July 10, 2013
Ivanna S. Pankin started her roller derby career and her first league, Arizona Roller Derby, in 2003 and has been tirelessly contributing to the evolution of roller derby ever since! As the founder of RollerCon, Ivanna has established a roller derby following – and assisted the development of the community of roller derby – around the world, as skaters attend, socialize, learn to manage leagues, and hold their own on the track. Read on to learn more about what makes Ivanna so passionate about roller derby, plus what to expect at this year’s RollerCon!
What is your derby name? Ivanna S. Pankin
Please explain the inspiration and story behind your derby name.
I was standing in a Fry's Electronics signing up for internet access and it was the first thing that came to mind on the spot for an email handle. About two weeks later I posted a message on a punk rock band board inviting people to join my roller derby team, and to email me at that address. My name was Ivanna pretty much from that moment forward. For the record, I’m no longer a fan of spankings. You get over it after awhile.
What is your number? 22
What is your home league? SoCal Derby
Which team(s) do you play for?
We just have one team in my league. But I also play for Team Vagine, Chupacabras Peligroso (formerly Team Awesome), Team Fashole, and a few other multi-league teams.
Do you have a pre-bout ritual?
Well, bout day is the only day I don’t work ever. Now that I’m not captain of my team, I don’t even have to write lineups. I sleep in, eat a good breakfast, and relax like a house cat until Trish drags me out the door.
What do you think about when you’re lacing up your skates?
I’m usually looking at the tattered bits of laces and cussing at myself for forgetting to change them out the night before the bout.
Do you have a favorite motivational quote?
Not exactly, but I wish I had thought of GI Jersey’s tattoo. It says: I will find a way or make one.
Do you have a theme song?
I am not sure it’s a good idea to admit it, but my jammer song is “Pull Over that Ass Too Fat” by Trina. I just looked up the lyrics, though, and I’m not a hooker! I just get the hook locked in my head when I’m jamming. Whoop whoop!
What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
I was smoking behind the bleachers when the rest of you were playing sports before derby. I played in bands. The good thing about that is that I came in without any pre-existing injuries. But I also had a lot to learn about sports! My mom used to drop me off at the rink as a kid, though, and I did love skating when I was little. The skating part came right back to me when I had the opportunity to combine it with hitting people!
Please tell us about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby.
I coached my very first practice, so I learned how to play by teaching, I guess. As the years went by, I learned a lot from the skaters on my team – by watching how they did something and figuring it out so I could share it – and later from watching other sports and reading training books, as well. We were lucky to have a lot of great skaters in that first year that could learn from each other.
What is your position of choice?
I love all of them, but I’m probably best at jamming right now. I’m lucky because my team is small so I get to jam a lot.
How would you describe your derby playing style?
I play like I’m larger than I am. I actually think I’m larger than I am. I’m always surprised at how short I am in photos.
What is your signature move?
I asked one of my teammates and she said: “Well, you make that chihuahua sound.” So I don’t think I have a signature move. Oh, wait, Trish claims I’m always swatting people’s asses when I juke them into whiffing past me. As long as it doesn’t get me a penalty, I’ll claim that as my signature move.
What is your skate gear of choice?
I am lucky that part of my day job [owner of Sin City Skates with partner Trish the Dish] is to try gear, so I get to switch around a lot and try everything, sometimes even when I would prefer not to! I won’t wear any kneepads besides 187. I have lots of helmets, but our team helmets are Triple8. I’m excited about the 187 helmet with a face shield that’s in development because I get cracked in the face a LOT. I switch around between a few pairs of skates. My current favorites are Antik AR-1s, but I just got some really sweet purple and black Riedell 495s, so I’ll be wearing them as soon as they’re mounted. I love Crazy Venus plates, especially the sweet action from the continuous cushion system. I switch wheels endlessly because I review them for our site and fiveonfive, but I’m wearing B’Zerk wheels at the moment. My game time faves are RollerBones Day of the Dead. My favorite bearings are CLEAN or NEW ones.
What advice do you have for girls who want to join roller derby?
My advice for new skaters is to protect your knees and start cross training opposing muscle groups from DAY ONE.
How did you get involved with roller derby?
There was a fanzine called Roller Derby in the 90s and I was looking online for something I’d seen in it. I stumbled on the Bay Bombers site and signed up for their mailing list. They emailed me announcing tryouts three days before I moved to Arizona. So when I got to Arizona I thought: I’ll just start my own team! So I did.
Please tell us about flat track roller derby “at the beginning.” What was it like to be skating and building a league – Arizona Roller Derby – when there were so few leagues?
Well, for me it was like suddenly every stupid thing I was kind of good at could actually be used for something that mattered. I was a miserable cubicle monkey project manager and so much of founding a league is project management. I was in a band so I applied a lot of what I knew about booking / promoting / connections to building the league, naturally. And I had a degree in painting, so all of the sudden we need logos and t-shirts and fliers. I was 34 and growing wider instead of taller, until I found an exercise that was actually FUN to do. The small but growing community did and does make me feel like a small cog in a vast clockwork that amazes and inspires me, and that’s maybe the best part. I still get a lot of the same satisfaction out of it now, but of course it’s a LOT easier to delegate all that fun project management stuff.
You have played for a number of different teams and leagues during your long roller derby career, including some non-WFTDA endeavors. Please tell us about your return to the WFTDA. What made you decide to return to the organization you were a part of at the very beginning?
I never intended to leave the WFTDA! I moved to care for a family member with cancer, and when treatment ended, Trish and I moved to a league [San Diego Derby Dolls] in 2008 that was denied membership to WFTDA for not meeting all of the membership requirements right after we moved there. It was a big surprise and absolutely heartbreaking for us to not be a part of a WFTDA league anymore. But playing for a league that didn’t meet the membership requirements did make me appreciate the founding principles of the WFTDA even more. We spent a few really amazing and fun years playing banked and flat track, but ultimately, we missed the competitive opportunities, and the democratic principles of the WFTDA community even more.
Can you tell us some of the differences and similarities in your experiences with starting Arizona Roller Derby (in 2003) and your current league, SoCal Derby (in 2011)?
In 2003, I thought I had to do it all myself. I have learned to trust the people around me, so I can focus on the things I really love and let other people have fun doing the parts they love. Roller derby has taught me a lot about teamwork on and off the track.
In your experience, what are the biggest changes and the most striking similarities between the WFTDA “then and now”?
The WFTDA’s membership has grown immensely, so the tenor and volume and intelligence of chatter among WFTDA reps is kind of amazing. It’s great to see the sheer numbers of dedicated and clever voices making decisions and contributing to the endless dialogue of the WFTDA. There have always been smart people involved, but there are just so many now!
We understand you had a relatively long recovery after you tore your ACL a few years ago. Please tell us a little about this experience. What advice do you have for other skaters about recovering from injury?
My experience with the ACL thing actually ended up being really positive, in the end. The dumb thing I did was play without an ACL for almost two years. I played half as well and gained a lot of weight, and damaged what was left of my knees even worse. When I finally wised up and got surgery, my doc told me I would be off the track for eight to nine months. I thought: oh god, I’ll gain 100 pounds. So I joined Weight Watchers and learned how to eat healthy, and I threw myself into cross training and physical therapy. I spent the months away from derby falling back in love with it and getting super healthy – and shaking off years of ennui from the unavoidable personal dramas. It was like having my battery recharged. By the time I came back I was ready to eat blockers in my way. I came back stronger, healthier, faster, and more focused.
My advice for anyone with any injury is: don’t play on it. No game, no matter how important, is worth treating your body badly. Do what the doctor tells you! Take your recovery into your own hands: ask your doctor to help you with a training plan and physical therapy and what exercises you’re allowed to do. My doctor didn’t volunteer a lot of information, but he was happy to review the printouts I brought him to help me recover faster (which I did). If you do the minimum, you get the minimum out of it. My body needed the break and the cross training, so I got a lot out of it.
Please share your best derby moment (or moments).
This one is pretty good, actually.
What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
I feel privileged to have played in the first modern interleague game, so that’s a big one. Team Awesome taking second place by one point in triple overtime in the first banked track tourney was a big one; they initially tried to move us out of the top bracket because they didn’t think a flat track team would be able to compete. There have been a million awesome moments along the way, but the most recent was playing our first sanctioned game after years of working hard to get back into WFTDA – that was awesome. Playing it against AZRD for their tenth anniversary and SoCal’s second only made it sweeter.
Who are your derby heroes?
Trish the Dish inspires me on and off the track. Derby comes effortlessly to her (or so it seems to me!) so I try harder so I can compete with her – or actually, so I can kick her ass (or try to). As a co-captain, business partner, girlfriend, teammate and everything else, she also has the strictest and most well-defined sense of ethics of anyone I have ever met. The smartest thing I ever did was choose a best friend with “integrity” and “fidelity” tattooed on her arms.
What is your day job? And how, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby?
I spend 99% of my day working on RollerCon, so roller derby is most of my life, actually. Maybe that’s why I don't know how to retire like everyone else does. It’s just too much fun.
In the past 10 years, you have started roller derby leagues, and built the biggest roller derby convention in the world, as well as a thriving roller derby business. Wow! What keeps you passionate about this sport?
People ask me that all the time and I don’t know! I love playing roller derby. I’ll do anything in my power to make sure there is roller derby to play.
Where would you like to see roller derby in another 10 years?
I think that the performance-based business model of modern derby has a fatal flaw: we’re not pros and I don’t know if it makes sense to rely on ticket sales to play. So I hope to see us develop the sport so it’s even more ubiquitous: more people playing more derby everywhere, but casually – games in the park and on every flat surface big enough! Like soccer: just derby everywhere, after school and weekends, and scrimmages on every lit piece of cement in every city everywhere, and people playing it maybe without an audience but with as much passion as they play for crowds of ticket-holders now. I wish our track fit in a standard adult sized basketball court so it was easier and cheaper for people to play. I hope that junior teams spring up in every city and eventually every school district. I would love to see our rules in as many languages as the bible and as frequently referenced. But maybe it will take a little longer than ten years. Maybe not!
How has your involvement in roller derby affected the way you live the rest of your life?
That’s a hard question to answer, because I can’t imagine my life without it. I think I’m mellower in real life because I have the outlet, certainly. But since my significant other skates, and my job is related to derby, and I spend a fair amount of my not-team time cross training to play better... I think I might be immersed.
How do you find a balance between your derby life and your “real” life?
Roller derby is my real life.
While most skaters struggle to keep up with their skating and league commitments, you also find time to plan RollerCon – a massive international roller derby convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. Please give us a glimpse into the work and collaboration that goes into putting on RollerCon. How do you find the time?
RollerCon is super fun. There are hundreds of people working on individual jobs that make the whole thing go, and I get to be the one that brings all that together for a week. It’s an amazing, great time and the people I work with are so awesome! I don’t think of it as a struggle at all. I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t totally over-allocated all the time, anyway. If I had free time I’d just fill it up with ten more projects. I just wish that I didn’t have to sleep.
RollerCon has been called the “University of Roller Derby” because of the many amazing classes and instructors. What are some of the “can’t miss” classes and instructors coming to RollerCon in 2013?
There are SO MANY amazing coaches this year. Smarty Pants deserves her reputation, for one. Dirty Deb is the best skills coach I have ever seen at work – and funny, too. Demanda Riot and Scald Eagle’s War Paint class is going to be sick; I can’t wait to see their army of painted warriors take over the open scrimmage right after. Juke Boxx’s Antigravity class is always a huge hit. I’m looking forward to Stefanie Mainey’s classes. It’s her first time teaching at RollerCon but I did some research and her former students say they get a ton out of her sessions. There are so many good seminars, too.
What can skaters expect from your classes at RollerCon this year?
I have tentatively scheduled myself a few sessions, but the truth is that I can’t coach my best at RollerCon – I just have too much else on my mind to focus completely. I love coaching so I don’t want to do a bad job; if they want my best, they should come to Camp Awesome in Hawaii in January! It’s no coincidence that it falls right between RollerCons each year. My main goal at RollerCon is seeing that the convention runs smoothly behind the scenes. So people can expect that I’ll be doing that while they’re enjoying awesome classes from other coaches!
Do you have any upcoming bouts that you’re really excited for and why?
I can’t wait for RollerCon!! The Team Vagine game is one of the funnest I get to play in every year, and the Chupacabras versus Team SeXY (the dudes) is super fun, too. The dudes have beat us the last two years and I will do whatever I can to make sure it doesn’t happen this year – even lifting weights (and I really hate lifting weights). But I love hitting big dudes! My team is also planning on games in Alaska and New Orleans this season, and I’m psyched about that. Some of my favorite people in super fun destinations; I can’t wait!
Is there anyone that you’d like to thank?
Thanks Trish the Dish for running Sin City so I can work on RollerCon year round (among 1,000 other things she does for me). L’eggs N. Bacon is the best. My team is amazing. My mom and dad – thank you for everything. Thank you to AZRD and Sin City and the San Diego Derby Dolls for every moment of fun and all the moments to come. Thank you to RollerCon for the best job and best co-workers EVER. Thanks to WFTDA for existing. Thanks to fiveonfive and DNN and Flat Track Stats and all the blogs and podcasts and labors of love that derby people do that add to my life immensely. Thanks to the refs that tolerate me and the NSOs that give me obsessive reading material. Thanks to every amazing skater that joined derby and gave me an example of how much better I could be. Thanks to everyone I forgot, which is pretty much, like, everyone else.
Do you have a special message to your fans?
Hi Mom and Dad!
Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.