October 2013 Featured Skater: Kamikaze Kitten

October 15, 2013

Kamikaze Kitten believes that she has had the benefit of growing not only with her league (the London Rollergirls), but also with the sport of roller derby. She knew from her very first practice that roller derby was for her, and we couldn’t be happier about that. Now in her seventh season with the London Rollergirls, Kamikaze Kitten has taken advantage of the opportunity to travel the roller derby world as a skater for London Brawling, Team England, and also as a coach. Read on to learn more about what keeps Kamikaze Kitten rolling.

What is your derby name? Kamikaze Kitten

Please explain the inspiration and story behind your derby name.
Back when I started, my blocking technique was a little bit “loose cannon.” I knew where I had to be on the track but my skating skill wasn’t quite up to task, so I’d hurl myself around with little consideration of what happens AFTER you hit someone.

What is your number? 9

What is your home league? London Rollergirls

Which team(s) do you play on?
London Brawling (travel team) and the very glittery Suffra Jets (home team).

What is your skate gear of choice?
Riedell 495/595 mashup, Reactor plate, S1 helmet, and any pads that stay where I put them.

Do you have a pre-bout ritual?
I’ve been working hard on this over the years and finally, this year, feel like I’ve hit on a routine that works for me. Captains’ meetings seemed to always land right when I needed to be getting into a focused headspace and to begin my off skates warmup. So this year we made the decision to send our Bench Coach and not attend the Captains’ meeting. This change has really helped me plan the perfect pre-game schedule. I try not to get the adrenaline going too early, but as soon as it kicks in, I turn it from stress to excitement by listening to upbeat music. I don’t really like to talk to anyone during this process. We have talked as a team about what everyone’s pre-game preferences are, and so I don’t feel guilty about wandering off by myself as my team know that it’s what I need to do in order to play my best. I also brought my reaction ball to D1 Playoffs in Fort Wayne and that was a fun way of getting my body and mind ready for our regular warm up.

What do you think about when you’re lacing up your skates?
At the lacing-up-my-skates stage I’m usually batting away a lot of negative self-talk. I used to get myself quite stressed out before the first whistle of a game with “what if?” running through my head, but we’ve been working hard with the Dynamic Sports Academy to get a handle on negative thought patterns. It’s really useful to identify the stuff that your brain thinks up that is detrimental to performance and cut it off before it has a chance to grow.

Do you have a favorite motivational quote?
Each season I seem to have a different short phrase that will get me through the year and keep me on track. 2011 was “I am a rock” to take control of my emotions during gameplay. 2012 was “Never Give Up, Never Surrender” to keep me going right to the very end. This year, 2013, is “Faith in Hard Work” because nothing quiets nerves and brings confidence like knowing you’ve done all the hard work beforehand.

How did you get involved with roller derby?
I was working from home as an illustrator when my husband found an article about the London Rollergirls in a magazine. Always one to jump in with both feet I watched their next practice and joined a week later. Back in those days we could scrimmage at our first session. I was really lucky to join London Rollergirls when I did as I’ve been able to grow at the same rate as our league.

What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
As a teenager I was a committed skateboarder. Every spare minute was spent repeating tricks over and over and over and spending 90% of my time failing. I brought that same determination and methodical learning to roller derby. I’m not a “natural” in the sense of someone that can just pick things up straight away, but what I do enjoy is repetition until I nail something.

Please tell us about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby.
My rookie year was still very much the early days of London Rollergirls. I remember being very sweaty and very red faced at the end of every training session. Occasionally a U.S. bout would be streamed online and I would study the body movements and strategies of the other teams and write my goals for training in the upcoming weeks. I don’t really remember the bouts I was in or the social aspect of back then. I was all about the learning. I remember back then everyone had me pegged as a blocker and I’d occasionally jam in our intraleague bouts, perhaps four times a game.

What is your position of choice?
I’ve ended up as a Brawling Jammer and I think I’ve finally accepted that. In my head I’ve always been a blocker that occasionally jams, but it’s not been like that for years. Every season I like to start out with a healthy mix of jamming and blocking because it keeps me interested in the game, but as our bigger games approach I pretty much only jam at scrimmage.

What is your signature move?
Bouncy? We played a game where our teammates had to do impressions of us on the track and I’d say bouncy was the best adjective to describe it.

How would you describe your derby playing style?
I like to constantly evaluate the chance of me making something. So perhaps it’s “calculated.” If jammer penalties are an issue then I’ll play a more cautious game and allow my blockers to do their job. During our intraleague season I went in a little more carefree because the results didn’t ultimately matter. I saw the box a lot more than usual but it was also a lot of fun to go into a game guns blazing.

Congratulations on being named the MVP for the D1 Playoff tournament in Fort Wayne! How does it feel to be recognized with this honor? Please share some of your favorite moments from that weekend.
Thanks. It was really rather overwhelming. The whole weekend I was so focused on ‘the next 30 seconds’ – our team mantra for the tournament – that by the end of the weekend I was still in that mode and the award came as such a surprise. I’d shut down my emotional response to situations so that I could concentrate on playing the games right to the very end, and suddenly the emotion from the whole weekend came flooding in.

My favourite moments from the weekend? Every time we travel to the U.S. to play roller derby it feels like such an honour and a privilege. Flying for nine hours to a different country to play the sport that you train so hard for. Yet it’s the little moments that stick in your head. When skaters on other teams, ultimately your competition, greet you with such warmth like you are old friends. Probably my favourite moment from the weekend was when my teammate, Lady Gogo skated her first jam of the entire tournament in the last five minutes of a rather tense London Brawling versus Rose City Rollers’ Wheels of Justice bout. She took it in her stride and totally nailed it. I watched her from the bench, and I may even have smiled. I also love those moments when a blocker completely blindsides me as a jammer, and I go completely flying. Scylla Devourer had one of those on me in the Rose game too. I always want to say, “Hey, that was GREAT” but I'm not sure our Bench Coach, Ballistic Whistle would like that…

How does it feel to be a member of the first non-U.S. team to qualify for the WFTDA Championships?
This is something I’m especially proud of for our team. Well, not just our team, but for the entire roller derby community outside of North America. To me it indicates that you don’t have to play a dozen competitive games against top ten teams every year in order to progress – something that is financially unachievable to probably all leagues located outside of the U.S. That with a creative mind, good analytical skills, and a lot of thought put into your training structure, it’s possible to advance to the next level. You have to have faith that your training is doing the job. Our first game against U.S. competition after a big break always acts as a benchmark for us. Throughout August this year, London Brawling were the only London Rollergirls not on our annual league break, so we renamed the month Brawlgust and utilised every training session for the sole purpose of honing our craft. It got to the end of Brawlgust and I was so looking forward to playing against another team rather than just getting beaten up by my own. No one beats you up quite the way your friends do. Amazing. We were close last year, and a little bit heartbroken when we didn’t make it, but we really weren’t ready. We didn’t have what it takes to run with the likes of the Denver Roller Dolls (who would have been our first matchup) and so it would have been a very expensive single game. This year I feel like we are more prepared. Obviously on any given day you don’t know how a game is going to go, but we feel ready.

What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
Keeping with it and holding on to that motivation to get better. Without it there are plenty of people hot on my heels ready to take my spot on the team. We play so few bouts as London Rollergirls that every single one of them means a lot to me. I’ve been involved in all the major milestones of our league. The first time we played a U.S. team, when the Texas Rollergirls sent their home team the Hustlers to London, followed by our East Coast Tour where we played a Philly Roller Girls’ home team, CT Rollergirls , and Providence Roller Derby. The following year we hosted Anarchy In the UK with Montréal Roller Derby, Steel City Roller Derby, and Charm City Roller Girls, followed by our debut appearance at WFTDA East Region Playoffs in 2011 where we entered as 10th seed and left as 5th seed. And it’s continued from there. Because we have so few opportunities for competitive bouts, we need to make the most of every one of them and learn as much from the experience as possible.

You have described a specific approach to dealing with frustration and failure that allows you to continue improving your performance: “An almost compulsive perseverance in the face of constantly mucking up”. How has your approach to frustration on the track evolved over the years? What advice do you have for other skaters who are struggling with the challenges of playing roller derby?
I like tackling my weaknesses. It’s a personality trait. If I perceive that I’m not good at something I only feel better if I’ve worked on it until I can do it. However, that used to be my main motivation: work on my weaknesses until I don’t need to worry about them anymore. Now I try to be a little more disciplined with the process and less reactive to how I’m feeling about my skills. I spend some time evaluating, write an achievable plan, then reassess a couple of months later – rather than work on something until something new and shiny comes along to distract me.

Who are your derby heroes?
I feel a little like we are in this Golden Age of roller derby. I have no doubt that the skaters that follow on from us will have infinitely better skill and athleticism than we have right now, and that the game itself will look very different. But we’re lucky enough to have a whole bunch of players that have been playing since near the beginning of this modern incarnation and that’s really amazing. So many of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby skaters that I studied so closely on the pixel-y laptop stream are still playing and being amazing and that’s incredibly inspiring.

As a non-U.S. athlete, jet lag and adapting to time changes must be a significant factor when competing in tournaments in the United States. How do you prepare for international travel? And how do you manage the effects of travel and jet lag in order to remain competitive on the track?
To be honest, being away with roller derby takes me so completely out of my everyday life trying to balance everything that it’s actually quite nice. No distractions. I can 100% focus on my needs as an athlete and not worry that I’m not doing all of those other jobs that real life throws at you. I don’t go into holiday mode at all on trips, but I sleep as much as I can. The toughest part always is eating well. Jet lag and being away on tour can play havoc with my appetite so I have to force myself to get my meals in, and finding healthy food when you don’t have a kitchen can be a pain.

What is your day job? And how, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby?
When I started playing roller derby I was a freelance illustrator, but with the volatile economic climate and my increasing commitment to roller derby, I moved into freelance retouching which provided a more stable income and allowed me to get to training. It seems that I only have the capacity for one creative pursuit/obsession in my life and for now that’s roller derby. I’ll hopefully have plenty of years painting and drawing when I come out the other side of this crazy experience.

How has your involvement in roller derby affected the way you live the rest of your life?
I really believe that it has changed me as a person. My life before roller derby was quite a self-dependent one. I was my own boss, had a few select friends and my husband, and if I didn’t agree with something someone said I wouldn’t have to see them again. Working within the roller derby community is all about compromise and understanding where other people are coming from. It’s made me a more compassionate person and shown me that working towards a common goal takes the many and varied skills of others. You’ve got to trust in others because you can’t do everything yourself.

In addition to being a skater, you also coach and organize boot camps. Please tell us about your approach to coaching, and the influence it has had on your own skating.
I love coaching. I love the problem solving aspect of being a coach. I love evaluating how our team is progressing and working out the most efficient way to improve on our weaknesses. It’s always a shame that when I coach our team it means I can’t join in the drills, so I do have to be careful that we spread the load out between us so that no one skater misses out on too much training. I’m also lucky that the other coaches in our league bring very different observations to the table, that complement each other. Last year I spent a lot of time travelling to coach other leagues. It was a great way of meeting so many dedicated teams and hopefully every skater came away a better player. I saw so many great cities and the hospitality of wonderful people. Thinking back, it was such a unique and lovely way of experiencing cities around the world.

And in addition to being a skater, coach, and boot camp organizer, you also write a blog about roller derby. We love your blog! What made you decide to write a roller derby blog? How do you decide what topics to write about?
Well, I was going to start a blog about Formula 1 racing, but as I have no interest in that it seemed a little pointless. I just write about things that I am thinking about; those little “aha!” moments that we all have. I’ve been a little quiet this year on there, however, as I’ve been in a more “head down, work hard, see where you get to” mood rather than a self reflective one.

How do you find a balance between your derby life and your “real” life?
I don’t. I think part of what makes you successful is to recognise that no, you can’t have it all if you endeavour to be the best version of yourself at a particular discipline. It takes sacrifice, and choosing what to invest your time in in the knowledge that you can’t do everything. Volunteer organisations are tricky in this regard. They’ll take every bit of you that you are prepared to hand over, and there will still be more jobs to do, but no one wants to be on a team with the player that takes all the benefits and gives nothing back.

Do you have a special message to your fans?
Hi mum!

Do you have any upcoming bouts that you’re really excited for and why?
Championships!!!!! The “Win Win” event of the year. If we win lots of games we get to have played lots of games, if we lose in our first round we get to watch flippin’ Championships!

Is there anyone that you’d like to thank?
My team – for never letting me stop working hard. Everyone that supported London Brawling at D1 Playoffs this year. The Dynamic Sports Academy for making sure that Monday night is more effort than anything we could go through on the track. Riedell for making me the prettiest skates in the world and putting up with my “if we put this bit of this boot here, and that bit here…” And my husband, for never complaining about my ridiculous obsession with “skating in circles good.”

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Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.