July 1, 2015
Roller derby was something that gave Amy Spears' life focus, a focus that has been nothing short of a laser beam as she skates into her 10th year with the Ohio Roller Girls. Choosing to skate under her own name, Amy's derby career has been one marked by her passion for the sport and consistent leadership. Amy was voted as the new WFTDA Vice President this spring and is prepared to bring her focused vision and love for roller derby with her!
Please explain the inspiration and story behind your derby name.
My parents chose it. :)
What is your number?
1098. Back when I did have a derby name, it was Alli Catraz, and 10-98 is a police code for a prison break. I dropped the hyphen when that rule change went in, but other than that, I kept it even when I dropped the derby moniker.
You have been using your real name since your fourth season. What prompted the change and what are your thoughts about some leagues moving away from the use of derby names?
It was never really a huge decision for me—I don’t think I was ever really all that attached to my derby name anyway. I started thinking about it when I was switching jobs, and in the course of leaving, I became aware that several people I’d worked with thought that there was something scandalous about derby and that we had to have fake names because of that. And when I got to thinking about that, I realized that I didn’t really see a difference between my “real” life and my “derby” life so much any longer. Derby is my real life. But I’m very much "to each their own" on this issue. I’m not entirely convinced that legal names lend legitimacy more than our athleticism does. I trust each skater and each league to decide what fits their situation. I also think I’ve gotten more compliments on how clever my “derby” name since I switched to my legal name. If anyone can explain this clever pun to me, let me know. Because I don’t get it.
What is your home league?
Ohio Roller Girls, since our first season.
Which team(s) do you play on?
I play for our Charter Team, which doesn’t really have a name.
What is your skate gear of choice?
I’m all over the place as far as gear—no real brand allegiances here. Right now I’m in a mix of brands of pads and an S1 helmet. I skate on Riedell Reactor Pro plates on the Brooklyn Skate Company boot. The one thing I’m picky about is wheels. I only do aluminum hubs and like them as hard as I can use on a given surface. So right now I alternate between Sure Grip Zombies and Radar Diamonds.
Do you have a pre-bout ritual?
Not really. I try to make sure I have eye makeup on so I look human in photos, but that’s about it.
What do you think about when you're lacing up your skates?
Usually it’s just going over the mental checklist of making sure I have everything I need to take to the bench with me, thinking about any goals I have for the game, but that’s about it. If I get too in depth about what’s about to happen, that’s when I start to make myself nervous, so I have to kind of just go with the flow to stay relaxed.
How did you get involved with roller derby?
As a teenager, I’d watched derby on TV, and I joked that the only way I’d ever be an athlete was if roller derby made a resurgence. I even wrote a column in my college newspaper about it. Who knew that about 10 years later, roller derby would be an option? So when OHRG started up, I knew I had to try it. It took me a few months to get up the courage to show up to a practice, but I went home and ordered skates that night and have been doing this ever since.
What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
I got my first skates when I was about 6—my dad got a couple pairs of old figure skates with airplane bearings for wheels at a garage sale for my sister and me. We actually have an 8mm movie of me wearing them for the first time. They were about four sizes too big, and I wore them until I’d scuffed clear through the toes, teaching myself how to skate on our tiny side porch. (There are no sidewalks in the country.) I ran track in junior high, but wasn’t ever really into sports. High school was marching band time for me. I still use marching band metaphors when running drills sometimes.
Please tell us about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby.
My rookie year was also my league’s rookie year, so my “rookie class” was all of us. In those early days, there weren’t tryouts. You just showed up and watched a practice, then you got on skates at the next one if you decided it was for you. Once you’d done four falling drills, you were cleared to scrimmage. I had a leg up since I knew how to skate already, so I was able to do my falling drills almost immediately. My first practice was February 26, then I was cleared to scrimmage in early March, and played my first game April 23, a whopping eight weeks after the first practice I watched (and I was on vacation for at least a week in there). This sounds insane to me at this point. We had home teams our first three years, so after that first home season, we played our first interleague game against Minnesota RollerGirls in November 2006. So basically I went from zero to facing off against a top tier team in about eight months. Somewhere in there we must have actually talked about rules and strategy, but I don’t know that you’d know it from watching tape from our first season. Oh, the 1.0 rule set….
What is your position of choice?
I’m a blocker, with occasional pivoting. I have jammed a tiny bit this season, which is funny because the last time I really jammed was our last season of home teams when several of my team’s jammers were injured. But my heart is with blocking for sure. I love the excitement of having to make quick strategic decisions, playing offense for my jammer and then switching immediately to wall up on the other jammer.
What is your signature move? My teammates would say it’s skating with my pinkies up. Apparently some part of my brain sees me as dainty and ladylike or thinks roller derby is a tea party.
How would you describe your derby playing style?
I’ve always really been more of a positional blocker or herder rather than the player who lays on the big hits. So the way the game has evolved is exciting to me, because it makes good lateral movement and the ability to stick to a jammer all that more valuable. I’m not an expert at it by any means, but sitting on a jammer and taking their momentum away is definitely the thing that I work to do the most.
2015 marks your 10th "derbiversary" with the Ohio Roller Girls! Looking back at this last decade, what are some of the big changes you have seen in your league and yourself as a member?
OHRG has evolved so much from those first years. We started out with home teams, then ended up switching to an A/B format in our fourth season. Despite Columbus’ size, we just were never able to recruit enough skaters for the home team model. And then once we got the hang of doing all interleague play, we kind of had a cultural shift into a much more competitive team, which showed in our rankings climb. I think that same kind of shift has happened all over the WFTDA, and now we’re reaching a point where there is just incredible parity growing all through D1 & D2, well into D3. Not to mention that we’ve got an unprecedented number of teams all over the world in the mix. I think this year is already shaping up to be exciting just to see who qualifies for playoffs, let alone seeing who that competition will yield as Championship contenders. And then the things that don’t change are still there too—after 10 years, I’d be happy to never have to explain penalties or the rules of derby to the general public while promoting ever again, but I try to do it with a smile.
Please share your best derby moment (or moments).
It’s really hard to narrow this down after a decade, but one that’s really up there was the 2012 North Central Region Playoffs in Niagara Falls. My grandpa’s doctor had told him to slow down and relax and take a trip, and he heeded that advice and my entire family road-tripped to the tourney to watch. That weekend, Double H (Announcer and Head of WFTDA Broadcast Operations) ended up interviewing my grandpa and my mom on WFTDA.tv, at which point my grandpa revealed he and my grandma met at a skating rink—something I didn’t even know! After our game, I couldn’t figure out why derby people were commenting on my Facebook about how cute my grandpa was until I went back out to the crowd and someone told me what had happened. Grandpa passed away about a year later, and my who family so appreciates that we have that video of him. He had come to most of my home games, too. Recently ,I brought my grandparents’ skates home, and I don’t think I’d have known how important those were to them if it hadn’t been for that interview.
What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
The moment I will never ever forget is when we won our first game at 2013 Championships against Rat City Rollergirls. Our goal for two years had been to make it to champs, and then once we qualified, our next goal was to win a game—knowing that Gotham was in our path after that. We had held a lead for most of our game against Rat City, but they’d narrowed the gap to just a few points in the last few minutes. We’d opened it back up again a bit in one jam. Then in the very last jam, Rat’s jammer went to the box, and Phoenix Bunz got lead right after that, so all we had to do was wait out the period clock. We just happened to stop the pack right on turn three where all of our teammates, friends, and families were, so the five of us on the track spent the last 45 seconds of that game listening to all of them just losing their minds, and looking up to the score above us, and over to the bench with the rest of the team standing there with their arms around each other. We also all knew that this weekend was the end of Bunz's and Pippi RipYourStockings’ derby careers, so to be there on the track with the two of them when we finally achieved that goal we’d been working for was just amazing.
Off the track?
A couple of years ago, at our annual awards banquet, the award for the most dedicated member of OHRG was re-named “The Amy Spears Award.” Somehow, everyone managed to keep it a secret from me, and I just did not expect it at all. In fact, as the presenter was explaining that the award was being renamed and the board had made this decision, I was kind of sitting there thinking, “I don’t remember discussing this.” And it wasn’t until I realized everyone in the room had turned around to look at me that I figured out why that was. I’ve never been so speechless in my life, and I don’t think I’ve ever adequately thanked the league for that. So thank you guys—this has meant more to me than anything in my derby career.
Who are your derby heroes?
This could get really long really quickly. There are just so many good players in so many corners of the world right now, and only a few folks who can get the recognition for that. But mostly, I’ve always admired the people who are at the top of their game while also being in leadership positions in the sport, whether with WFTDA or their leagues.
What is your day job? How, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby?
At this point in my career, I take more skills I’ve learned from derby to my job than the other way around. I manage an academic program in the Ohio State University English Department that’s dedicated to digital media studies. That’s a mouthful, but basically, I help out students and faculty with video, audio, web stuff, etc. Last year I got to manage the remodeling of a couple of our classrooms, and the project management I’ve learned from derby helped a lot in that. My co-workers are very supportive of derby, and have come to watch.
How has your involvement in roller derby affected the way you live the rest of your life?
When I came to derby, like a lot of people, I wasn’t in a really good place. I was just basically in a slump and derby came along at the right time for me to throw myself into it all the way. And that really gave me something new to focus on. I probably overdid it the first few years. When I first joined, I remembered saying to a friend that I was going to do this new thing and concentrate on not being in charge of anything related to it, and he outright laughed at me, because he knew that wasn’t my style. Two months later I was on OHRG’s board, filling out a seat someone stepped down from. By two years later, I was elected league president and was a WFTDA representative. So I guess he was right to laugh.
How do you find a balance between your derby life and your “real” life?
I’m not sure balance is a thing for me anymore because I don’t really see a difference. So derby very much is my real life. My family and friends (and sometimes my friends’ families) comes to games, and some have even traveled to away games with us. So there’s really no difference anymore. If my pre-derby friends weren’t so supportive, it would probably be harder for me to find that balance, but I’ve been lucky.
What advice do you have for people who want to play roller derby?
Gone are the days when you can just show up and walk onto a team. So pre-tryouts, I’d say make sure your skate skills are as good as you can get them pre-tryouts and that your fitness level is up to the task. And keep an open mind—there’s no “derby in a box” kind of product out there, so every league is unique in how they manage their business, run their teams, etc. You might find yourself in situations you didn’t expect, but just be willing to learn and pitch in and you’ll be fine. Then once you get cleared to scrimmage and get a little experience under your belt, take every chance to play that you get, whether it be mashups, pick up teams, whatever. I’ve learned so much playing those types of games.
Do you have any advice for staying with the sport long-term, as you have?
When I first started derby, I never had any inkling that I’d still be doing this now. I joked during that first season that I’d play derby until I’d done it for 10 years, or until I turned 40. I had no expectation derby would last that long at the time. I’ve hit the first milestone, and the second on is next year, so apparently this is no longer a joke. Actually, at the end of 2014 I told OHRG that I probably wouldn’t be skating after this year. My body was fine, and I didn’t have nagging injuries anymore, but I was just mentally exhausted. I knew I needed a break, and I figured 2016 would be my break year. But then I took a full two months off at the end of last year— hich was longer than I ever had before—and when I came back this year, I started to feel like maybe I wasn’t quite done yet. Getting nominated to serve on the WFTDA Board kind of cinched that decision, because I had no intention of doing that kind of work on the business side without reaping the benefits of skating. Had I not taken that two months off though, I don’t know if I would have made that same decision. So, I think my advice on sticking around would be to make sure you’re avoiding mental burnout and exhaustion, just the same way you’d avoid over exhausting your body to prevent physical injuries.
Congratulations on your new role with the WFTDA as Vice President! You have been working within the WFTDA for years, what kind of experience and passion do you plan to bring to the role?
Thank you! I’m really excited about this opportunity. It’s a big job, but I feel like I’ve been working up to it. I’ve had various board and leadership positions with OHRG, and since I’ve worked in the Membership Pillar for a few years, I felt it would be good to get some fresh ideas in that area as well. As for what I bring to the job, I think I’m good at looking at the big picture and thinking strategically about the long-term impact of decisions. And I’d hope that having worked with individual member and potential member organizations has given me context to think about how diverse our membership is, as far as different issues facing members throughout the world, and also leagues with different sizes, structures and competitive goals.
Do you have a special message to your fans?
I don’t think I have fans of me personally, but I appreciate everyone who has supported OHRG over our first decade!
Do you have any upcoming bouts that you’re really excited for and why?
We’ve played 16 games so far this season, and six of them were in the past three weekends, so right now, I’m looking forward to our mid-season break. After that though, we’ve got Nashville, Steel City and Naptown, all of whom are teams that are fun to play, so I’m not sure which I’m looking forward to the most. And then who knows who we'll get for Playoffs. I’m also attending my first Rollercon this year, and I have some fun challenges lined up there, which I’m looking forward to as a way to mix things up and learn from people I haven’t skated with before.
Is there anyone that you’d like to thank?
I hesitate to name names, because I know I’ll leave people out. But the shortlist would include my derby wife Carl (even though he left us and is now coaching Houston Roller Derby), Hellionboi, who is the only other first-year OHRG still skating competitively (and actually has about 6 months experience on me), and all my teammates, captains, coaches and officials over the years.
Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.