By Anya Heels
Jaime Salazar, also known as Anya Heels of the Rat City Rollergirls, is a Washington native who went to North Kitsap High School in Poulsbo (class of 1998) and Eastern Washington University (class of 2002). When she’s not playing roller derby, she spends her time working for a software company as atrade show and event coordinator.
“You play ROLLER DERBY?”
That’s the typical reaction when people find out that I’m a Rat City Rollergirl. Not long ago, the next questions would be about my skate name, the sport’s likeness to wrestling, and how many people I’ve clothes-lined on the track.
To which I reply; “Anya Heels … none at all … and never – or at least not intentionally or without a trip to the penalty box.”
Thankfully, times are changing. There is a lot more to roller derby than the fishnets and lipstick. And more people are recognizing our sport as a legitimate athletic endeavor.
Sure, we still wear the fun uniforms and skate under stage names, but our fans are evolving with modern roller derby, especially at the all-star level.
The fans we encounter at all-star games are different. They’re not just friends and family members of skaters. They’re hard core fans of the game who know the ever-changing rules, love the strategy and appreciate skaters for their athleticism.
I’m no stranger to athletics, team sports or competition. I’ve been skating since I was a kid. I spent several years speedskating during my childhood. I started out as a rink rat, just a kid with an annual pass and the need for speed. When the rink ref threatened to throw me out for skating too fast at open sessions, the speed-team coach suggested that I drop by practice to check it out. I quickly fell in love with racing and skated in the youth sprints for a few seasons until a family move took me away from the sport.
I continued to play sports through my adolescence, kept myself occupied with several different sports until I found the field events (shot put, discus) in track. Much like speedskating, I stumbled upon it by accident.
I was a baby-sitter for my middle school’s throws coach, and he constantly nagged me about coming out to give the field events a try. I’ll be honest; I had never given thought to chucking steel balls and wooden discs around for fun. I gave it a shot (pun intended) and as it turns out, I was all right at it.
A lot of training and commitment led me to the state tournament years later, where I took first place. That accomplishment caught the attention of a lot of collegiate track and field coaches, and before I knew it, I was signing paperwork for a full-ride athletic scholarship. I’m proud to say I took the conference championship and still hold several meet and school records to date. (I check every now and then just to make sure!)
The preparation and perseverance required to achieve milestones like this are no different than what it takes to excel in the sport of roller derby. If anything, my new passion takes more. We balance full-time jobs, families, social lives and the growing and changing demands associated with playing this new iteration of derby.
One of the facets I enjoy most is that I get to experience two different sides of the sport by playing for both a home team and the traveling all-star team. On my home team I enjoy the team themes, the local fan base, indulging in my derby persona and the experience of mentoring new players.
The experience I’ve had as an all-star is very different. It’s more competitive, with intense strength and conditioning requirements, the game strategies stretch far beyond what you might experience on a home team and of course the strain (and fun) associated with domestic and international travel makes a big difference as well.
Last season was by far the most challenging in my all-star team history. The 2012 season was our team’s best shot at making it to the national championships. We developed strong strategies nobody had seen before, an off-skates strength and conditioning schedule that could rival that of professional teams and a brutal game schedule to prepare us for the finals. Every practice and drill was calculated to help us earn a spot in the bracket. We fought hard and came home from the regional tournament with a top five placement, but not quite good enough to qualify for nationals. With more work and devotion, 2013 will prove to be our year.
This sport has come a long way since the first version of roller derby to hit your TV in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, and I’m proud to be a part of it. One day I hope to see roller derby in the Olympics.
Regardless, it has been an experience I’ve cherished. Some of us have been lucky enough to enjoy international travel, play in front of a sold-out KeyArena, and feel the pride associated with being an accomplished, but not-yet-professional athlete.
The Rat City Rollergirls’ next bout is March 16 at 5:30p.m. at KeyArena. For more information, go towww.ratcityrollergirls.com.
Don’t miss The Seattle Times live chat Wednesday at noon with Rat City Rollergirls Belle Tolls and Tempura Tantrum at www.seattletimes.com/sports.
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