2015 September Featured Skater: Mishel Castro

September 1, 2015

Mishel Castro isn't a person to do anything halfway, throwing her passion for derby into all things, having been WFTDA rep, GM, captain and more. Derby has taught Mishel about building confidence and strength, both things that have translated to her being a strong leader for her team both on and off the track. Fans can look forward to seeing Mishel all over the track this month when she competes with Philly Roller Derby in the D1 Playoffs in Dallas September 11-13.

September 2015 Featured Skater: Mishel Castro

Photo by Tyler Shaw

What is your derby name?
I use my government name, Mishel Castro. Prior to 2010, I skated under the derby name "Violet Temper."

Please explain the inspiration and story behind your derby name.
I had actually chosen another derby name but it was already registered - this was 2005 so it was very serious business - you didn't take a name even remotely close to another skaters' (and back then, the registry was updated and comprehensive). So, my buddy Mo (Pain) suggested Violet Temper - I just liked how it sounded...somewhat refined but accurate (I admit that my temper isn't always awesome). In 2010, I decided to drop Violet for Mishel (which no one uses), or Castro, simply because I didn't want to maintain a double personality anymore. Plus, my last name is pretty epic on it's own.

What is your number?

What is your home league?
Philly Roller Derby

Which team(s) do you play on?
I am one of the captains for the Philly All-Star Liberty Belles (we no longer have home teams), and outside of PRD, the Pennsylvania All-Stars and the Bont QuadStars. I'm also on a fun pick-up team called the Fishtown Fighting Shad (ask me to give you a Shad punch!).

What is your skate gear of choice?
My beautiful turquoise Bont Hybrid Carbon semi-customs - I have two completely different sized feet and Bonts fit like a glove since they were (literally) made for my feet! Add in the Bont Infinity plate with any of their wheels, and I'm good to go - my skates are super light and responsive. I am a bit random with protective gear and admittedly have had the same 187s for awhile (old pads are not recommended), plus SISU mouthguard, and S1 helmet.

Do you have a pre-bout ritual?
Other than eating everything on earth the morning of, not really. I find I can get stuck in rituals (and then get mental when they don't come to fruition), and when playing away games it's hard to control the environment or events of the day. So for me, just staying relaxed, and doing as many laps as possible during downtime in the warm-up helps me stay focused. I like to do something "endurancy" to get the adrenaline down - I get too jittery and anxious otherwise.

What do you think about when you're lacing up your skates?
When I'm gearing up before a game, I try to slow my thoughts so I'm not letting my mind race with minutiae (do I need to pee again? where is so-and-so?, when is warm-up?, do I have time to eat more snacks? OMG I hope we win...)....I try to make that moment mine and clear my head of everything. I sometimes wear headphones to drown out everyone's chatter.

Do you have a favorite motivational quote?
It's not so much a quote but... One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two 'wolves' inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith." The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?" The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

Do you have a theme song?
Not to state the obvious, but Philly always rallies behind the Rocky theme - whenever I hear that song, my brain and body have a Pavlovian reaction - TIME TO FIGHT (this can get awkward if it comes on the radio when I'm driving)! My personal theme songs vary between 80s hair metal like "We're not gonna take it" by Twisted Sister, and dancy pop like La Roux's "Bulletproof." My best games have been as a result of pre-game dance parties at the bench, or in the locker room.

How did you get involved with roller derby?
I was working as the webmaster for Philly's free alt-newsweekly and we did a cover story on how "roller derby is back!" - this was in May of 2005. I contacted the (then) head of recruitment, Mo Pain, through Myspace (I'm really dating myself, here) and started going to practices on Mother's Day. From day 1, I was the cliche: hooked. I threw myself into going to every practices, stepped up to run the league's art department and started coaching what I could. I was voted in as one of the league's first captains and helped shape the process behind how our All-Stars are formed, and the subsequent forming of our B-team and local mixed team (this is after our home teams were dissolved). I was one of our first WFTDA reps for three years, and I was the GM at one point. I can safely say I've been involved in about 95% of Philly's 10-year development as a league. (Philly, I'm tired...buy me a beer.)

What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
Like a lot of kids in the 80s, I grew up hanging at the roller rink, so I was decently comfortable on my skates when I started playing derby. I also played soccer, softball, ran cross-country and threw discus, shot put and javelin on the Winter and Spring track + field team in high school. Beyond that, I had a short stint learning to speed skate with a community recreational speed team as a teen. I also spent a lot of time cycling and was training to race at one point. Aside from a period of time in my 20s where I was admittedly pretty lazy, I've always enjoyed having a physical outlet. I need it to stay sane.

Please tell us about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby.
Philly had just formed as an actual entity in March of 2005, so when I came into the league, there weren't try-outs and we were all rookies. We learned how to play the sport by leaning on more established resources in the area - for example, Suzy Hotrod would visit Philly on weekends (as she's from the area), so she would come to teach us skills in a parking lot. (Gotham had formed in 2003 so we considered them our local experts.) When Philly was admitted into the United Leagues Coalition (pre-WFTDA) in July 2005, it really helped us connect with other leagues and try to figure out what we were doing. We played our first exhibition game in November of 2005 and I think the rules were only a few pages long (were there even rules?). Mo Pain and I went to the first Dust Devil and seeing the various levels of play and strategies helped us bring Philly to the next level. It was truly eye-opening! As far as how I learned to play roller derby....well, I would say that I'm still trying to figure it out!

September 2015 Featured Skater: Mishel Castro

Jamming against Gotham's Suzy Hotrod in Philly's first interleague bout in 2006
Photo by Christopher Boetticher

What is your position of choice?
I prefer to block - Violet used to jam, though. She'll make an appearance during scrimmages sometimes.

What is your signature move?
Being annoying ... I am not a big take-out hitter (though I've had moments), but I like to just stick to a jammer and annoy her by laterally tracking all-day long. I also have been enjoying being the backwards-facing brace because I'm big on communication.

How would you describe your derby playing style?
I think I am consistent and somewhat quiet/unassuming - I really like fitting into pack dynamics and working as a seamless unit with my team.

Please share your best derby moment (or moments).
Winning third place at "Nationals" in 2008 with other then-East region teams Windy and Gotham. We got neat wooden "medals" ... ! It was also the first high production tournament I had seen - Rose City really set the bar high. I felt like I had arrived! I would be remiss to not mention the 1-point win against Gotham back in 2009. I realize this is approximately 43924823 years ago in derby-terms (and they've pretty much murdered us ever since), but that elation and the closeness that team felt remains unmatched, and we definitely won that after party! In more recent terms, getting to play the Decade of Derby game with other 10+ year skaters at Rollercon was so much fun (belt whips and dog piles)! Being a guest on the Team USA men + women game wasn't bad, either. Overall, though, the best moments have been forming the amazing friendships and building my extended family. There are so many jokes and stories that I could be here all day sharing them.

What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
My biggest accomplishment - honestly - is that I'm still here! It's a really stellar feeling to have helped create a league from the beginning and still be playing as a starter on our All-Stars - I think I've only missed 2-3(?) Belles games in my career. Being a Bont QuadStar is also high on my list of 'things that are awesome' - I'm definitely not new + shiny but I work my butt off. It's such an honor to be included in this amazing team of skaters when there are hundreds (thousands?) of high-level players.

Off the track?
Helping form the first grievance panel for WFTDA, and serving on the first two ref cert committees was pretty cool - so many years later I've seen our organization grow into this professional machine and I got to help plant the seedlings. In terms of off-track moments with Philly - being one of the first captains in our league to maintaining that position even now, is a great honor (full disclosure: I took a few seasons off, I'm not a robot!). My league has trusted me to also be our director of training and I've been a coach since I started playing. Such has granted me the exciting privilege of coaching outside leagues and meeting amazing people all over the world. I feel like I'm living the dream! It's also cool to have played + lived through every weird ruleset, all the growth and changes and still be lacing up my skates with players many years younger than me. I hope to play until I can't anymore.

Who are your derby heroes?
There are thousands of them: anyone who plays derby is immediately a hero to me because I know first-hand how much work it takes to make it look so effortless on the track. In more specific terms, I would say I am in awe of my teammate, Kilmartin (aka Persephone), who has stayed a top player for Philly for the tenure of her career long career (and who continually reinvents her style of play, even now) - as well as the other OG Belles whom I am honoured to still skate with - Ginger Vitis and Teflon Donna. V-Diva is pretty spectacular as well (she can jump 10 feet in the air!) - she is also a great coach and total sweetheart. Philly is lucky to have her. In terms of blatant fan-girling, I can't avoid saying I love watching Mainey, Scald Eagle, Brawlin Angel, and Erin Jackson skate - and lucky me, I get to play with them as a #bontbuddy. Last but certainly not least, my friend and former teammate, Nina Knockout. She is retired from skating at the moment, but her strength and kindness are indescribable. She taught me so much!

September 2015 Featured Skater: Mishel Castro

Photo by Hale Yeah

What is your day job? And how, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby?
I work for an online ad agency/ad server as an Art Director - I am really lucky in that they are very supportive by being flexible with my schedule, and I can also work remotely so I can make it to practice on time. Having a design background has also helped me work as a creative resource for my league and at one point, WFTDA (I helped create the logo style-guide in...2008? It has probably changed since then, ha ha).

How has your involvement in roller derby affected the way you live the rest of your life?
I realize it's the cliche, but it's helped me gain confidence in all aspects of my life - I've struggled with a negative body image since being a kid and derby has helped me move past most of what used to haunt me. I feel more comfortable in my body than I ever have - I could never think to wear spandex in public and now it's pretty much my uniform (sorry, not sorry?). Beyond this, it constantly pushes me out of my comfort zone. I admit that I can be pretty reserved and don't always love being in new situations - derby is always pushing me to be more social, vocal and to try new things. It's all terrifyingly rad.

You have been incredibly involved in the roller derby community since day one, including having served on RefCert and attending the very first WFTDA conventions. What are your thoughts on the evolution of the sport during this time? Where do you see the future of roller derby heading?
It's been such a long, crazy ride - though, in retrospect it all happened so fast! I feel as though I blinked and it grew into this professional, capable organization with hundreds of member leagues. I mean, I remember sitting in a room in 2006 in St. Paul deciding what we would call ourselves (we obviously chose the WFTDA)....and talking about how to handle when more than one league wanted to crop up in your city. These may seem like minor issues now, but when we were figuring things out they were major topics of conversation. In the beginning - and I imagine this still holds somewhat true - a lot of what happened was a result of a lot of trial and error. We were drawing the road map on the fly and sometimes we found ourselves lost....but the resilience and dedication of the people involved has always been unparalleled. That's why the organization is successful and the sport evolved in such a way as a literal, direct result of the skaters drawing that map - how often can this be said? It blows my mind. In terms of where derby is heading - I'm honestly happy to say that I really don't know! I never imagined we'd be here ten years ago. Every year, skaters are more skilled, athletic, and leagues continue to get more and more competitive. Men and the juniors have arrived. The World Cup had over 30 countries compete. While I'm not sure we're fully ready for the Olympics I am confident we will be in my lifetime. I just hope we continue to make room for all levels of players and continue to facilitate derby being the positive influence it has been for thousands of people world-wide. Losing the home-grown nature of what we've built would be somewhat bittersweet. Long story short: let's dominate but not forget where we came from.

How do you find a balance between your derby life and your “real” life?
To be honest, I'm not sure I do. After ten years of playing, it's harder and harder to find this separation - derby has helped shape who I am as a human and extracting that from day-to-day is somewhat impossible. Being that my partner also skates, I admit that it can consume our lives. All this being said, I do try to respect the need for non-derby time by unplugging and going biking, having weekly dates with my friends who have retired or carving out at least one day a week where derby is not our focus. It's really important to not overdo your involvement to the degree that your life becomes singularly focused (plus, you'll be kind of boring at parties).

Your amazing eagle tattoo was recently featured in the Philly Voice in an article on roller derby tattoos. What was the feedback from that article and how do your tattoos represent you in roller derby?
The feedback was really cool! It was a pleasure to be included in the gallery of my league mates. The derby world features so much amazing tattoo work. I have a few 'derby' related tattoos - my ankle wings were installed in 2006 as an homage to Mercury (also the ruling planet of my astrological sign) and jokingly as a way to make me skate faster. (I think it worked?) My eagle was done this past year by my friend/artist Andrew Johnson-Lally as a representation of my power animal - Philly likes to have fun with associating with them. The eagle was assigned to me in 2008 as a result of my "eagle eye" focus and presumably, my crazy eyebrows. Celebrating my ten-year anniversary with a giant chest piece felt like the right thing to do.

September 2015 Featured Skater: Mishel Castro

Photo by Juan Paden

What advice do you have for people who want to play roller derby?
CROSS TRAIN. Like it or not, derby has changed - this isn't to say it's not possible to be successful as a new player with no sports background or fitness, I will just say it greatly helps one's development in the sport to have base-level conditioning. More importantly, it also helps prevent injury. Beyond getting strong, I would say to watch tons of footage (and know the game as well as you can), play with new people as much as possible (go to ECDX or Rollercon and play all the challenges!), and also realistically assess what you're willing to trade to play this sport. Derby can be as much or as little as you want it to be, but knowing your goals and limits will help shape your direction in your skating career. Oh, and have some damned fun! Derby is fun!

Just like the WFTDA, you are celebrating a decade of derby this year! What advice to you have for skaters looking to make roller derby into a long term hobby and passion?
Try to find balance - between derby and "real life" - working out and recovery, competing and having fun, taking things seriously and blowing off steam. If you reach a limit: take a break and assess. There's nothing worse than forcing yourself to do something that no longer feels productive or fun. In terms of longevity in playing derby - injury prevention is key, so again, cross-train. I am so beyond fortunate to not have sustained anything major that has taken me off-skates (knock on wood!), and I largely attribute that to the focus I put on taking care of my body. I've had teammates think I'm crazy for lifting or cycling on top of going to every practice, but I'm still doing OK 10 years later, so something must be working. Clear the air: don't let interpersonal issues with teammates or coaches get in the way of a creating a positive environment. I'm a strong advocate of confronting issues head on so they don't become giant untenable messes later. It took me a while to learn I wasn't going to be best buddies with every single league mate, but fostering an culture of mutual respect goes a long way. Last piece of advise: don't book a red-eye home from a tournament and expect to go right to work without feeling extreme pain and suffering.

Do you have a special message to your fans?
Thanks, Mom! She's my biggest fan and has been so supportive.

Do you have any upcoming bouts that you’re really excited for and why?
Playoffs in Dallas - we've never played Dallas, so that will be great! I want Philly to be one of the only 3 leagues to head to Champs 7 years in a row. The competition is fiercer than ever but I know we can do it.

Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.