. It has really been a slow and steady transition of watching us grow and develop into athletes.
You are one of the organizers of the European Roller Derby Organization Conference (EROC), which had its first meeting in 2009. What prompted you to get EROC started?
When we realized we wanted to promote and develop European roller derby, it just seemed logical to plan a meeting to talk about who “we” are. What does “European roller derby” mean, if anything? Do we have common goals? Can we help each other? It’s all about supporting our community and giving the interested leagues a place to come together.
How much has EROC changed from 2009 to the latest conference held in January of this year? Has your experience of the conference changed?
Ha! So in December 2009 it was more like a sitting circle than a meeting. We had 36 skaters from 13 leagues from six countries for two days. We talked mostly about who we were, what our home leagues were like. We had WFTDA Executive Director, Bloody Mary, on Skype without video. Euroderby.org was born out of this meeting and began serving the Euro community.
The second EROC was January 2011, and had over 100 skaters from 30 leagues and 15 countries. This time we were able to hold some training sessions for leagues, focused on organizational elements rather than skating and game play. This is the first time we really started talking about how we were going to link and become “something” together, even if we didn't know what it was. Leagues walked away recommitting themselves to collaboration.
This year, January 2012, we had over 200 skaters and refs, from almost 50 leagues and 25 countries. With tons of training sessions for leagues on common structural elements, skater reps were able to gather lots of information to take back home to have happier, better functioning leagues. Euroderby.org presented its new face and functionality and the European leagues walked away with the goal to organize on a national level.
It has been phenomenal to watch the development of the European network and see the passion behind all the leagues here. There is so much positivity and motivation to create.
In addition to organizing EROC, we understand that you spend a lot of time coaching other leagues in Germany and Europe. What do you enjoy about coaching other leagues? How has the level of competition changed in the time you have been coaching?
Coaching other leagues has really helped me be a better skater and a better trainer. There is nothing like having to explain something to test your knowledge of it. Training other leagues with different languages has also presented amazing challenges and developed my ability to select the most effective words and training styles for different cultures. I love showing skaters how much progress they can make in one training and showing them how to push past their limits.
When I started coaching leagues here, no one really knew what they were doing and I was really starting from basic skills. Now there is so much information out there, leagues are skating well and generally advance faster than before. They have specific requests of what they want to learn and often a really strong basis for strategy.
You are helping to organize an all-European tournament to take place in November of this year. Can you tell us a bit more about this? Where will it take place and what leagues are going to be involved?
Yeah, we are really excited about this! Track Queens: Battle Royale is going to be the first tournament in Europe that includes only WFTDA member and AP leagues. We are really excited about the boom of interest in the WFTDA over here and wanted to push that involvement, allowing the Euro leagues to see what it might look like for us to be our own region. The tournament will be held in December in Berlin. The current member and AP leagues as of April 1st will rank each other, the Top 10 are the tournament participants. Keep your eyes out in April for more details!
We understand that along with Great Vengeance, you started the first brick and mortar roller derby skate shop in Berlin, the Quad Roller Skate Shop. What made you decide to open a brick and mortar store instead of only being online? How has the shop been received in Berlin?
Any skater can tell you how critical it is to have equipment that fits well and suits you. What most skaters don't realize is that you'll only know what's right for you if you can compare. Online comparison is ridiculous and ineffective. European skaters deserve all the quality they can get, and that's really what we're here for. We want our skaters knowing the gear they have is what's right for them. The shop has been really exciting for most European skaters, getting to handle, feel and try on skates, knowing the difference in quality and fit, and seeing how it affects their performance. We know how to make Euro size conversions and what kind of floors are common here. We offer face-to-face consultation. Our customers are our community, so we love getting to know them!
Since you own and work in a roller derby skate shop, and coach and skate for Bear City, and coach leagues all over Europe, how do you make time for the non-roller derby parts of your life (we hear that on top of everything else, you are an artist)? Do you have any tips for how to achieve a roller derby-life balance?
Non-roller derby life…? Honestly, I've fallen in love with derby for all sorts of philosophical reasons that sometimes make me sound like a nut job. When I moved to Berlin, I did so with the intention of furthering my artistic practice. After starting the league I had less and less time for art and had a sort of crisis: how do I do both? I realized I couldn't do both with the level of quality I wanted and made the choice for derby (for now). Making that choice freed me up to coach and play as I please, it freed me up to start my own business and achieve a financial independence I never thought possible.
That being said, we all need an escape, and I have my family. They remind me when I take this all too seriously and help me to step out of my own head.
How has your involvement in roller derby affected the way you live the rest of your life?
I am my own boss lady and get to travel the world doing something I love.
Do you have a special message to your fans?
Thanks for thinking I'm something special, right back at you!
Is there anyone that you’d like to thank?
The inventor of the wheel.
Would you like to be the WFTDA Featured Skater of the month (or nominate one of your fantastic teammates)? If you are an active skater on a WFTDA full member league that has a dazzling derby career, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what makes you shine.
Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.