May 1, 2014
Blame it on the stars. Or, in this case, star passes. That's the short story behind the origins of the wildly popular Roller Derby Junkies Tumblr designed to help skaters, refs and coaches learn from watching roller derby footage. Joining roller derby shortly after college, Artoo Detoonate learned the sport quickly, and took on a coaching role for her league, the Boston Derby Dames. Now through Roller Derby Junkies, she has been able to reach a global audience to share strategy and skills. Learn more about Artoo Detoonate, the WFTDA's featured skater for May!
What is your derby name? Artoo Detoonate – Artoo for short.
Please explain the inspiration and story behind your derby name.
As is probably self-evident, I’m a bit of a Star Wars geek. When I first started seriously contemplating playing derby, I wanted a name in that vein, so I skated a few black and white scrimmages as “Shred Leader” (in honor of my favorite starship squadron). Unfortunately, my league at the time, B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls, already had an “Edith Shred,” and I had no real desire to be called “Lea” or “Leader,” so it had to go. I blame my mother for “Artoo Detoonate” – when pondering replacements, I was considering “Artoo Deestruction,” but she said it made me sound too violent. “What about Artoo Detoonate? It’s cute and crazy, just like you.” Ha ha ha. I may have given her a begrudging look for that one, but it did give me an excuse to decorate my helmet like a droid dome, so the name stuck.
What is your number? B33P – largely because no one else had ever registered it! (What a crime.)
What is your home league? The fabulous Boston Derby Dames of Boston, Massachusetts.
Which team(s) do you play on?
I’m on the Boston Massacre WFTDA charter team, and have also gotten the chance to play with our B team, the Boston B Party. On the home team side, I skate for the Cosmonaughties (also known as the best robots-and-space-themed team that ever there was). Outside Boston, I’m the bench coach for MRDA team Mass Maelstrom and I’m on Team Massachusetts.
What is your skate gear of choice?
I love my Riedell Blue Streaks like I’ve loved no other boot before, and they’re topped off with dual sets of super-durable blue laces from the Blue Lace project. I’ve also been slowly acquiring Faster Skates’s entire Skinny Dipper collection because their wheels are downright magic for stops and footwork. On my head, I rock a Cascade M11 Pro hockey helmet (with requisite painters’ tape masquerading as droid patterning) and face shield, because ain’t nobody got time for concussions when there’s roller derby to play.
Do you have a pre-bout ritual?
I play the same trick on myself that I used to use before performing: avoid thinking directly about it for as long as humanly possible. I eat a lot more eggs before games than I ever did before shows, though. I also try to get to the venue early and take some time to goof off on my skates to a few good songs. It helps to remind me that no matter how crazy it gets on the track, or how much pressure we’re under, I love skating like nothing else in this world.
What do you think about when you’re lacing up your skates?
“Rats, did I forget to put on my gaskets? Now I’m going to have to unlace everything again!” In seriousness, my skates are usually the first things to go on my feet (after the aforementioned gaskets). They center me, and pull me out of my usual “I’ve got ten million things to worry about!” thought process.
Do you have a favorite motivational quote?
A holdover from my theater days:
“The hardest thing in life is saying yes or no. People who say yes have the adventures that result; people who say no play it safe; and people who say maybe will keep saying maybe for the rest of their lives – think of Hamlet.”
That’s from my old improvisation teacher, David Schwartz, and also happened to be what popped into my head when I first considered playing roller derby in 2010. It’s a good reminder to take the risks you need and say no to the ones you can’t afford, but hemming and hawing will get you in trouble every time. I remind myself about this a lot when I jam.
Do you have a theme song?
Not an official one per-say, but Steve Porter’s Muhammad Ali Olympics Tribute remix has become my jam for all things roller derby. I found it somewhere online the night before my draft scrimmage with Boston, and it’s been my good-luck-pump-it-up song for every important event/game since. (It helps that every lyric in it secretly applies to roller derby.)
How did you get involved with roller derby?
Shortly after I graduated college, I saw a friend play for Pioneer Valley Roller Derby and thought that derby was terrifying – but roller skating might be a pretty neat way to keep myself in shape. So I picked up some skates and started going to the local rink in western Massachusetts. Now, this rink was not your typical oval shindig – it was on the second floor of a mall and shaped like an “I,” with two carpet-covered concrete barriers creating tiny oval tracks at either end. The skate pattern meant that you got on, curved into the straightaway, then had to do a quick, tight loop-curve to swing around the barrier and head back the other way. (All while dodging tiny humans with much better footwork than me.) I like to joke that what I learned there was “defensive roller skating” – being able to quickly change direction and control to avoid slamming a nine year old into a carpet-coated wall. When I moved to San Francisco for work, I ended up chatting with the B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls, who had recently started a program called Reckless Rollers for ladies who wanted to get in shape but not necessarily play roller derby. I skated on and off with them for six months, having a lot of fun, learning cool tricks, but I was still insisting to myself that I didn’t really want to play roller derby. When the end of the year came around, BAD was offering tryouts for Reckless girls who wanted the chance to transfer into the league – but I was still being annoyingly wishy-washy about whether I wanted to do it or not. So my coach, smart and devious woman that she was, publicly goaded me into it: At a group party, she mentioned tryouts, and said “Oh, Jocie’s going to try out. And Artoo’s going to try out, too,” in front of my entire group. I hated her for a good five seconds, and then admitted to myself that, yes, there was a good chance I really wanted to give roller derby a try. Basically, my entire derby career is all Mindianapolis 500’s fault.
What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
I spent my childhood as the ice version of a rink rat – my little sister was in daily training as an artistic figure skater, and more often than not I ended up tagging along. I’d taken enough fundamentals to keep myself safe, but wasn’t really in it for the jumps and spins – I liked speed skating. But with no idea of where to find that kind of program in Los Angeles, I satiated myself with a lot of public session crowd-dodging. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was awfully good training for spinning through packs 15 years later.
Please tell us about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby.
Though I started learning some derby fundamentals with the Reckless Rollers in 2011, I consider my official rookie year 2012, when I transferred to Bay Area. For the first three months of that year, I proceeded to get my butt handed to me on a regular basis by folks like Demanda Riot, Jane Hammer, and Lulu Lockjaw. I learned so much about the game from those ladies, and I am forever thankful for it. Sadly, the day I was eligible to be drafted at BAD, instead of going to a draft scrimmage I was behind the wheel of a U-Haul. Lucky me: I was moving across the country right as the derby bug had bitten me, hard. Boston, bless their hearts, took me in as a transfer despite the fact that I’d never played a game or officially been on a team.
That August, I got drafted to the Cosmonaughties – and played my first game one week later. Transferring is always a bit of an experience, and mine was insane and delightful all at once. I felt like the driest of sponges, trying to suck up every bit of knowledge from everyone. I knew the rules and the basics from BAD, but I’d never been part of a team before, never really thought about deep strategy or player positioning. The most hilarious lesson I learned from my first game: Don’t assume all floor surfaces are alike. The concrete at BDD’s training facility was slippery, so I had switched from Atom’s G Rods to Poisons while I figured out the floor. I’d been told that our game facility also had concrete flooring, so I assumed I’d need the Poisons for that. But, uh, not so much. You know the kiddie variation of bowling, when they put bumpers in the gutters? It was a lot like that. Sure, it was hilarious when people 100 pounds heavier than me couldn’t muscle me out of bounds, but I also couldn’t plow stop. Or juke. Or lift my feet, half of the time. Wheel hardness is important – who knew?
Please tell us about the Roller Derby Junkies Tumblr. How did you decide to start this derby resource? And what are the details of your partnership with the WFTDA?
Star passes. It seems ridiculous, but they’re at fault for everything that’s happened in the last few months. As part of my league duties, I co-coach our C Team, which is comprised of our draft-eligible skaters; one evening, I was looking for some examples of good star passes to show them. In the past, we’d done footage review with timecodes and writeups, but I was getting frustrated with the system – YouTube’s support for timecode insertion is spotty at best. At the same time, I’d just downloaded a program called GifBrewery that I was testing for my Real Life Job. That night, as I was painstakingly copying timecodes, I thought: “Wait, what if I just make gif examples?!”
So I started with the star passes. And then, well, I might have gone a bit insane with power – in 24 hours I’d giffed something like six of the 2013 WFTDA Championship games. After uploading the pass examples to our league board, I ended up posting a bunch of the others to my personal Facebook account. A derby friend there loved them, and asked me to make a Tumblr blog so that she could share them more widely with her leaguemates. And within three days of creating the blog, it got thousands of followers. Y’know, I work in an industry where things go viral all the time, but it still completely blew me away. I figured people would like the gifs, but I just had no idea it’d have the reach that it does. I’ve talked to skaters from all over the globe – Latin America, Europe, Australia, Asia.
As for my deal with WFTDA, it’s pretty fantastic. The organization has been nothing but supportive of RDJ since the very beginning – Grace Killy sought me out and her first words to me were basically “We love the blog, don’t panic, we want to work with you!” Our agreement gives me a lot of freedom to use WFTDA.tv’s footage for gifs, which is great, but it also gives me an official point of contact when I want to do something fun and different on RDJ, like the hand signals gifs or the rules changes. I hate the idea of disseminating badly researched information, so it’s wonderful to be able to chat directly with WFTDA representatives to eliminate errors or miswording.
What advice do you have for skaters and coaches who want to use footage to learn about strategy and gameplay? How do you identify the “important” moments or key elements?
First of all, if you’re watching roller derby footage, you’re already one step ahead of anyone who isn’t. Congratulations! Seriously, the best way to learn from footage is to pull up a game and just view it. I had no idea what to follow when I watched my first game, but I knew that there was stuff going on and that if I watched a lot more, I could probably decipher it. If you’re looking for specific pointers, there are lots of ways to go about doing it. I found Kamikaze Kitten’s footage watching spreadsheet incredibly helpful when I first started out as a way to break down the action; in addition, try watching with friends and having each person watch a different skater.
For RDJ, since it’s just me, I’ll go back and watch the same jam three or four times, because there’s so much good stuff happening all across the track. Texas versus Atlanta and BAD versus Denver are both stellar examples of games you should watch multiple times to catch everything. I also really advise using your computer’s tools – rewind/fast-forward, double-speed, half-speed. I’ve recently started watching jams at double-speed when I’m tracking jammers; it becomes easier to see their paths and patterns. And speaking of patterns, that’s a really fun way to go about footage-watching – for instance, if you see a team doing a particular offensive clear, look to see how often the team does that clear. Who leads it? Is it the same group of skaters every time? Do they execute it on both sides of the track?
What is your position of choice?
If you’d asked me this even six months ago, I would have said jammer, no reservations. But between attending the WFTDA Championships and watching all the footage for RDJ, it’s become clear to me that the best players are not only excellent skaters, but those that can play any position and who know the game (and its loopholes) cold. As such, lately I’ve been really focused on honing both my blocking skills and pack strategies.
What is your signature move?
Does making ridiculous faces count? :) Probably my dynamic momentum (or, as a friend describes it: “ridiculous spinning”). I’ve worked really hard to make skate edges my best friends on the track, and that flexibility allows me to quickly do things like continuing to keep a touch on the jammer while twirling backwards through an opposing wall. I’m still working on using this effectively 100 percent of the time – spinning does not always a good defense or offense make – but it’s a tool I’ve been experimenting a lot with lately.
How would you describe your derby playing style?
Smart, controlled, and dynamic. I learned early on that I’m not a big hitter, which meant refining my role on the track to provide support and control for our powerhouses. I try to help our team to execute the smartest, cleanest play we can; if we do that, we can hang with anybody.
Please share your best derby moment (or moments).
I was lucky enough to be in Milwaukee on business during the 2013 WFTDA Championships, which meant having a front row seat to some of the best roller derby I’ve ever seen. Our little Boston contingent got to watch the Texas Rollergirls come within a hair of beating the Gotham Girls Roller Derby not twenty feet away from turn one, and that sent all of us back home with a mission: to train harder, think smarter, and get the Boston Massacre to Championships in 2014.
What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
It still blows me away that just over two years ago I was a know-nothing skate goof, and now I have the privilege of skating alongside the strong, marvelous women of the Boston Massacre and B Party. I have come so far, learned so much, and am so excited about what the next few years have in store. I’m also really proud of the coaching work I’ve done for Boston over the last year. I get so much joy from helping someone land their first proper hockey stop it’s probably illegal in some states.
Off the track?
I run Boston’s communications department, and last year we overhauled the league’s website, rebranded everything, and started reaching out more into social media – no easy task! This year’s project is making a brand book for the league – not the flashiest of tasks, but vital for the skaters that come after us to maintain Boston’s look and style.
We understand that you spent last year healing from a shoulder injury. How were you able to recover your strength and form to return to the track? What advice would you give skaters dealing with injuries?
Shoulders are a pain. They really are. You don’t really need them for roller derby, but you really, really need them for Real Life tasks like washing dishes, or driving, or picking up heavy things and putting them down. So I was pretty bummed when I hurt mine only three months into the travel team season last year. I was lucky in that it was only a minor tear and I didn’t need surgery, but it still meant taking three months off – the entirety of the home season for the Boston B Party. Like everyone does in these situations, I fretted about losing all my skills. So I kept doing what I could – wall sits to keep up my leg strength, watching practices so I wasn’t behind on what our team was working on. I started coaching to do something roller-derby related for the league, and to keep my spirits up. And, one night, while really depressed, I decided that the only way to get my mind off how much I wanted to play roller derby was to watch other people playing it. It helped a lot. (And probably also started my footage obsession, but that’s a story for another day.)
Getting injured is going to be tough no matter what body part it is or how long you’re out. You’ve just got to find some way to stay involved that keeps your head in the right place. For me, that was coaching newer skaters and making them do all the drills I wanted to do but couldn’t, and watching tons of footage. It’s hard, but you’ll be back before you know it. Just don’t try and come back too soon and risk re-injury. It’s not worth your roster spot or your fight to get on the charter or whatever excuse you’re making if it means you could shorten your derby career.
Who are your derby heroes?
This list gets longer every time I write it down. Brawllen Angel (from the B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls), for being wicked smart and deadly on the track but one of the nicest, most patient coaches I’ve ever worked with. Polly Gone (from the Texas Rollergirls), for being small but so terrifyingly mighty. The rest of the Texies, for inspiring the entirety of Division 1 with their performance against Gotham last year. LONDON ROLLERGIRLS! Too many Boston skaters to name. And Massacre co-captain Shayna Nestor, who has been my friend and my mentor since I arrived at BDD, and always seems to know the right thing to say off the track and the right move to make on it.
What is your day job? And how, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby?
I write for an Apple-focused technology magazine and website. It’s not only a pretty awesome job in of itself – I get to sneak in roller derby references to stories and occasionally get a cross-training workout in by reviewing fitness apps – but my bosses and co-workers are super-supportive. And I work from home, which means that on days after a particularly harsh practice I can sit in sweatpants with an ice pack on my rear and no one at work will ever be the wiser.
How has your involvement in roller derby affected the way you live the rest of your life?
Roller derby been the most positive influence on my life since I stopped working in theatre. It reignited determination and passion that I thought had died out, and took a girl who was kind of wandering after college and focused her into a lean, mean, exercising machine. The field I work in is also very male-oriented, which can be intimidating to a lot of women; I feel like derby has given me the confidence to be there without hesitation and stand up for myself when I need to.
How do you find a balance between your derby life and your “real” life?
It’s always a dangerous balance, but I find that like any passion project, time management is key. I keep a shared calendar with family and friends so that they know when I’m practicing and coaching, and I try to focus my committee work within certain hours of the day. You also have to remember what’s important – sure, you may have a game in three weeks, but you shouldn’t feel guilty for skipping one of four practices this week for a good friend’s birthday. Secretly, I really like the dichotomy between the two. I work at a desk for most of my day, and nothing motivates me to finish up my work like the promise of being silly on roller skates in a few hours.
What advice do you have for girls who want to join roller derby?
Do it, do it, do it, do it! But learn to love your skates before you start with strategy and hitting and all that. Go to your local roller rink, hang out with the jam skaters, figure out how to turn backwards and use your edges and do curves on one foot. It’s a lot easier to understand pack work or the proper way to cut in as a jammer when you’re not worried about falling on your butt every two seconds. Spend time on your skates, and they’ll reward you for it.
Do you have any upcoming bouts that you’re really excited for and why?
We travel up to play Montréal Roller Derby on May 3rd, which should be a fantastic weekend: I played my first ever interleague game against them last year, and I’m looking forward to a rematch. Also, our hotel is walking distance from my favorite smoked meat shop and bagel place. Mmm, post-game food coma…I’m also wicked psyched for ECDX in June. There are always so many good games to watch during the tournament, and Boston gets another chance to tango with Victorian Roller Derby League, who we just barely missed out on playing last year at the 2013 WFTDA Playoffs in Salem, Oregon.
Do you have a special message to your fans?
Thank you so, so much for supporting Roller Derby Junkies with your excitement, likes, reblogs, and comments. Every discussion I’ve had with folks regarding RDJ is a great one, and I love seeing everyone’s perspectives and strategy ideas. Keep watching footage!
Clearly you are a Star Wars fan. We have to ask: what is your favorite movie in the series?
Empire, naturally. The script, the scenes, the drama, the droids – who needs Ewoks and happy endings?
Is there anyone that you’d like to thank?
First and foremost: my gentleman friend and partner, who puts up with all of the complaining and the massage requests and the stinky pads and the long hours, but loves me anyway. My mother, for giving me the skating bug (and for not freaking out when I told her I was signing up for a contact sport). BDD, the best league a girl could ask to play for, and my amazing coaches. Dusty and Patrick, who encouraged me to watch lots of footage and are partially responsible for all this. Speedy Dan, who’s been teaching me how to speed skate and fulfilling childhood dreams in the process. Flyin’ King and Celia Casket, for listening to my roller derby rants and helping me figure out how to translate hockey stops to quads. And WFTDA, for helping create this amazing sport we all love and play – and taping it, to boot, so that I can spend endless weekend hours analyzing moves and plays.
Boston, Boston, pinch pinch pinch! We’re coming for the Hydra – watch out.
Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.