Voodoo McQ

profileHow do you get a roller derby league going, especially when you and your friends have never even played before? VooDoo McQ worked through this as she helped develop Highland Derby Dolls, a fledgling league in Pictou County, Nova Scotia.

A blocker for Kickin’ Vixens (the league’s sole team), #34 explains the effort in gaining support in her area, the fortune she found in Atlantic Canada’s derby community, and the “selfish” reason she joined the sport.

Voodoo McQ works her magic – with enthusiasm – for you here.

Pepe LePunch:  What’s the history of your league?

Voodoo McQ: We still have that new car scent! We are just over a year old as we formed in July 2012. Our league is filled with girls primarily living in Pictou County, NS, which is smack-dab between Truro and Antigonish. Although we all live in this small county now, our league is filled with girls originally from all over: Ontario, NB, NFLD, and one of our coaches is from Houston, Texas. We’re like a spice rack of personalities.

Pictou County, Nova Scotia // © Wikipedia

PLP: The match I announced for you [August 2013] was a combined team of Riptide Rollers [Annapolis Valley] and Highland Derby Dolls. You faced PEI’s Twisted Sisters. For some players on your joint team, that was their first full game, right?

VDM: Yep, for us five from Highland Derby Dolls, for sure, it was our first full game.

PLP: What expectations does a new player have in her first bout?

VDM: The word SURVIVAL came to mind!!! The thing about us participating in that first bout was, number one, we were forming a team with girls we had never met before. They were still pretty fresh, as well, with only a few games themselves. But we were stoked about that. We chatted about being nervous and so forth but in the end we decided to just take it all in, learn what we can and bring it back to our mates and teach them what we learned from it all.

PLP: Late in the game, some players were looking… wobbly. [PEI announcer] Austin Tatious and I mentioned to the crowd that skaters’ legs can get weary near the end. Could you explain the stamina it takes to complete 60 minutes of contact derby?

VDM: Wobbly would be a fairly accurate description near the end of that, no doubt. It takes a lot of stamina for derby, period. It’s an all-over workout, that’s for sure! Derby is like anything, though; you get out of it what you put into it.

You really have no idea what it’s exactly going to be like until that whistle blows and there you are in the depth of it. Adrenaline is pumping big time, I will say that, and you’re on and off the bench so much… It’s a definite high that I loved!!!

PLP: What were your players saying after that match against the Sisters?

VDM: Our players were so hyper with pride!!! It was that accomplished feeling of participating in your first bout. Regardless of the score or mistakes made, we were here in PEI playing against the Twisted Sisters, which has been the goal the whole time: to play!

Highland Derby Dolls and Riptide Rollers joint team in PEI, August 2013 (Voodoo McQ: front row, second from right) // © Alex Tabor

VDM: What we learned… hmmmmm. Transitions come to mind. Ha!!! We learned that PEI is a classy bunch and, although the score got away from us, that every team was once where we are right now, and that we only grow from here.

PLP: What are some challenges in setting up a derby league? You just download a checklist and it’s pretty easy from there, right?

VDM: Challenges??? Nah, it took a solid two hours and then we just started skating!! Ha! Starting a league is a crazy, time-sucking machine!!! It’s everything you think, then more, way more. It’s so much work: contacts and research and mistake after mistake, and it takes a lot of people to make an extreme commitment to get it on the go and keep it going. We have a great bunch of girls who help out with tons of stuff and that helps big time. That said it’s so rewarding and becomes your baby in so many ways. It’s ridiculous how derby swallows you up. Even when you thought you were busy before derby, now it’s so much more than that. But you love it so much that most days it doesn’t matter; you find the time.

PLP: How is it finding training and game facilities in your area? That can be challenging, even in a city the size of Fredericton.

VDM: Finding facilities to train and bout in has been a struggle. Tons of calls, emails, meetings, etc. We live in a very small town. Roller derby has that age-old stigma against it, going in right off the hop. Our challenges were to convince people that this is an actual sport. There are no pre-planned plots and hyped-up theatrics (okay, maybe some). We did a lot of smiling and shaking our heads “NO” to comparisons to WWE and Skinny Minnie Miller.

PLP: But you succeeded

VDM: Once we explained the growth of derby, not only in the Maritimes but all over the world, we slowly got more attention. We stressed the idea of what we believe derby to be: an actual sport for woman that was super competitive but in such a positive way. We’ve been lucky to have the support of our local community college and one local rink. They have let us grow and build our skills over the past year, which we are very grateful for.

PLP: The idea to start a league is easy but where do you get the guidance to help it grow?

VDM: Guidance… right!! We started this league with not one person with any kind of background in derby, which I think happens in many places. When this happens you really get creative. At first we used what we had, which was internet: Facebook, YouTube tutorials, league web sites, etc. It wasn’t until we got out there and made contacts that the ball really started rolling, and when it did we were flooded with help from all over. It was fantastic.

1385657_10153525605630727_556904704_nPLP: Who helped you through the learn-to-skate and contact training?

VDM: Naming everyone would be crazy insane but there are people we MUST thank.

Shreddy Crocker [Moncton-based referee] is from this area and came down with the girls from Dieppe very early on. Countless visits, emails and Facebook guidance never stopped from him.
• Invites from Muddy River Rollers for a closed-door scrimmage was an awesome opportunity, with email help from Burn n’ Rub’her (we love her & MRR peeps).
• Invites from Capital City Rollers to participate in the Scrimmage 101 put on by CCR and Punchy O’ Guts, with email help from the awesome Penny Traitor. Help from her and CCR has been endless.
Fog City RollersRyder Wrong has been a super email/phone buddy of mine and ours as a league, and she has given awesome advice and derby info, which is so helpful. I love her!

PLP: I should ask you to stop as it’ll take me forever to tag everyone in this article.

VDM: This is going too long; I hear the music in the background! So, in short: Riptide Rollers, Tar City Rollers [Cape Breton], PEI, Moncton, SJ, Freddy and Hali have all been a huge loving ball of help from the get-go. And lastly, I’d like to thank the Academy… Geez, sorry that went long but, hey, if we didn’t have the help of these people we would still be skating in a circle without skill.

PLP: Well said. How’s your fan base in New Glasgow? Do the crowds get into it like they do hockey?

532078_10153361749025657_690969745_nVDM: Our fan base is growing, for sure, as our name gets out there. Our first home bout was awesome – well over 200 people, which for this small place is great and we know it’s only going to grow.

PLP: Wow, 200-plus is actually a fantastic number.
VDM: Our biggest supporters are our family and friends; we are very lucky that way. Also, our local media (radio and newspapers) have been very much on our side!

PLP: Why did you get involved in derby?

VDM: To find myself again. Since moving here I’ve been “Dawson’s mom” and “Cory’s wife,” which is awesome, but I lost “me” in all of that. Sometimes we – as moms and wives – we forget what interests us because we put our family up front so much. In derby I found myself again. I’m so glad to be back!

PLP: You’re from Ontario, you mentioned to me. What was your neighborhood living there? And how’d you get down to Nova Scotia?

VDM: Yep, from Toronto. Raised in Etobicoke. Love where I grew up. So many friends, so many great memories. Etobicoke shares a special spot in my heart! My derby is 34 – the number of the building I grew up living in: 34 Riverwood!!! Whoot!!! My derby name is also a play on words with my maiden name. Guess derby brings out the kid out in me! Family took me to NS in 1995 and love kept me here. Awwwwww.

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Voodoo McQ and regional skaters in Fredericton for Scrimmage 101 with Punchy O’Guts // © Ramo M [hckygrl]

VDM: My son LOVES watching me play derby. He tells me I’m the coolest mom ever. How can that not make a mom smile, eh!!! Looking forward to having our 18-year-old watch me this season. As moms are so busy, practice is always family-friendly. Someone’s kids are always hanging out and that’s cool; we put them to work, and they are our future derby players.

PLP: What advice do you have for people curious about trying derby out?

VDM: My advice is don’t cut yourself short before you try. Derby is for everyone: all sizes, all personalities, all athletic abilities, etc. I’ve seen the most timid of girls not only become a kick-ass player but a force of strength you can’t slow down. I’ve never been a part of any sport that has been this positive, and that’s the truth. There is even a lot of cheering-on from your opponents. I have made some wonderful friendships from derby and it’s something I’m so glad to be a part of!

PLP: Thank you, Voodoo McQ. Love your passion. Here’s the 5 in 25 and then you can skate on outta here. 

• 5 in 25 •

Questions? 5 Answers ≤ 25 words.

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

VDM: That I am a vegan. Just jokes – pass the bacon!!! Also, scared to death to drive a car but working on it.

PLP: (#2) What is a peeve of yours?

VDM: Negativity. Don’t allow it in my life. Period.

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

VDM: Toronto. No place like home.

PLP: (#4) Do you have a motto? 

VDM: Do I??? Yes, yes, I do!! Love quotes/mottos. “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great!” 

PLP: (#5) Finish this: Nothing better than… ?

VDM: … a hand-written letter, hearing my kids laugh, and that sound your wheels make on the track! 

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!