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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

April 10, 2014 at 5:06 PM

Roller derby: A conversation with Luna Negra of the Throttle Rockets

Luna Negra encourages women to try roller derby but cautions them not to be discouraged.  Photo by T.J. Chase

Luna Negra encourages women to try roller derby but cautions them not to be discouraged.
Photo by T.J. Chase

Following is a Q&A with Patrice Davis (aka Luna Negra) submitted by the Rat City Rollergirls.

Q: How did you come up with your roller-derby name?

Negra: Luna Negra is the name of a salsa song by Rey Ruiz. It’s one of my favorite songs, and a classic song. Luna Negra is about a woman who came and broke a man’s heart, and when she left, he couldn’t see the stars in the sky. He saw that the moon was black. She destroyed his world. For me, Luna Negra means: She’s the one that you don’t see coming or you underestimate, and then when she’s done, you will feel like, “whoa … who would have thought?”

Q: What do you think about when you’re lacing up your skates?

Negra: When I am lacing up my skates, I am thinking positive thoughts. I am thinking about my blockers and how I trust them. I am thinking about my skills and having confidence on the track. I am thinking about what I like about roller derby. I try to think about the joy of the game and how fast I will recover between jams. I think about getting lead. I think about my endurance and that I have trained and prepared for this moment. I think: “I am ready. We are ready.”

Q: Do you have a favorite motivational quote?

Negra: My favorite motivational quote is Joe’s pep talk from the movie, “Cinderella Man”. Braddock is fighting Lasky in the championship fight. Braddock and Lasky have gone blow for blow the entire fight. Braddock’s trainer is telling him: “You gotta hit him from the inside out.” In this scene, Braddock takes a super hard hit straight to the face. He is hit so hard that his mouth guard comes out with a few drops of blood. Braddock looks at Lasky, smirks, picks up his mouth guard and puts it back in his mouth. Braddock is tired, but he has sacrificed everything. His family barely had food. His wife had to support him and believe in him. So Braddock has to make a choice in the final fight.

For me, that means when they think you are down, you have to stand up and fight. You have to stand up and show that you have more.

Q: How did you get involved with roller derby?

Negra: I chose to get into roller derby after a rough time in my personal life. I spent some time being down in the dumps, put on weight, and decided that I needed a new challenge. I went and bought skates, and went to the local Seattle derby-training group, PFM (Potential Fresh Meat). They were so nice. My second day on skates there was a three-day bootcamp with the Oly Rollers in Olympia. I had no idea what I was getting into. I couldn’t skate, I couldn’t stop, and my skates were not broken in. I didn’t know anything about roller derby. I had never watched a bout. I just wanted to train for something. At the end of the camp, one of the Oly skaters made me jam, and I was like, “No. I can’t do this.” I started to cry! The skater looked at me like I was insane (because I was at the time). She just said that I could do it, and that it was OK if I looked stupid. So I went and looked stupid. But I did it. In that jam, one of the refs was laughing at me. I didn’t know how to end the jam! It was so scary. That’s how it goes. Derby gets you hooked. And afterward I cried and soaked my feet. I was in love with a new sport. I was hooked.

Q: What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?

Negra: I played sports in high school. I played volleyball, basketball and ran track. I also ran track in college.

Q: How did you learn to play roller derby?

Negra: I learned to play roller derby by just being thrown in there. My rookie year I just skated and tried not to get blasted. I still skate that way.

It was 2010 when big hits were much more common than they are today, and I would get blasted by Shovey ChaseSara Problem, and Anya Heels. I would get rocked and knocked off my feet. But they always smiled and encouraged me to get up and keep coming at them, and they would blast me again. That was pretty much my rookie year. That year in the game to decide which home team would play in the interleague championships, I hurt my knee and I almost missed the championship game. In the end, I did play and we lost … it was a tear-jerker. Still hurts.

Q: How would you describe your derby playing style?

Negra: I would like to describe my derby style as reactive, but calm. I try to adjust to game play in the moment, and not rely on the same routine or move during any bouts. I try to play in the moment and adjust. I like to be fluid. I would like to think I am graceful on skates, but that would not be accurate. I just make it work. It might not be pretty, but pretty doesn’t equal points.

Q: We understand that you are a huge fan of salsa music and dancing. How do you think the rhythm and movements of salsa translate into how you move and/or think on the track?

Negra: I think that sometimes salsa does influence my movements on the track. In salsa, you have to use your whole body, from toes to fingertips to the top of your head. Your body moves in certain ways, to different beats in the song. Sometimes, this helps with juking in roller derby. Some jammers will juke using just their feet or shoulders. If you can juke with your entire body, like a body roll, it can be really confusing to blockers. Also, when you are doing multiple spins in salsa, you have to spot. In order to spot, you must pick a spot to spin your head around and back to the same spot so that you don’t get dizzy or lose your starting position. I use that same principle as a jammer. I try to keep my eyes on the open spot on the track and get there. If you put your eyes on a blocker, you will go to the blocker. Also, salsa songs are anywhere from five to 10 minutes long, and the beats can be very fast. If you are the follow, you must always be ready for what’s coming next and smile. Dancing is a workout. It really helps with keeping my feet fast, changing directions and shifting my weight between my feet.

Lastly, I try to be polite when I dance and always smile. Even when I am tired, or I know the lead is going to spin me 10 to 15 times, really fast in all directions. Never let them see you sweat. It’s the same way in roller derby: always smile, and never let the see you sweat. Always have fun.

Q: What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?

Negra: I think for me, my greatest accomplishment is skating and keeping my style mine. For the first few years, I was told I have to skate in this way or that way, and it never worked for me. For so long, no one understood how I made it through the pack or got lead. Many people told me I was not a good skater because I had a funny skating form, or that I was too handsy, or whatever. I was told to skate like this skater or skate like that skater. I learned not to give value to everything that everyone told me. I decided to study the game, practice, and try hard. I chose to believe in myself. I just kept skating and kept working hard, and I got a chance. I still have a ton of work to do. I still have to earn my spot and give 150 percent, so I am not sure I have a greatest accomplishment yet. I just try to enjoy the moment and recognize that I have to work harder and improve.

Q: How has your involvement in roller derby affected the way you live the rest of your life?

Negra: Well, we all know that roller derby can take over a person’s life. More often than not, roller derby consumes my life. However, roller derby gives me the chance to train, be on a team and compete for a goal. I can continue to be an athlete. I will always be an athlete. Roller derby also helps me to not be over-competitive in other areas of my life, like work. I need a competitive outlet or else I can get slightly aggressive.

Luna Negra is a leading jammer for Rat City Rollergirls. Photo by Danny Ngan

Luna Negra leads all Throttle Rockets jammers in points scored.
Photo by Danny Ngan

Q: What advice do you have for girls who want to join roller derby?

Negra: Do it! And just know that everyone progresses at different rates. Never let anyone tell you “no”. Never. Last year, I was told I would never be good enough to be an All-Star jammer. At that moment, I decided that that person would be wrong. She was wrong. You can do it. You may only get one chance, you may be the only person that believes you can do it, but believe. Take that chance. Be ready and smile. At the end, no matter the results, you will be a better person.

Q: What do you predict will be the outcome of the championship bout you are playing on Saturday?

Negra: It’s going to be a battle. The last time we played, the Throttle Rockets lost by a few points. DLF has powerhouses like Ophelia MelonsRumble Fist, and Full Neslon. The Throttle Rockets also have amazing defense from Parker EyeOut and Missile America. It’s going to be so fun! It will be a close bout.

Negra earned MVP at the WFTDA International Playoffs last year and she is the top-scoring jammer on the Throttle Rockets. She and her team the Throttle Rockets take on the Derby Liberation Front during Rat City Rollergirls home team championships this Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at KeyArena. See a preview of the game here. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com or in-person at Fast Girl Skates and Rudy’s Barbershop.

Want to be a reader contributor to The Seattle Times’ Take 2 blog? Email your original, previously unpublished work or proposal to Sports Editor Don Shelton at dshelton@seattletimes.com or sports@seattletimes.com. Not all submissions can be published. The Times reserves the right to edit and publish any submissions online and/or in print.

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