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

Liz Nail’er

Liz Nail'er profile

© Richard Lafortune

For my second go at announcing derby, I travelled to Moncton to shill both games of a double-header. That evening I worked under the wing of four announcers, one of whom was LaManna Cornuda. He mentioned at one point that his wife was in the current game. I asked, “Which one is she?” Then Liz Nail’er cleanly laid out an opposing blocker right in front of us. “That one,” the happy husband replied. 

Liz Nail’er blocks – hard – for Moncton’s Muddy River Rollers league. She plays for the Daughters of Anarchy but I mostly know her as a key wheeler with the Lumbersmacks, the city’s travel team.

As an original member of the MRR league, a former team captain, a competitor at the national tournament, and a wonderful illustration of the term “derby community,” I wanted to highlight Moncton’s #12XU, Liz Nail’er.

Pepe LePunch: How did you get into roller derby?

Liz Nail’er: My best friend had been trying to convince me to start a league with her. I researched it and it was far too daunting a task for me to undertake with two small children. They were four and seven at the time I think. [Daughter] Sophie was in therapy for 20-plus hours a week.  When we heard Carole [Burn’N RubHer] was starting one we jumped at it. I have been all in ever since.

PLP: What’s your athletic background?

LN: I have none really. I was a majorette for years. Is that a sport? I was a baton twirling fool. When it came to team sports I was that fat kid who gets picked last for teams in gym class. I rode the bench on the soccer team for a couple of years.

PLP: Whenever I see letters added to a jersey number, I’m always curious. What’s your “12XU” mean?

LN: It’s a Wire song. Most people don’t know it. I met a girl who skated up to me at a training camp in Toronto and yelled out, “1-2-X-U!” We became fast friends. (Hey, Honey Boom Boom!)

PLP: So, it’s “one-two,” not “twelve.”

LN: All numbers have to be called like that. “111” should be called “one-one-one.” Still, refs call me “twelve.” If letters are the same size as the numbers, they are part of your number; if they are smaller, they are not.

PLP: Tell me a little about your Daughters of Anarchy team.

LN: We joke that we are Team Fertility. Over the last three years we have had, I think, five “Babies of Anarchy.” We are expecting two more at the moment. Needless to say, we have a lot of turnover; we constantly seem to be trying to find our footing. We had to cancel our game scheduled for last night because we currently have seven contact-cleared members on skates.

© Richard Lafortune

Slay of Fundy II championship game // © Richard Lafortune

PLP: You were DoA’s captain last year. During a bout, what’s a derby captain’s role?

LN: During a game you are a liaison between your team and the ref team. You call for timeouts and official reviews. If your team has issues with the way things are being called, you get to address them along with the alternate captain. Calling timeouts gets strategic in close games. It is best to have someone on the bench with the A [alternate captain]; it is easier to see everything from the bench.

PLP: Outside of a bout, what else does the captain do?

LN: In MRR, the captains are part of the training committee. They plan and run practices along with the coaches, decide who will play each game, who to put together on lines, things like that.

PLP: I’ve witnessed the commitment you inspire from others: your husband, your brother Adrian, players from all teams. What characteristics do people enjoy about you?

LN: That’s hard to answer. I am pretty straightforward, sometimes to a fault. People either love that or hate it. I am very loyal. I stick up for what I think is right. I have blind enthusiasm for new things. And I am pretty fun. If you ask those people they might say something different, though.

PLP: How’d you come to settle in Moncton with your American husband and derby announcer LaManna Cornuda? 

LN: In 2003, we were newlyweds, living in Vancouver with a new baby. We were having a hard time with Brian’s landed immigrant paperwork. We were broke. All of my family is in the Maritimes, and Brian’s is in New Jersey. When someone offered him a (not entirely above the table) job here, we decided to move. This way Gabe & Sophia get know some grandparents and extended family. Brian’s family are much closer, too.

© Kevin Molyneaux

Roller Derby Association of Canada Nationals 2013 // © Kevin Molyneaux

PLP: I’ve seen you at every bout I’ve been to. You, your husband and often your children travel to games outside of Moncton, sometimes just to watch. In a given week, how much of your time goes into derby planning, practicing and playing? 

LN: It really depends on the week. 20-plus, easily. The derby girl motto is: “I can’t. I have derby.” Between two teams [Daughters of Anarchy and Lumbersmacks], the board of directors, events committee, fundraisers, emails…  It is something I am trying to cut back on, honestly. I have been VP since almost the start and I don’t plan on running again in October. I think we need a bit more of a life/derby balance at Casa LaManna.

PLP: You’re also part of the league’s travel team, the Lumbersmacks, which has really been the dominant team in Atlantic Canada since the New Brunswick leagues started up in 2010. What are you doing  that makes you so successful?

LN: I don’t really know.  We’ve had a lot of outside guidance from the start. Dr. Johnny Capote [Canuck Derby TV], Georgia W. Tush  [of Montreal’s New Skids on the Block and owner of Neon Skates] and Lime have all been instrumental in helping us find our way from the start. We work hard. Burn’N, the ‘Smacks captain and league founder, is really a driving force, too. She is always striving for the next thing and that is inspiring. We go to training camps when we can. We’ve hosted training camps. We watch derby. We try to bring stuff in from all over and see what works for us. We don’t want to lose our spot on top, so all the other teams in the Atlantic region really help motivate us; they are all working hard and it shows. It’s getting harder to be the dominant team, that’s for sure.

PLP: Can you describe how your team practices? I hear Moncton even has “rules nights.”

LN: We do have rules nights. They are more frequent after rule changes. Lots of leagues do them; we are not breaking new ground here. We change things up often. Last season we had separate team practices but this year we do all the league together, followed by Lumbersmacks.  We have scrimmage 101 for newer skaters on Sundays. Practice typically lasts about three hours. What we work on is always changing. Evolve or die.

Liz Nailer with team

Liz Nail’er (12XU) with Burn’N RubHer (45) and Lumbersmacks teammates // © Kevin Molyneaux

PLP: I assume a lot of people feel roller derby is a chance for women to get together and have a good time. But are these Atlantic Canadian leagues aiming for fun or competition? 

LN: That is different for each player. I am in it for fun, but I am not a very competitive person. Also, I am pretty old in the derby world. I have teammates who are the exact opposite of me. I think in our region right now there are some growing pains. If you want to be on a travel team, just showing up at practice is no longer enough. You have to work out, eat right, be an actual athlete. Derby everywhere is struggling to be accepted as a sport so it’s not as much for the misfits and the punks anymore. It is much more for the straight-up athletes, and that’s not how it was three years ago.

PLP: What is your favorite derby memory?

LN: A bunch of us went to the first Roller Derby World Cup [Toronto, December 2011]. It was an amazing experience. Watching the best in the world play, I felt like I got better just watching. The derby love was palpable.

Also, the Lumbersmacks got to play The New Skids this winter. I really look up to each one of them as skaters, and their league as a whole. So, to play them and actually score 100 points was awesome, super fun.

PLP: Okay, to end off, here’s my “5 in 25.”

• 5 in 25 •

Questions? 5. Answers  25 words.

PLP: (#1) If someone were looking for a vacation destination, where would you recommend?

LZ: Brian [husband] and I went to the ice hotel [Hôtel de Glace] in Quebec. It was beautiful, like being in a fairy tale. I highly recommend it.

PLP: (#2) If someone came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare? 

LZ: If my guests are vegetarian, I make a mean chana masala. If not, my pulled pork is divine.

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

LZ: Good friends, good food, good drinks and good conversation. I am an extrovert so I live for that stuff.

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

LZ: I really love Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones. Late night party or Sunday drive, it works for everything.

PLP: (#5) Do you have a motto?  

LZ: “Why not?” It goes well with blind enthusiasm.

PLP:  Thanks, Liz. I enjoyed your straightforward answers, just as you promised. See you soon for some pulled pork and chana masala!