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