Ryder Wrong

ryder wrong profile 02

© Marc Henwood Photography

Unless they’re showing Razor Girls colours, Ryder Wrong loves punishing jammers and blockers on the derby track. But what’s she doing when not skating? Her name comes up so often that it seems everyone already knows: she runs her independent shop (Heartbreak Boutique) in Saint John, adores the rockabilly community, and proudly fields questions from friends and new faces about (of course) roller derby.

Although Ryder & I went to the same high school and university, I never had the pleasure of connecting with her until now. So, saddle up for Ryder Wrong!

Pepe LePunch: You’ve been with Fog City Rollers since its beginning in 2010. How did you get into the grand world of derby?

Ryder Wrong: I wish I had some awesome, epic story for you but, honestly, I just happened to meet Sarah [Darla Derringer] and Bry [Susie Skinner], the founders, at a bar one night shortly before it all got started and they told me they were going to start derby here and I was all, “Frig yes! I’m in!!” And then I worked up the courage to show up for that fateful first “practice” at the skate park and that was it – I was all in!

PLP: What athletics had you done before derby?

RW: For all intents and purposes, none. I mean, I played sports in gym class and joined the rugby team for about five minutes in high school (really, I think I played one game). Other than that I just did stuff on my own at the gym, so this whole “sports team” thing was totally foreign to me. And, honestly, now that I’ve experienced it I regret not getting involved when I was younger. The sense of comradery is such a confidence booster – that feeling of belonging, that feeling of being part of something. I think it’s really important and could be so helpful at a younger age. But better late than never, right?

PLP: Yes, some people never get the fortune of experiencing it. However, many people have experienced being bruised badly by you. What do you feel is most satisfying about being a blocker?

RW: Getting a really solid, clean hit. When the timing and the angle and the power you get behind it all aligns, and you shake your opponent’s soul, that feels fantastic! Also, when, as a team, a play works out perfectly, when you keep the jammer back lap after lap, that’s pretty darn satisfying, too!

ryder wrong jammer block

Holding back a rival jammer // © Marc Henwood Photography

PLP: How far have you travelled for a game?

RW: Newfoundland is the farthest I’ve traveled for derby so far, which was one of my top favourite derby moments. I grew up in St. John’s, NF, so it was awesome to get to go back to visit AND play derby. It was like my past and my present colliding, and it was fantastic! And the 709 Girls [Newfoundland & Labrador’s first league] are awesome! Aside from that, I’ve only travelled within the Maritimes.

PLP: Because of your business, Heartbreak Boutique?

RW: With the shop, I have been pretty limited to how much and often I can travel. I am my only employee so I’m here six days a week. Next season, though, I am hoping to be able to travel more. Possibly check out some training camps. There are a lot of our girls, like Hammer Slammer & Alien She, who have travelled all over Canada and the US for training camps and have brought back oodles of awesome plays and training info for us!

PLP: R.I.P. Razor Girls and Scarlet Swam: Fog City has a new format for its teams next year. What’s your place in it?

RW: I will be starting the season on our newly formed (and yet to be named) ‘B’ Team and will be chartered on the ‘A’ Team, so if they need an extra player I could be “called up” for a game. I am also hoping to become a new member of our board of directors. [She was elected the week after this Q&A.] I am excited for this new evolution in our league and want to help move us forward in this new structure.

ryder wrong razor girls team

Razor Girls 2013 // © Marc Henwood Photography

PLP: When I asked Voodoo Mc Q who helped Pictou County start its league, she included you in her list. She said you advised on meetings, practices, gear and safety, and added that you’re “smart and supportive and caring.” Why do you invest so much time in the derby community?

Ryder Wrong with Highland Derby Dolls' Voodoo Mc Q

Ryder Wrong with Highland Derby Dolls’ Voodoo Mc Q

RW: Because the people in the community are amazing and they have been so awesome and supportive right back, which I am incredibly thankful for! I have gotten SO much from derby and I want to see it continue to grow so that other women (and men) can have that same experience.

By the way, Voodoo Mc Q is one of my very favourite people I have met through derby and I am so excited about what they’ve accomplished. When we started here in Saint John, it was hard to imagine derby being played in places so much smaller because of the hurdles we had to deal with in a city our size. They’ve done an awesome job with training and running Highland Derby Dolls. I hope they are super proud.

PLP: You own and operate Heartbreak Boutique in uptown Saint John. How do you describe it to people who haven’t been in? Would “pinup fashion” be accurate?

RW: Pinup fashion would absolutely be accurate. My tagline is “Where Classic Meets Quirky” because on the boutique side (the shop is about 50/50 pinup clothing and derby gear) I have very classic vintage-inspired pieces, but then right next to that I have a dress with wiener dogs all over it! It’s funny because sometimes people get confused and think the entire shop is for roller derby and they ask, “Do you wear this to play?” and hold up a pencil skirt. Or they think they aren’t “allowed” to wear the clothes because they don’t play.

PLP: How do you politely help a customer who isn’t so knowledgeable about her style? Like, say I’m a woman and just walked into your store: I’m wearing leggings as pants and a loose fitting top – TUCKED IN. And I don’t have a belt. (Obviously.) How do you save me? Go!

RW: HAHAHA!! This might be the best question ever! If someone a little “fashion challenged” comes into the shop, I usually let them look around and try a few things on for themselves, and if I feel like they need (and are open to) a little guidance, I’ll ask if they’d like some suggestions. It’s usually a matter of women not knowing how to dress their particular shape. It’s one of my very favourite things about my job when a woman comes out of the change room KNOWING she looks fantastic. You can see it all over her face. And it’s usually accompanied with a little twirl.

© Alicia Robichaud Photography

Heartbreak Boutique // © Alicia Robichaud Photography

PLP: Before you get to that level of customer service, you need to get your doors open, of course. For friends with a business idea, what should they first do to move from concept to reality?

RW: I truly believe your first move should be talking to other entrepreneurs. They are typically very generous with their knowledge, tips and stories of what not to do! Also, they are fantastic people to bounce ideas off of.

I would also suggest looking into what resources your town/city has. I was super fortunate to be able to take advantage of a program called Enterprising Women through the Saint John Community Loan Fund that covered pretty much everything you need to know when you are looking to start a new business. Enterprise Saint John has been an excellent resource for me, as well.

PLP: An upside is that your sales extend to the derby world, right? Mollie Kill’her Watts [of Fredericton’s Capital City Rollers] said you’re fantastic about the orders and you keep in touch with customers.

RW: Oh, that’s so sweet of her! I am always happy to share any info that might be useful or helpful to customers, especially for derby gear. It can all be pretty overwhelming to new girls so I like to break it down for them and will help them pick what’s right for them. It’s great to have a chance to meet the new batch of girls starting up in our area. They are always so enthusiastic. It’s totally contagious. I love it!  

Also, it can be difficult to keep up on the new gear, even for experienced skaters, so I do my best to keep up on new goodies so that I can help them get the most bang for their buck. I’m not about the upsell; I want to make sure my customers leave the shop feeling like they got what they needed and understood WHY it was the best option for them.

© David Hodges Photography

© David Hodges Photography

PLP: What are your best-selling derby items? Booty shorts? I’m guessing booty shorts.

RW: Nope, not booty shorts, but good guess! I’d say toe stops, wheels, bearings – the stuff that needs to be replaced and/or upgraded on a pretty regular basis.

PLP: I hear your name sometimes accompanied by “she and her husband are rockabilly!” So, I think of a swing beat and Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran. But what do people mean when they say you’re “rockabilly”?

RW: Well yeah, I guess we are pretty “rockabilly.” We kind of look like your stereotypical “rockabilly couple”: he has the slicked-back “greaser” hair, black tee and jeans uniform pretty down pat, and I am usually sporting a ‘50s style dress and pinup-style hair.

We’re also really into rockabilly music (Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Jean Vincent, the Stray Cats – and J.D. McPherson, for something a little more current) and we attend a lot of rockabilly festivals, like Viva Las Vegas and the Maritime Rockabilly Shakedown (MaRS) in Amherst, so I guess that’s what they mean.

Also, my derby name is after a Wanda Jackson song (who’s the queen of rockabilly) called “Right or Wrong.”

PLP: In Japan, I’ve seen the rockabilly guys dancing in Yoyogi Park (near Harajuku). What do rockabilly hounds do for fun in Atlantic Canada?

RW: Your questions are the best! The rockabilly scene in Atlantic Canada has definitely grown over the last few years, so it seems like there are lots of opportunities to check out all kinds of great music. Like, I just mentioned MaRS is a really fantastic festival that has a ton of local rockabilly bands like the Shakedown Combo (also the organizers), Whiskey Kisses (from Halifax), Memphis Knights (also from Halifax) and the Royal Tones (from Moncton). There was also a festival in Halifax this past year called the Rockabilly Riot that we unfortunately couldn’t attend, but I heard great things about it.

It’s exciting to see the community growing; just like derby, it’s very grassroots, underground – whatever you want to call it – so everyone is working towards the same thing and wants to help each other. It’s good to see.

PLP: Along this line of rockabilly and derby: like so many in the derby world you wear tattoos, and one of yours has a rockabilly hook. Can you tell about your “Fearless Hearts” inking?

RW: I know people are always advising against matching tattoos, or putting your significant other’s name on your body, but we said to hell with both of those things! My “Fearless Hearts” tattoo is one of a matching set; the other is on my husband’s chest. It’s after “our song” by Steve Earle, “Fearless Heart.” It just kind of spoke to us when we first started our relationship.

PLP: Thanks so much for your time in this busy business season, Ryder Wrong. Here’s your 5 in 25 and then you can return to curing the world of leggings.

• 5 in 25 •

Questions? 5 Answers ≤ 25 words.

PLP: (#1) What’s something derby players don’t know about you?

RW: I used to be very shy. I hid behind my hair until I graduated high school. Hard to believe, I know!

PLP: (#2) What is a peeve of yours?

RW: Bad customer service. And when I find the Brita in the fridge empty. Infuriating!

PLP: (#3) If someone was looking for a vacation destination, where would you recommend?

RW: Newfoundland: it’s one of the most beautiful, friendly and original places you’ll ever visit.

PLP: (#4) What’s a favourite song or album?

RW: I’m listening to one right now! American Slang by Gaslight Anthem.

PLP: (#5) Do you have a favourite website or magazine?

RW: National Geographic because our world is incredible and so beautiful and mind-blowing. I’ve always said being an NG photographer would be my dream job.

ryder wrong & steve earle

Ryder Wrong with Steve Earle

– December 19, 2013

• • •

Follow this blog! Enter your email on the left sidebar.

Visit Peter’s education blog: http://mrpetercullen.com.

Who should be featured next? Let Peter know at contact@petercullen.ca.

Poison NV

© Marc Henwood Photography

© Marc Henwood Photography

Roller derby requires financing a lot of gear but the real investment in the sport isn’t money, it’s time. Through practices, travel, overnight stays and the actual bouts, derby hours add up. If you’re a captain or “fresh meat” (new recruits) trainer, each week could be 20-30 hours devoted to your love.

This might be stressful for players with other loves, such as a family. For Poison NV, however, roller derby binds her family ties even tighter, especially with her daughter.

Spectacularly, this Saint John skater only put on roller skates less than a year ago and quickly qualified for her city’s travel team, one of the winningest groups in Atlantic Canada.

Here’s #218 to tell about her choice of poison: roller derby. 

Pepe LePunch: You look very natural on roller skates. What was your athletic history prior to derby?

Poison NV: I literally grew up in a hockey rink. I started off figure skating and then switched to hockey as soon as my parents allowed me to. I played on a boys hockey team because there were no women’s teams at that time. I stopped playing hockey because as the boys grew bigger I stayed small, and it was getting to be too big of a variance for me to handle at that age. But I never stopped skating and playing road hockey, or fun pickup games with friends whenever I could. I also played rugby in high school. I love contact sports and the feeling you get from pushing your body to the limits.

PLP: That explains why your league mate, Josey Ramoan, recommended you to me. She said you’ve only been skating about a year but flew through fresh meat, made the Razor Girls, scored a spot on the travel team, and now coach fresh meat yourself!

PNV: Wow… It looks kinda crazy when you see it spelled out like that! I knew after watching my first game that this was a sport for me. The first time I put skates on at the FCR [Fog City Rollers] meet and greet, I fell and got a very big derby bruise. For some, that might have been a moment to reconsider doing this sport. For me, it made me feel proud to have earned my first (of many) bruises.

© Richard LaFortune

© Richard LaFortune

I was encouraged by my fresh meat coach, Brad Pittiful, to try out for the travel team right away. This wasn’t something I even thought was possible to achieve, but with his encouragement I gave it a try. I had nothing to lose, really. I did make the team on my first try! It was an amazing feeling. I actually played my first official roller derby game at Nationals in Edmonton this past March.

 I decided to take the challenge of coaching fresh meat (along with Allie B Bashin’) because I wanted to give to our new recruits what was given to me by my coaches: encouragement, goals, challenges, knowledge and love of the game. 

PLP: How did you get interested in this sport?

PNV: I used to drive by the LBR [Lord Beaverbrook Rink] and see the sign advertising for derby games and I was actually too intimidated to even go and watch.  Then, serendipitously… I bought a T-shirt from Ryder Wrong’s store Heartbreak Boutique. She added me on Facebook and I started seeing her posts about derby. I was so intrigued that I decided to go check a game out. About two minutes into the game I said to my husband, “I am joining this league. I have to give this game a try!” I planned on being a fan but couldn’t resist joining in on all of the fun!

PLP: At one point during Slay of Fundy, I was standing by the top railing and a high school-aged girl beside me yelled, “Go, mom!” You were that mom. What did your family initially think about you joining derby life?

© Roy Crawford Photography

Poison NV with daughter Kahlan // © Roy Crawford Photography

PNV: Oh my gosh! This question brought tears to my eyes! My husband, Jamie, has been incredibly supportive. I spend four days a week away from home either practicing or coaching, and on weeks that we have a game you can add another day away to that. He never, ever makes me feel guilty for the time and money I spend on this sport. He always tells me that he can see how much this sport gives to me and that is worth it to him.

My parents weren’t surprised by my decision to play this sport and they come to watch my home games. They used to worry about me getting hurt but now they see that I throw more hits than I take most games. And my daughter Kahaln is my biggest fan! Always bringing friends to come and watch me play!

PLP: And now your daughter’s enrolled in fresh meat! When high-school aged, most teens go the opposite direction of their parents. How is roller derby giving you an extra connection with your daughter?

PNV: Okay, more tears! Yes, Kahlan fell in love with derby, too. She is 17 now and, as many moms know, as your babies grow older they spend less and less time with you. Derby has caused us to spend more time together. (Just another gift that derby gave me). She travels to away games with me, she comes to all my home games, and she also comes and watches my practices, occasionally. And the best part is… she decided she wanted to train to referee and is currently in my fresh meat class!

It amazes me to watch her skate. It is such a gift to be her coach and see her interact with the other girls in her class and in the league. We watch games together, we study rules together, we shop for gear and talk about gear together. To have my very own derby girl right under my roof makes me so proud. I can’t wait until we can finally play together.

© Richard LaFortune

Poison NV interviewed by Global News at Nationals (March 2013) // © Richard LaFortune

PLP: I think some keyboards are going to short out from happy tears. So, what’s a strength of yours in derby? 

PNV: I think my biggest attribute is my willingness to learn. I am still very new to this sport, being in my first season as a player, and there is endless strategy and technique to learn and practice. I trust my teammates and my coaches, and that goes a very long way on the track. I think I have natural instincts about how to hit and stay in front of opposing jammers. I do jam occasionally with both Razor Girls and Sirens, and doing this allows me to see the game from both sides and makes me a better blocker.

PLP: What elements do you focus on to improve your blocking?

PNV:  I never give up on wanting to stop the jammer. I hear my coach Dan’s [ZZ Slop] voice in my head saying, “Stay in front of the jammer!!” I take practice seriously and treat each one like a tryout. I focus on staying in position and trusting my teammates to take care of their side of the track. I focus on supporting my teammates in maintaining their position and knocking the jammer out.

© Marc Henwood Photography

Poison NV (left) and teammate Hammer Slammer hold back an opposing jammer // © Marc Henwood Photography

I also try to do something derby related every day: watching games, working out or skating. And now that I have some playing experience, I find it very helpful to watch game footage and look at pictures of games I have played in. Sometimes what you think you are doing and what is really happening on the track are two different things. Seeing it for yourself is a great learning tool.

PLP: Is there a derby talent you wish you had?

PNV: This is a great question. There are many girls I play with that have unique skills that I admire (or NV… haha). Hammer [Slammer] is such a talented skater; I admire her skating form. [Debee Lee] Downer is amazingly focused on the track and shows very little emotion in games. Auburn [Rubber], Ginger [Rocket] and alien [she] have really great leadership skills. [H-Two] OhNo! has outstanding track awareness. Really, there is something from everyone that I wish I had. I see these talents and I work towards building my own.  

PLP: People really scrutinize the Saint John-Moncton games because both teams are so talented, but the Lumbersmacks always seem to get the edge over the Sirens! How much are you looking forward to knocking off Muddy River Rollers in a match?

PNV:  Honestly, I want to win every single game and don’t allow myself to focus on only beating the Lumbersmacks. I think both teams are lucky to have each other close by because we give each other such great competition. Playing them is always intense for the players and the fans, and that is what derby is about. On any given day either one of us could win; we are very evenly matched.

© Alex Tabor

Saint John’s Shipyard Sirens battling Moncton’s Lumbersmacks // © Alex Tabor

PLP: Such an intelligent answer. What do you most value in your SJ teammates?

PNV: I value my teammates because we are so open and honest with each other. It is cliché to say we are like family, but it is very true. We train hard together, we laugh often together and we help each other grow. We spend countless hours together, but beyond that, we have the same goals. 

Because of that, there is an understanding that you can give or receive advice and encouragement, and know without a doubt that it comes from a good place. Being a part of this league is a safe place to be yourself and be accepted.

© Marc Henwood Photography

© Marc Henwood Photography

PLP: You’re the first to get this question: Do you have pre-game or post-game rituals or superstitions?

PNV: So… ummmm… well…. I have lucky underwear. Okay, so now the world knows!  I also make sure I get a good night’s rest, I eat a good breakfast and drink a Blueberry Pomegranate Xenergy drink 2 hours before every game.  

PLP: Definitely adding this question to the rotation from now on! Thanks, Poison NV. Here’s the “5 in 25” to finish up.

• 5 in 25 •

Questions? 5. Answers  25 words.

PLP: (#1) If someone were looking for a vacation spot, where would you suggest they go?

PNV: St.Kitts is the most beautiful and peaceful place I have ever been. Go there!

PLP: (#2) If someone came to your house for a meal, what would you cook up?

PNV: I am a vegetarian and my favourite thing to make is pasta sauce. So, you would get quinoa and homemade veggie sauce.

PLP: (#3) What is your plan for a fantastic afternoon or evening?

PNV: Sitting with Jamie and Kahlan and my dogs, watching a derby game!

PLP: (#4) What’s a favourite song or album of yours?

PNV: I love Rise Against, and Endgame is my favourite album of theirs. They are the reason my husband and I are vegetarians, actually.

PLP: You know, your brother-in-law [musician Jay Vautour] is going to see this…

PNV: I love PITH and Jon Epworth, too!

PLP: (#5) Do you have a motto? 

PNV: Live each day like it is a new day. No amount of guilt can change the past and no amount of worry can change the future.

© Roy Crawford Photography

© Roy Crawford Photography