February 1, 2014
In 2010, Buster Skull founded the Salisbury Rollergirls when she was only 18 years old, and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma the following year. Through her fight and victory, and the continuing success of her league, Buster Skull has shown how a skater’s determination, team spirit, and passion – and the support of the derby-verse – can help them to overcome many challenges. Read on to learn more about this month’s formidable and inspiring featured skater!"
What is your derby name? Buster Skull
Please explain the inspiration and story behind your derby name.
Frankly, I just had to come up with a name that I liked that was original (not already registered on the database). I considered a lot of names, but ultimately liked the idea of being called “Buster.”
What is your number? My number is now 100. It used to be 00, which was my pants size, but squats and bacon have served me well. It’s now 100, as in “give 100% each and every time you step onto the track!”
What is your home league? Salisbury Rollergirls (SRG)
You founded your current home league, the Salisbury Rollergirls, in 2010. Being a league founder is a big deal, and a lot of work. What are some of the biggest victories and challenges you have experienced along the way to where you and your league are today?
The biggest victory is to see all the positive impacts that SRG has made on the lives of my teammates. Many women who have joined the league have accomplished amazing feats. It is an honor to be a part of such journeys. I have had the opportunity to help others lose 50-plus pounds, make friends, gain confidence, and learn amazing things about themselves. The biggest challenge for me as a leader has been recognizing that I cannot always please everyone. I like to make people happy and when I can’t do that, it is really hard for me to let it go. The stresses of being a league founder and athletic director are, I think, similar to the problems that any conscientious leader faces. Time management, of course, is another challenge for anyone involved in roller derby. Since Posy Mortem, our administrative director, has come on board as my right hand, the challenges of time management and other stresses have become much, much more manageable. The league and my sanity would probably not be in tact if it were not for her efforts.
The Salisbury Rollergirls joined the WFTDA as a full member league in the last year. Congratulations! Please tell us how you decided to join the WFTDA and how you successfully pursued this goal. Did you always know you wanted your league to be part of the WFTDA?
Yes, yes, yes! We always wanted to be a member of the WFTDA. There were certain goals I had laid out for SRG before even putting together the first interest meeting and this was one of them. We were fortunate enough to go through the WFTDA Apprentice Program after it was revamped. Smashton Pusher, one of the founding members of our league, is our WFTDA rep and has done a lot of the footwork helping us to obtain our membership status. We are very excited to obtain a ranking after one more sanctioned bout!
Which team(s) do you play on?
Salisbury All-Stars, Team Rogue (banked track team)
What is your skate gear of choice?
As I always tell new recruits, you can ask me about most things, but go ask Goodie Two Bruise about gear! Let’s see… I have Riedell skates. Google just showed me that they are the 265 boot. For wheels, I usually try out new wheels each season; I like grippy and slim. I have 187 knee pads which I am ashamed to say I have been using since my 2nd bout (I know, I know, they should be replaced). At the Northeast Derby Convention last year I got the new Atom wrist guards and elbow pads, which are great! And finally, the one piece of gear that matters most to me – my helmet. I have a Bauer hockey helmet. I switched to it last season and love it! Oh, and of course for park and ramp skating I love my Moxi Skates!
Do you have a pre-bout ritual?
Not a specific pre-bout ritual, just daily habits that I make sure to keep up with on bout day – yoga in the morning, plenty of water, plenty of sleep. If it is a home bout, I go outside and spend time with my chickens, goats, and fiancé to relax. If it is away, I just try not to get too amped up too early in the day. Immediately before the bout, I do try to spend just a minute alone (locker room, bathroom, wherever) doing some positive visualization. I often have a mantra that I repeat in my head, “Just have fun,” and “You will get through (the pack),” etc.
What do you think about when you’re lacing up your skates?
I think about how I can best serve my teammates at that exact moment.
Do you have a favorite motivational quote?
“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” –Laozi
Do you have a theme song?
My teammates would probably tell you it’s something like, “If you're happy and you know it clap your hands.” I really don’t have a theme song, but if I had to pick one I may say “Roller Skating Child” by the Beach Boys.
How did you get involved with roller derby?
I saw a brief clip of roller derby on TV when I was about 15 or 16. The women were strong and inspiring. I looked it up and found that the closest teams were the Wilmington City Ruff Rollers (now Diamond State Roller Girls) and the Charm City Roller Girls. I began going to all the bouts I could – both of those teams, and Dutchland Derby Rollers, DC Rollergirls, etc. I did all my school projects on the history of roller derby, I began attempting to teach myself some skating skills at age 17 in a parking lot, and on my 18th birthday I joined WCRR! They were my heroes and I was stoked to be a part of the team! I skated one season there before starting the Salisbury Rollergirls. I still feel the same sense of privilege each time I take the track – all players are still my heroes.
What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
Pre-derby I was a competitive swimmer and ran cross country. I never played a team sport or thought of myself as an athlete until I began skating. Since beginning derby, I have competed in the Eagleman 70.3 mile triathlon, the NYC Skate Marathon, and several other endurance events
Please tell us about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby.
During my rookie year, I drove two hours each way to practice in Wilmington two to three times each week. I never missed a practice and I skated outside nearly every day that I did not have practice. My teammates, as well as Axl Rolls, helped teach me the basic skills. My first season involved a lot of repetition, dedication, and falling. I was just starting to feel successful on the track when I left to start SRG. I learned a lot about playing by coaching our initial group. And of course, I am still learning to play roller derby – there are always new things to learn, which is one of the things I love about the sport.
What is your position of choice?
Any and every position! I tend to mostly jam and I love it, but I also love blocking.
What is your signature move?
Probably changing my height to confuse blockers, or if I am blocking, it is probably juking an opposing blocker to have her hit her own jammer. I work on that timing a lot.
How would you describe your derby playing style?
Quick, light, and efficient – I try to read minds and take the smartest path possible when jamming. When blocking, I try to be as difficult to read as possible. Of course, I would also like to describe it as fun! I tend to be wearing a smile on the track regardless of the scoreboard, and when I line up my mind is saying something like “This is so much fun!” or “I am so lucky!” I’m sure I can seem intense at times, but I really find that playing with a certain amount of light-heartedness helps my game.
We understand that you were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2010, and fought like only a derby girl can! Please tell us about your experience with cancer. We especially want to hear about the evolution of Chemo Sabe, your other derby personality.
I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in December 2010. After running a 5K in the morning, I woke up that night feeling like I couldn’t get a deep breath in. It was alarming so I went to the emergency room. After some imaging I was told that I had a baseball-sized mass in my chest. Several days later I went in for a surgical biopsy, and several days after that I was diagnosed. Next was staging the cancer, which involved a PET scan, a biopsy of my tonsils, a bone marrow biopsy, and probably other tests that I am forgetting. I was fortunate to have found it in the very early stages. I began chemo in January 2011 and finished up in May 2011. I would have started the day I was diagnosed if I had been able. From the beginning, I made up my mind that this would be a positive experience and it would grant me the opportunity to inspire others.
The nickname “Chemo Sabe,” was never actually derby related, but was bestowed upon me by the guys at Explosive Tattoo in Salisbury, where I get my work done. They called me that all through treatment.
We’ve heard that you continued to skate and train for roller derby during your treatment. Wow. What was your motivation to continue in roller derby at that time?
I did continue to skate and coach every practice (the league had just started in March, so we were not even at bouting level when I was diagnosed). I did miss one practice during chemo because my hands had turned blue; I thought I might have been turning into a smurf but it was actually just lack of circulation due to the mass pressing on my lungs. I did not compete in our first two bouts, in March and April 2011. Nor did I scrimmage during treatment. I wanted to, badly, but I did not want to risk delaying treatment if I were to break a bone. Also, I had an implanted port in my chest to receive the chemo, which was very tender to the touch. Instead of competing in roller derby, I focused my efforts on coaching, which was beneficial for the league. The success of the team was my motivation to continue, as well as my love for skating. It made me feel good and even when I was feeling light-headed or weak, I would push on as much as possible and it would give me energy.
What has your experience with cancer taught you about yourself? About your league? And about roller derby?
My experience with cancer has taught me an infinite number of things about myself, but I would say the most valuable is just not to sweat the small stuff… and that most stuff is small stuff. My teammates were such a supportive force for me during my treatment. They made me dinners once a week, they listened, cared, and loved me as only a real team could. And the love and support from the roller derby community extended beyond SRG. When I was fundraising with Team in Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, donations from skaters around the world poured in within a matter of hours as teams shared it on their Facebook pages and blogs. It was very moving. There is so much good in people and good competition, like we have in the WFTDA, brings that goodness to light. I wanted to play, really play, roller derby so badly during treatment. When I did get to bout, about a week and a half after my last round of chemo, I was so grateful to be out there – even more so than before. My experience with cancer taught me to carry that love with me in roller derby and in all that I do. I am sort of an experience junkie; I want to enjoy as much of what life has to offer as possible. I know that post-roller derby I will have many other adventures to come, but I will always seek the same sense of joy that I find in roller derby in all that I do.
Please share your best derby moment (or moments).
I’m going to say the ultimate moment for me was the first time I jammed during my first bout back on the track with my team after chemo. I also really enjoyed skating against very talented skaters (such as those on Team Bionic) during the Derby Ink Invitational this past year. Skating in the open scrimmage at the NE Derby Convention was a lot of fun, as are the open scrimmages at ECDX each year. Really, every moment that I am skating or bench coaching is a wonderful moment.
What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
I think I feel most accomplished about just being part of such an awesome team. The accomplishments of the team are the greatest.
Off the track?
This year my team gave me the “Most Encouraging” award – which was pretty special! And of course, I would say that the founding of SRG would be my biggest roller derby accomplishment.
You currently coach and skate as a member of the Salisbury Rollergirls’ All-Star team. What are some of the benefits and challenges of wearing both “hats” with your team?
The greatest benefits are that I get to do two things that I am very passionate about – playing roller derby and coaching roller derby. Also, being in a leadership position instills within me a sense of confidence that has certainly helped my game. The biggest challenge is just making sure that I am skating enough to continue challenging myself, continue learning, and to continue helping my teammates.
Who are your derby heroes?
All skaters everywhere, especially my teammates! Lolli Dagger, my former WCRR teammate, has always been a source of inspiration. And all those who put in time behind the scenes; their passion and selflessness is inspirational.
What is your day job? And how, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby?
I am a physical therapist assistant by day, and I am currently working on my yoga teaching certification, as well. I also have a small backyard farm. Treating patients has helped me to cultivate an understanding of physical limitations, which has helped my coaching greatly.
How has your involvement in roller derby affected the way you live the rest of your life?
As roller derby has been a top priority in my entire adult life, it is hard to imagine all the effects it has had. I couldn’t say where I would be had I not began playing. It was the spark that ignited the fire in teaching me that health and physical activity are essential for happiness. That has become the predominant theme in my life.
How do you find a balance between your derby life and your “real” life?
I find balance by practicing yoga daily, using a day planner, delegating as much as possible, and accepting that I have limitations.
What advice do you have for girls who want to join roller derby?
Try it! Try everything! If roller derby is something you are passionate about (as thousands upon thousands of women are) then give it your all. Don’t be afraid to go into something wholeheartedly, that is the only way to do it.
Do you have any upcoming bouts that you’re really excited for and why?
I’m excited for our entire 2014 season! Our first bout will be versus the Diamond State Roller Girls in May and it is exciting for several reasons: it is my old team, they have come a very long way over the past season, and it will determine our first ever ranking in the WFTDA! Also, we have a lot of new skaters this season who will be moving onto the Wicomikazis (our B team named for our county, Wicomico County). I am super excited to be bench coaching their bouts!
Do you have a special message to your fans?
Yes. Make today a great day. Regardless of what happens, choose to be happy! Also, keep cheering because you inspire me!
Is there anyone that you’d like to thank?
My fiancé – Bryan Whipple, my family, my past/present/future teammates, my derby wife (Lexa Cution), Mortem and Craig, all the SRG fans and supporters, Cinderosa and Hot Piece of Astronaut, Merry Khaos, my yoga teacher, all my teachers, all the East Coast teams, the WFTDA, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, all my health care providers, all my patients, and pretty much every person I have come into contact with ever for adding to my life in some way!
Is there anything else you'd like to share with WFTDA.com readers?
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has chosen me to be a part of their “Someday is Today” campaign, which features survivor stories. You can find information about the campaign and how you can help at the Cancer Ends With Me website, and there is a video about my story featuring SRG! Also check out my part in Bryan Whipple’s skate video to see some rad park/ramp/street skating, which is another passion of mine!
Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.