March 2014 Featured Skater: Mad Mel Arena

March 1, 2014

As roller derby grows in Australia, and Australia’s first full member WFTDA league (Victorian Roller Derby) makes its mark on the derbyverse, this month’s featured skater has been hard to miss. From her dynamic and graceful jamming style, to her focused coaching and mentoring off the track, Mad Mel Arena is determined to show that Australian roller derby is a force to be reckoned with. Read on to learn more about Mad Mel and her plans and aspirations for 2014.

What is your derby name? Mad Mel Arena

Please explain the inspiration and story behind your derby name.
I originally wanted to call myself Mel-icious – but that was taken already! :D So an old fellow league member of mine suggested ‘Mellerina’ (ballerina + my name is Melanie), and because I was a figure roller skater at the time, it seemed very fitting. Then I added the ‘Mad’ to make it a bit more ‘punchy’ and made the ‘Arena’ part to suggest a surname – or like an arena to perform or play sport in. (I majored in Theatre Performance at university). It also holds some Australian (art) references within it too – i.e., the film, Mad Max, (or Mad Mel Gibson ;D) and singer Tina Arena.

What is your number? 505 – because it looks like SOS – like, “You’re gonna need an SOS when you play against Mad Mel Arena!” ;)

What is your home league? Victorian Roller Derby League (VRDL)

Which team(s) do you play on?
The VRDL All Stars and Team Australia (travel teams), the Toxic Avengers (home team) and a bunch of other ‘funsies’ teams – such as the ‘Pussywhips’ (Aussie women’s team versus rival men’s team ‘The Moustachio Nuts’) and Team ‘Artistic’ (at events such as Rollercon).

Australian roller derby has exploded in the past few years. There are currently two full member WFTDA leagues, and three Apprentice Program leagues in Australia. What do you think has contributed to this growth? What are your hopes for the future of Australian roller derby?
Too true! I think the growth has stemmed from a few reasons. Initially, I think the fact that a contact sport for adult women that showed strength, empowerment, and ownership (by/for the skater) was very appealing and new. From there, I think more and more people got to see how awesome, inclusive, and amazing our sport is (not to mention it’s addictive) and it went from there. We now have men’s and juniors’ leagues sprouting up all over Oz too! I hope Australian roller derby grows even more, becomes/remains sustainable and consistently "raises the bar."

How have you been involved in the growth of roller derby in Australia?
Well, I guess I’ve been involved by actively skating, coaching, volunteering, assisting, empowering others, and not being afraid to voice my opinion or offer my expertise when needed or asked. I always aim to raise the bar and I love sharing my positive experiences of roller derby with pretty much everybody I meet – so perhaps add marketing to that list?! Many people tell me that I inspire and motivate them too (by doing the above) so that probably contributes to the growth of our sport in some way as well?!

What is your skate gear of choice?
Well obviously I LOVE CRAZY SKATES! Not just because they’re a sponsor of mine, but because they have great product and are an Australian owned company that provides quality service. I currently rock their DNA and/or DBX5 boots, Venus plates, and either the large ‘Bloc’ or ‘Bounce’ toe-stops. They have a range of wheels to accommodate any surface. Wayne at Derby Skates supports and assists me with all my (other) protective gear needs. He has supported me and helped me source all things roller derby related since ‘forever,’ and is a long-term friend and self-confessed "rink rat."

Generally, I like to wear gear that is slim-line and comfortable, but still offers support and protection. (I find that Atom pads satisfy my current needs there.) Oh, and can I give Spank Alley a plug for their awesome armbands and helmet ‘panties’ too please?!

Do you have a pre-bout ritual?
Yes, I usually make sure to eat a big breakfast early in the day and something enough to keep me going throughout the day, as well as a large (real) coffee (skinny latte, one sugar thanks). And then, if I can, I’ll rock out to some really loud music to get me pumped up.

What do you think about when you’re lacing up your skates?
Generally, if it’s before a game I use this time to focus on my mental game; I balance my energy levels, give myself some positive self-talk, and aim to feel super prepared. I may also use it to chat with my teamies about any strategy or game play stuff one more time. If it’s not game day, I’ll be thinking about my skates being on tight enough, whether or not I need new laces, or I’ll be singing a song (sometimes out loud). LOL.

Do you have a favorite motivational quote?
I really relate to this Michael Jordan quote. It’s been my laptop ‘wallpaper’ for over a year now: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” I also have my own little motto that can be relative to anything in life, (not just derby) and that is “It’s okay to fall down, the main thing is to get back up and learn from it.”

Do you have a theme song?
Ha ha, yes I do – and I see I share it with Atomatrix – it’s “Eye of the Tiger” as performed by Survivor, and featured on the ‘Rocky’ movie soundtrack. Yes, it’s pretty lame, cheesy, and from the 80’s – but so am I! ;)

How did you get involved with roller derby?
One day at my local rink, after training (for artistic), I saw a jazzy looking poster with a cartoon of Uncle Sam on it stating that ‘my roller derby league needed me.’ I didn’t really know what roller derby was then so I researched it, watched ‘Whip It,’ and ultimately thought, “That looks like fun, I could totally do that!” My fiancé convinced me I’d be good at it and so I joined my local league. The rest (they say) is history…

What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
As mentioned above, I have an (predominantly) artistic/figure roller skating background, but I’ve also dabbled in other disciplines such as speed skating and roller hockey. There was a time in my life (around a decade) where I was forced to quit skating due to some unfortunate personal circumstances, but even then I tried to remain active in other sports, such as basketball, netball, soccer, and softball. I’ve been on roller skates for close to 15 years of my life so far.

Rumour has it there is a funny story about your experience in roller hockey. Please share it with us!
Yes, so I was asked to skate in an interstate roller hockey tournament with some friends when I was much younger. After some begging to the parentals, my Mum finally caved and agreed to let me go and play - provided I wore a helmet. (Back then it wasn't compulsory to wear one - can you believe it?!). So I agreed and did so and felt very embarrassed being the only skater wearing a helmet (other than the goalies) and then right after our last game I went and sat down, completely off the rink, removed my helmet and then proceeded to get hit in the head with a puck by my mates who were practicing on the sidelines! I arrived home with a big black eye and some stitches and (alas) my Mum never let me play roller hockey again... I still don't think she believes that I wore that helmet every game!

Please tell us about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby.
My rookie year began in late 2009 with the newly established and nearby South Sea Roller Derby (current WFTDA Apprentice league). Back then, there was a minimum amount of time that members had to wait until being tested to move up levels, so I had to wait for 12 months before I was allowed/able to bout (although it was well worth the wait)! I learned from coaches, trainers, teammates, research, the WFTDA Rules of Flat Track Roller Derby, watching other games, and by transferring the skills I already had learned in roller skating and other team sports.

Please tell us about your 2013 roller derby season. What were some of the highlights? What have you got planned for 2014?
Wowee, what a year! 2013 was a big one and 2014 doesn’t look like it’s going to be less big! :D Essentially, 2013 involved numerous local, regional, interstate, and international bouts (around 30 bouts), a bunch of coaching around the country (for the league, fundraising with the travel team, and/or on my own), Rollercon in Las Vegas, TWO American tours – including Division 1 Playoffs (in Salem, Oregon) and “The Big O,” as well as a mega six weeks of travel where I got to visit and train with some amazing leagues in the USA and UK. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel, play derby, and coach – every moment has a highlight.

What is your position of choice? Jammer

What is your signature move?
I think I’d have to say it’s offering the opposition my back (illegal target zone) while side surfing around the outside of the track. I’ve sent a lot of blockers to the bin [penalty box for those in North America] for that one! :D

How would you describe your derby playing style?
Given my background, my derby name, and that I’ve been told I look very ‘graceful’ when I’m playing/skating – I’d say ‘like a ballerina on roller skates!’

Please share your best derby moment (or moments).
I’m lucky – I have so many wonderful moments to draw from! Where do I start?! Umm…

  • 2014 – Being selected for the Team Australia (Training Squad)
  • 2013 – Winning 4/4 games at the Big O
  • 2012 – MVP of Roller Derby Xtreme in Melbourne
  • 2011 – MVP of VRDL versus Rat City Rollergirls’ All Stars

Oh, and I have to add the moment when we (VRDL All Stars) rose up from a pretty big deficit against Wasatch Roller Derby to take the win in our final game (and effectively winning the tournament) at ‘The Big O’ last year. We were all in tears by the end of the game – it was a very special moment.

What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments off the track?
(Does singing the National Aussie anthem at Playoff's count?! :D)

I won quite a few titles with artistic roller skating, most notably in 2011 when I won the silver medal at the Oceania Artistic Roller Skating Championships, and I (almost) had the gold at ‘Nationals’ that same year (I was leading after the short program but my performance in the long didn’t quite cut it. I ended up with the silver again). And in 2009 I won my local paper’s (Frankston Standard Leader) “Female Sportsperson of the Year Award.” That was a pretty big deal and very special to me also.

Congratulations on being selected to Team Australia for the 2014 Roller Derby Wold Cup! How did you prepare for success at the tryouts?
Thank you. I’d say I prepared by aiming to be the best that I could be and by minimising any ‘expectations.’ I tried not to worry about the outcome or the other amazing skaters (and friends!) that were also trying out, but instead tried to focus on showing my strongest skills, develop some teamwork with my fellow skaters, and have some fun! :)

What you are you hoping to achieve with Team Australia?
I am hoping for Team Australia to show the derby world how far we’ve come since the last World Cup, and to ultimately win a place in the top three. As a skater and team member, I’d like to develop my leadership skills and show my versatility.

Who are your derby heroes?
In no particular order I’d have to say Kitty DeCapitate, Atomatrix, Quadzilla, and Bonnie Thunders are my derby heroes.

What is your day job? And how, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby?
I currently work full time (minimum 38-hour week) at my Local Council/Local Government in the Road Safety/Community Services fields. Basically, I manage the school crossings unit (approximately 90 part-time staff) and other related small projects. I’ve also had experience in retail/music and entertainment stores, management, hospitality, performing arts, teaching, coaching, promotions, and marketing. Every work experience has provided me with numerous skills, support, and of course an income that have all contributed to my experience of roller derby in one way or another.

How has your involvement in roller derby affected the way you live the rest of your life?
In so many ways! (And positively!) I'd say I'm a happier and healthier person because of roller derby.

How do you find a balance between your derby life and your “real” life?
Sometimes with great difficulty! ;) Time management, planning, and prioritising are essential. Add a great deal of support, open communication, recognition, and understanding in there, and that’s how I find my balance.

What advice do you have for girls who want to join roller derby?
Dooooo iiiiiiittt!!! Some of the best moments of my life can be attributed to roller derby, and anybody can get involved. Always aim to be the best you can be.

Please tell us about your recent “Six Weeks Challenge.” In what other ways are you engaging your growing fan base?
Ha ha, you’ve done your research, I like it! :D Well, essentially my “Six Week Challenge” was really just an idea and a tool to keep myself accountable, to reach some goals, and to educate and assist other people too. I had recently been receiving questions from other people (and skaters) about my own training, coaching and diet tips, plus I needed to get myself back into shape after my indulgent ‘off-season’ – so I decided to run my own little ‘challenge’ on Facebook. I posted special guest interviews, videos, pictures, exercise and meal plans on there for six weeks and set (and achieved) some goals. I was so surprised with the positive response and support (it received over 650 likes in only two days), and now I’m starting to think it was more like a ‘pre-challenge’ to the year ahead! Stay tuned. I also have a “Mad Mel Arena” page on Facebook and Twitter.

How does it feel to have a “growing fan base?”
Um. Exciting. Weird. Special. Scary. Nice. Humbling. Comforting.

Do you have a special message to your fans?
Thank you so much for your continued support and for being a part of my journey so far, here’s to the future! raises glass :D

Do you have any upcoming bouts that you’re really excited for and why?
Yes, many!

  • We just had our first VRDL home bout for the season, which is always fun and exciting to be a part of – new teammates, new year/season, etc.
  • Obviously I’m looking forward to the Blood & Thunder World Cup – to be a part of it this time around
  • The Great Southern Slam (TGSS) – a biennial event held for teams from all over the Southern Hemisphere. We (VRDL) will be aiming to keep the trophy for the third year in a row and since its inception.
  • East Coast Derby eXtravaganza (ECDX) – the VRDL All Stars are competing in this tournament and other bouts in June
  • And without ‘jumping the gun’ – the WFTDA Playoff and Championship tournaments. Just because, of course! :D

Is there anyone that you’d like to thank?
Yes. There are so many – and all are worth noting so I must! THANK YOU! To all the people who have supported me, inspired and motivated me to be my best and/or made sacrifices for me to succeed: my fiancé George, my family, friends, and ‘fans,’ my sponsor (Crazy Skates International), Wayne at Derby Skates, my team and leaguemates (past and present), my friend/artistic coach/mentor (Jayson Sutcliffe), Peta at Spank Alley, the officials, the photographers, and all the volunteers that make derby ‘happen,’ the WFTDA, my (past and present) trainers/coaches and health therapists, and also the people that invite me to coach and/or welcome me into their leagues and lives. You are all amazing (my everyday ‘heroes’) and I thank you very much!

Do you know a WFTDA skater with a dazzling derby career that should be featured on Please email and tell us why!

Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.