February 2012 Featured Skater: White Flight

February 7, 2012

This Rose City Roller claims her ninja-like jamming skills are the product of a desire for self preservation; however, it seems that her incredible commitment to being the best she can be is their true origin. White Flight skates with determination and confidence, and instills those principles in the skaters of tomorrow when she is coaching RCR’s junior league, the Rosebuds. Read on to learn more about the amazing White Flight!

Photo by Masonite Burn Photography

Derby name: My name is White Flight but I am considering going by my real name, Mathews.

How did you choose your derby name? I majored in sociology in undergrad and wanted something that reflected my love of the subject. 1954 was the year of Brown v. Board of Education which ruled that the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling of separate but equal schools for whites and blacks was unconstitutional. Schools were mandated to integrate with “all deliberate speed.” White folks fled to the suburbs as a result…hence the phrase “White Flight.” Portland is a pretty white town and so was the league when I joined. I can't hide being black so I decided to choose a name that would poke fun at the elephant in the room. My teammates started calling me Whitey for short. It makes some people uncomfortable and others think it's hilarious. Either way, I hope people will think about it.

Number: I chose the number 54 for family reasons. I have three younger siblings and the numbers on the phone that have their first initials on them are 5 and 4. Coincidentally, 1954 was the year of the monumental court case Brown v. Board of Education. It all works out.

Home league: I am a Rose City Roller through and through.

Home team you play for: I am not planning on playing for a home team this season. I want to be able to focus my energy on one team this year instead of two. I have big hopes for the Wheels of Justice and want to participate to the fullest extent.

What is your roller derby playing position of choice?
I got my start jamming so it feels natural and comfortable for me. However, I am becoming more and more comfortable in the pack. Ideally speaking, I would love to become a jammer/pivot (assuming that position sticks around).

What is your skate gear of choice?
I have never been wrapped up in my gear. I go down to Oaks Park and ask Beki to hook me up. She is very patient, lays out choices for gear, and gives her opinion based on her observation of the way I skate. I trust her and respect her a great deal.

Do you have a pre-bout ritual?
Bout day tends to be a lazy day of solitude for me. I sleep in and eventually make a breafast of eggs, veggies, and toast. I get back in bed or the bathtub and watch one of a handful of insprirational sports movies. After lunch, I get the buzz of excitement and turn on music, clean up my wheels, get dressed, then hit the road.

Photo by Masonite Burn Photography

What is your favorite derby moment?
I will have to go with my first away bout with WOJ when we went down to play the B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls. It was the last jam of the game and Lobster tells me all I have to do is get lead and we win. No pressure. We were able to walk away with a win, and that was the most amazing feeling in the world.

Who are your derby heroes?
Everyone that gives it 110% no matter what their obstacles might be. It is much easier to make excuses or give up than to face challenges with your fists at the ready and your desire to overcome propelling you forward.

Do you have a motivational quote?
“Strength doesn't come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” --Ghandi

What do you think about when you're lacing up your skates?
By the time the skates are being laced up I become obsessed with everything being just right. Are my skates too tight or not tight enough? My sock feels a bit twisted at the toe, gotta fix that, I have to pee…again. My mind is full of these tiny little thoughts until the huddle. When I am standing there with my teammates the noise fades to black and focus sets in.

Do you have a theme song?
It depends really, a different song for a different mood… On bout day: TNT, Paradise City, Sweet Child of Mine, or Welcome to the Jungle. When I need a little funk: Pick up the Pieces by Average White Band or Miss You by the Stones Mellow: Anything by Erykah Badu Hot under the collar: Chop Suey by System of a Down …I'm all over the place.

Do you have a signature move?
I'd say taking the outside and ducking/dropping my inside shoulder under hits has been pulled out of the bag with some regularity.

How did you get involved with roller derby?
Long story short. I was training for an amateur mixed martial arts fight when my coach told me I had to start running to get my cardio up. I hate running, as most skaters do, so I decided to tryout for RCR. The rest is history.

Any advice for girls who want to join roller derby?
It's good to know why you're doing something that requires you to dedicate so much of your time away from regular life. Whatever your reasons, remember that there should always be balance in life for things to remain healthy and positive. It's far too easy and tempting to become consumed by all things derby.

How would you describe your derby playing style?
I would say I started out fearless and maybe even a bit reckless. I had never been injured before so I took chances that others probably wouldn't have. Once I got a taste of what it was like to be decked, I became a lot more cautious so I am more conservative than I used to be. Good games often come down to just a handful of points. I don't want to skate off the track knowing I could have protected my point better or skated through all four whistles to collect a point here or there.

Photo by Jules Doyle

You are known for what some have referred to as your “natural” jamming ability; the uncanny ability to read a pack and skate through almost unnoticed except by the fans. What do you think helped you have this pack vision from the start of your derby career? What advice can you give to other skaters who want to work on their awareness?
I joke about it, but self preservation has always been a big motivator for me. After skating five sometimes six nights a week to make freshmeat attendance, I dropped down to 120lbs. I was terrified. There are a lot of big strong skaters out there gunning for me. I found myself grinding on my mouthguard, yelling “GO GO GO!” in my head every time I entered the pack.

When I think about jamming now, flexibility is the key word. When I get stuck on a ritual, like lining up in a certain spot, I end up getting flustered when I can't do it. Flexibility gets rid of tunnel vision and allows you to see more of what is happening around you. We have to be open to use whatever the pack gives us as jammers. Find the mantra that helps you stay calm so you can see more holes than you would if you were frantic.

What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
I learned how to skate as a kid with my brother. We convinced my dad to buy us skates and never took them off. I didn't skate much after elementary school though. I was a band geek in high school, I never played sports. I got into Mixed Martial Arts when I was 23 and trained for about a year. I was doing derby and MMA for a while until I couldn't keep up with all the eating, practices, and lack of sleep. Derby won that battle, but not before I competed in my first Jiu Jitsu competition and took third place. I suspect I will go back to it someday.

What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
The game is mentally and physically taxing, especially on the (inter)national level. I win every time I'm able to keep moving when I feel like I can't possibly take another step. Overcoming mental blocks, or finding confidence when the chips are down, is also a big win.

Photo by Masonite Burn Photography

Off the track?
Non derby: I was the first in my family to go to college and get a degree. Graduation day was a big moment for my entire family.

Derby: Being able to help provide a safe space for our Rosebuds to grow into confident strong women.

Can you talk a bit about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby?
I learn by doing. I listened to what my coaches said was legal and illegal and mixed that with the primary objective of scoring points while holding back your opponent. I didn't actually read through the ruleset until I had to take my written test. I had more freedom to learn the game that way. Sometimes rules have a way of constricting my thought process.

You used to play for the High Rollers (Rose City home team), but retired from that roster and then skated for the Heartless Heathers (another of Rose City's home teams). What has been your experience of switching home teams? Is this something that happens often in Rose City?
Both teams are great teams. They each have different strengths and weaknesses on and off the track. The High Rollers was my first team experience in general. As such, they will always have that special place in my derby life no matter where I go or who I skate for. The High Rollers are my first love, they will always have my heart.

You were part of the Rose City Rollers' Wheels of Justice first trip to the WFTDA Championships in 2011. How did it feel to be part of that team? How will the Wheels of Justice use the experience from 2011 to prepare for the 2012 Big 5 tournament season?
It felt really good to finally make it to the big show. Our team has a lot of heart, talent, experience, and skill in the ranks. We hit our stride at the right time in the season to get us a spot at Champs. All the long hours of practice, strategy conversations, adjusting this, and tweaking that paid off the night we beat Rat City Rollergirls, I couldn't have been happier.

There will be some changes this year on WOJ for sure. I can't really go into details about it, but I'm confident we have taken the lessons from last season to heart. We'll adjust, like any good team does, and show up bigger, better, and badder than ever before.

Do you think that Rose City's hosting of the Western Region Playoffs had any effect on the Wheels of Justice performance in 2011? What do you think about the rumored “curse” that plagues playoff hosts at the WFTDA Championships?
It was wonderful to play at home in front of the best fans in the sport. We were able to play our hearts out surrounded by all the love and energy of the people that support our team through thick and thin. That definitely gave us a bit of a boost. I don't believe in curses…only coincidence.

We understand that you are very much involved in the training of the Rosebuds, Rose City Rollers' Junior Derby league. How did you get involved with junior roller derby?
I work with kids so when I was asked if I could coach I jumped on the chance to be a part their program. These young ladies give so much to us as their coaches. They're fearless skaters. They're not concerned with the impossible, only the challenge of getting it right. It's inspiring.

In your experience, what are the challenges involved in coaching junior roller derby? What do you see for the future of junior roller derby (and roller derby when all of those juniors graduate to the “senior” level)?
The challenges are the same for junior derby as they are for senior derby. We deal with confidence issues, both skating and non skating. There are personality clashes between players and at times between players and coaches. Nothing new there though. Honestly, it has been smooth sailing for me as their coach. They make it easy by being some of the best people I have had the good fortune to know.

Rose City has three girls that have aged out and stayed with us so far. There are a couple more coming in behind them. These ladies are going to master derby in ways most of us adult skaters can only dream of. So long as they are able to make the transition from being a minor to being an adult as quickly as they have learned the game, they will be unstoppable. I can't wait for the day when I skate against and/or with some of the skaters I coached when they were kids. Master versus Student…

Photo by Masonite Burn Photography

In 2011, you have been widely recognized as an excellent roller derby skater, including being named to the Seattle Roller Derby Examiner's 2011 Northwest Roller Derby All-Star Team, which is voted for by fans and skaters. Congratulations! How does it feel to be recognized in this way by roller derby fans and your fellow skaters?
It was definitely unexpected. I am overwhelmed with all the love and support I have received since I started playing. I think I am a bit derby dysmorphic though. I am my hardest critic so it’s nice to have a break from my constant want to improve.

Congratulations also on being selected as a member of Team USA for the 2011 Roller Derby World Cup! What does it mean to you to have been selected for this honor?
It was amazing to be selected for this team. I was able to see all the derby greats up close and personal. I took a lot away from the experience and have been inspired to push harder to be the best I can possibly be.

How has your experience of roller derby with the Rose City Rollers contributed to your outstanding year of roller derby, and to your performance at the 2011 World Cup?
I learned the game playing for Rose City. The drills and skills that I hate in the moment, the constant challenge to be better than yesterday, the endless conversations about derby strategy, conversations about integrity versus do anything to win, all these things and more have helped shape the way I play the game. I feel fortunate to have landed in a place where many of the people in the league speak the same language as I do when it comes to derby. It makes the learning environment a safe place to make mistakes and get better.

You were one of the skaters featured in the documentary film Brutal Beauty: Tales of the Rose City Rollers. What was it like to have a documentary film crew follow and interview you?
I woke up early with a cold making my tendency to mumble worse. However, my first concern was how I was going to play with a mouthguard in and a stuffy nose Then I realized they were coming over that morning so I had to get it together. I was so new to the sport I wasn't sure if I really had anything worth saying. Even so, I tried to be as honest as I could with my answers.

They asked if they could put a mic on me during the game which was exciting and nerve wracking all at the same time. It was my first champs bout, the first time the High Rollers were battling for first, and it was the first time I went down hard. After I was cleared by the medical staff, someone from the camera crew came up and politely asked for the mic back. Those things are somewhat delicate…oops. What circus had I just stepped into? Overall, I had a blast being part of the film.

You were a rookie all-star at the time of filming in 2009. Looking back, what differences do you see in yourself now that you have two more years of skating under your belt? What advice, if any, would you want to give White Flight of 2009?
Again, I think I play a lot more conservatively than when I first started. The jammer position is more than scoring points. It's full of complex decisions: Do I hit off the line? Do I pause with my wall to help with defense before I decide to make an effort to break out of the pack? How much time can I run off of my blocker's penalty before I have to call if off? I didn't get lead, there are two blockers in the box, and the three of us are at the top of the pack. Do I haul to force the call off or keep the pack speed at a jammer's pace to get my blockers out? There are a million more questions like this that run through my mind while jamming. Before I was concerned with simply skating as fast as I could. I learn more from the mistakes I make than from getting things right the first time. I don't think I would change a thing…learning is a process.

From the film we learn that you are a daycare teacher. Is this still your occupation and is there overlap between your work and roller derby? How, if possible, do you achieve balance in your daily life?
At the time, yes, I was a site director for a middle school program. However, I have made some big changes. I now work at a facility for children with mental illnesses, I am in the midst of starting up a coaching company—Left Turn Coaching—with Mercy, and I am in the process of applying to Portland State's Masters of Social Work program. Phew!

I work with people. The skills I have acquired at work are definitely transferable, especially as a coach. I am constantly learning new ways to listen, convey information, deal with conflict, and so on. My clients need structure, patience, and creativity when it comes to helping them problem solve. Those are all things I can use when it comes to derby. Letting go of outcomes is also an essential piece to my job and to coaching. I may or may not be able to reach a certain client. Where I can't someone else can. Same goes for derby.

Photo by Masonite Burn Photography

Balance comes with knowing what my boundaries are and maintaining them. It is really easy to let derby consume you. Maybe that is a necessary part of the derby process. Since my first year I have learned when to say no. I take time to hang out with friends, find ways to make time for girlfriends and their interests, and remember to save a little time for me to do anything and everything I want. I feel like I've found that perfect balance. Life is good.

How has your involvement in roller derby affected the way you live the rest of your life?
I don’t know really. My dad was a Marine so things like honor, integrity, self-respect, doing the right thing even if it goes against the current, and stuff like that was laid on thick growing up. I'd say derby has definitely given me plenty of opportunities to prove my character, sometimes falling short and sometimes smashing it out of the park. It has allowed me to practice putting these beliefs into action on a regular basis. I'd like to think I am a better person because of this sport.

Do you have a special message to your fans?
You all are amazing! You show up to every bout with a smile on, signs for us, homemade gifts, and shower us with loads of love. Our road warriors are candid with us after every game, win or lose. Not everyone gets derby or supports what we are doing here and they aren't shy about sharing their opinions. So, a big thank you to all the fans out there for supporting us and spreading the good news everywhere you go.

Is there anyone that you’d like to thank?
I'd like to thank Wench Warden, Slaybia Majora, and Speed Bump. The three of them were my first coaches in derby. They were the perfect blend of patience, gentle guidence, and blunt/harsh feedback. That coaching team definitely motivated me. Also, a big thank you to Rob Lobster, Mike Chexx, and Randy Pan. I appreciate you guys tremendously. My teammates, of course are amazing. I am proud to wear purple and represent my city with you ladies. Lastly, Rocket Mean for all her hard work for Rose City and support of WOJ.

Any other information we haven't covered in the previous questions that you’d like to share with the wftda.com readers?
Some fun facts about White Flight:

  • I love reading young adult fiction
  • I have a twin brother
  • I don’t understand my team's obsession with pegacorns
  • I love a good chick flick
  • I'd eat burritos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • I can make a “w” with my tongue

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 webmaster@wftda.com and let us know what makes you shine.

Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.