2016 Roller Derby World Championships – Portland, OR

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Roller Derby! (Photo Credit: Tomas Sluiter)

This weekend, I experienced my first WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) Roller Derby World Championships! I absolutely love Roller Derby, and I started following it back in 2010 when a good friend (who will be featured later in this article) tried out for, and made the Naptown Roller Girls in Indianapolis, IN. After this weekend, I have to say, Roller Derby is TOUGH!!! So many simply don’t understand the physicality of the sport and how fun it is to spectate. For anyone that follows WWE Smackdown, Roller Derby eclipses it in drama and entertainment, but it’s real.  Oddly enough, when I let friends know that I planned to cover the event, many laughed and giggled….I guess it’s really something one needs to experience in person to really appreciate it. That said, I am biased, and two good friends of mine came through the ranks of roller derby. They are Cease Ann Desist and Hauss The BossI must say, I would put either of these two athletes up against any athlete I know in terms of drive, strength, and raw athleticism. Cease retired from Derby a couple of years ago and Hauss just retired after this weekend from the travel team.

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Jacksonville  Girls v. Victorian Roller Derby League. (Photo Credit: Tomas Sluiter)

 

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Jacksonville Roller Girls v. Victorian Roller Derby League (Photo Credit: April Sluiter)

 

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Texas Roller Girls v. Rose City Rollers. (Photo Credit: Tomas Sluiter)

Now, I could very easily just focus on the score and the tournament itself, but to me, that wouldn’t be any fun. I do need to give credit where credit is due though, and the Rose City Rollers defended their world title in epic fashion after eliminating the Texas Rollergirls (whom Hauss skates for), the Victorian Roller Derby League, and finally, the Gotham Girls Roller Derby TeamAll of these bouts were extremely hard fought, but The Rose City Rollers simply had everyone’s number this year. They skated into each bout with professionalism, confidence, and an attitude of humility toward the sport, yet a quiet air of contentment in their preparation. To see this, up close in person, was something else, and I actually got the chance to interview Hannah Jennings and Loren Mutch from the Rose City Rollers “Wheels of Justice” travel team, and to me, that’s the good stuff!

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The reporting crew for What’s Up NW – David Nijhawan, April Sluiter, Tomas Sluiter. (Photo Credit: Cease Ann Desist)

Hannah Jennings

Hailing from the great country of New Zealand, Hannah was there to win. I asked her if she had any reservations about the Texas Rollergirls, and in a confident, yet not ostentatious way, simply said no. She acknowledged their skill in the sport, but quietly let me know she wasn’t afraid. It was one of those moments where you could truly feel someone’s confidence without them even saying anything. I asked her about why she got into the sport and where she saw the sport going, and she gave some really thoughtful insight. First, she let me know that people really don’t understand how physical the game is. I can appreciate that myself, but this was a common theme from everyone I talked to. Second, she noted the dedication to play at that level, and she really looked at Roller Derby as a lifestyle. In that, she kindly elaborated on various developmental programs Portland has and also a program called “Rent and Roll“. Partially funded by a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation, Rent and Roll allows people of all walks to enter the sport at the lowest possible cost. It really is a unique program, and the first of it’s kind in the world, here in Portland. I have to say it made me proud because I can see how a sport like this can galvanize young people’s hearts and passions to better themselves. I also can see, as an outsider, how Roller Derby unifies all genders, all orientations, all political parties, all races, and all socio-economic backgrounds. My experience with it in Indianapolis was that it really was the ONE place that anyone could go, and EVERYONE got along, regardless of any of these factors. Hannah felt the same way, and she articulated that as one of the reasons she plays. I have to say, I really admire that, and I really admire her…coming all the way from New Zealand to follow something to cherished. It’s nothing short of inspiring.

Loren Mutch

Loren Mutch pretty much said the same thing: She stated “The Adrenaline…The Adrenaline…you can’t beat it”. In her view, being the jammer (i.e. the one who scores the points) presented the biggest rush of life. I can’t say I wouldn’t disagree if I played the sport. I found myself at times screaming at the top of my lungs cheering the various jammers on. It’s exciting! There’s really no other way to put it. The adrenaline aside, Loren also shared with me that, to her (and to others), Roller Derby is a safe place. It’s a place where everything is normal. Being LGBT isn’t really being “anything”…it’s just “normal”…and being straight is just “normal” too. No judgement…no pretense…just being human beings. That’s what stuck out to me the most, and what Loren seemed so passionate about, and for good reason. In an age where everything gets questioned and judged, it must be a breath of fresh air to be in a situation where everything is “safe”. In my view, she seemed to play roller derby for a far higher cause than herself; she exuded true passion to make everyone feel safe and welcome in life. Hannah’s overall vibe only underscored that. If you ask me, that’s pretty cool…

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L to R – Loren Mutch, David Nijhawan, Hannah Jennings (Rose City Rollers) – (Photo Credit: Tomas Sluiter)

Hauss the Boss

In addition to these two world champions, I got a chance to interview Cease Ann Desist and Hauss the Boss (as they are friends of mine, it’s kind of odd to “interview” them, but I’ll run with it). Let’s start with Hauss. I must say, as someone who pretty much stands out as an icon (judging by how many people follow her) in the community, she’s an old soul. She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and she made a point to try and snap a simple picture with an adoring fan “just because”. I could talk about her speed and agility, but what stood out to me the most was her humility, just like with Loren and Hannah. She didn’t say much about herself (if at all), despite her skill level, and she viewed her team as her family. As the outsider, again, she just displayed a true passion for being the best she could be, and to be the most inspiring person she could be to others. Ultimately, she just seemed to try and make everyone around her feel welcome. I think that’s a side we don’t often see with athletes and people in the spotlight. To be that calm and inviting, despite having to put so much hard work in to the craft, really jumped out at me…

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Hauss The Boss and Cease Ann Desist – Texas Rollergirls. (Photo Credit: David Nijhawan)

 

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David Nijhawan and Hauss the Boss. (Photo Credit: Cease Ann Desist)

Cease Ann Desist

As mentioned, Cease Ann Desist is where it all started in terms of my interest in roller derby. She kindly introduced me to something I’d never seen before, and I’m grateful. As I also mentioned, she retired, so I wanted to understand what the demands are…what the daily grind is…why people do it…why they stop….she was happy to oblige. First off, just like everyone else, she really felt that the public doesn’t know how hard the sport really is…everything from the workouts, to the travel, to the $$$/cost, everything down to eating. It’s not a dog and pony show at that level. “These women don’t go party all night like rockstars…they eat clean…they workout…they push their limits in every way”. Having seen her prep for tryouts with the Naptown Roller Girls years ago, I have to say, I completely agree. The drive, the passion, and the grueling workouts are enough evidence of that. She also offered a different take on roller derby…in her view, Derby is one of the most, if not THE most, progressive sport out there in mainstream sports. As Loren mentioned, everyone is safe in Derby. My favorite nugget was “David, parents don’t flip out at Derby. you have everything here…and it’s fair game”. To me, that’s such a welcome insight, and it’s such a testament to how Derby can unify so many people. In a very divided climate, it’s nice to have a breath of everyone getting along for a change.

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David Nijhawan and Cease and Desist. (Photo Credit: Tomas Sluiter)

In sum, the championships were great. If you missed it, you missed out! I feel I know a lot more about the sport now, but talking with these four stellar human beings made me appreciate the sport and the community even more, even as an outsider…

 

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