Atom Bombshell

© Richard Lafortune

© Richard Lafortune

Atom Bombshell laces up her skates for two teams in the Halifax Roller Derby Association: Las Bandidas Locas (league) and the Harbour Grudges (travel squad). I know she’s a happy human who studies hard, loves a quality brew, and adores glitter. But I wanted to find out more about two serious issues: the derby injury that took her out of this season both physically and mentally, and her media involvement in addressing the St. Mary’s University “rape chant.”

In life and on the track, she’s light, lively and sets a pace tough to follow. This is Atom Bombshell.

Pepe LePunch: Where was your neighbourhood growing up?

Atom Bombshell: I’m from a small, isolated railroad community in Northern Ontario called Hornepayne – about 1,100 km northwest of Toronto, for perspective.

PLP: What was your athletic history before joining roller derby?


AB: I figure skated from the time I was four until I broke my ankle as a young teen and never went back. I usually sat out in gym class and didn’t really have much interest in organized sports until derby.

london violet femmes

Atom Bombshell skating with the Violet Femmes out of London, ON // © Sean Murphy

PLP: With not much interest in sports, what led you into roller derby?

AB: My interest was piqued as I was living in Minneapolis and saw the community surrounding the MN Rollergirls. I was only 16 at the time, though, and had to wait another two years until I was both back in Canada and old enough to join a league. I started out with the London Violet Femmes in London, Ontario, and shortly after turning 18 I was playing regional tournaments in the London/Kitchener/Toronto area.

PLP: You’re a jammer. What’s your thought process as you approach the back of the pack?

AB: My thoughts are usually focused on where the other jammer is, because her position determines what my approach will be.

PLP: What’s your strength or best attribute/move out on the track?

AB: I’m speedy and nimble. I’m not too difficult to knock over; the hard part is trying to catch me.

PLP: I believe you might be the youngest captain in the region. What exactly earned you co-captain status of Las Bandidas Locas?

AB: When Block ‘n’ Deck Her was elected captain, she had the idea to form a strong leadership team with two co-captains: myself and Clutch Cannon.

hrda

© Marc Henwood Photography

PLP: You’re enrolled at SMU in Halifax. What are you studying?

AB: I double-major in anthropology and criminology, and I’m finishing up a diploma in forensic science as well.

PLP: Why are you pursuing so many interests?

AB: I love studying such a diverse range because every day is different – one day I’m out digging up bones, the next I’m playing with chimp skeletons, and the next I’m out in the community doing ethnographic research on labour.

PLP: Speaking of community, you were very involved in the SMU chant debacle. What radio/TV press did you do?

AB: Oh, wow, that’s a big question. Haha. I did about three or four regional press interviews a day, so I don’t remember all the specifics. The more memorable stuff was the interview with MacLean’s magazine, The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti, and a radio show panel for a talk show out in Vancouver.

PLP: Why do you feel people should be more engaged in addressing an event such as that chant?

AB: Because it’s a systemic issue that affects everyone, not an isolated incident or just a campus problem. The culture surrounding rape and victim-blaming and the flippant attitude towards them can ensnare anyone, and it’s a really easy attitude to fall into.

PLP: You suffered a derby-related head injury in March. What happened?

AB: It happened in a split second. It was an accident in practice. I landed hard on my tailbone and my neck snapped forward, giving me severe whiplash and rattling my brain pretty hard.

PLP: I watched you play at Slay of Fundy in June 2013 and didn’t suspect anything. Do you still feel repercussions from the concussion?

AB: I do. My mental health has certainly suffered, so I’ve been extremely cautious and follow up with my doctor as often as I can. Slay was actually my wake-up call to be more careful. I didn’t even play my games in full because I got uncharacteristically anxious and really easily frustrated, but I see a therapist to work through some of those symptoms. Marc Henwood actually captured a really crazy picture of me kneeling and crying on the track that I still can’t really look at, but it’s comforting when I’m reminded that I actually got up from it and continued playing.

on knee on track

Atom Bombshell recovers from a play at Slay of Fundy 2013 // © Marc Henwood Photography

PLP: What challenges confront you after a serious injury like this?

AB: It’s been a long process of recovery, and I’m slated to return to practices this month. For me, it’s been the combination of keeping up with my doctor, my therapist, my physiotherapist and my coaches that’s kept me accountable and healthy and working towards coming back fully. I played two for-fun bouts with the Halifax Misfits over the summer and seemed to be making a lot of progress, so I’m hoping to be back in full swing for the next Winter Warpath.

PLP: I really enjoy the Halifax-Fredericton games as they’re close competitions. Do you have a favourite rival team to play? Or player?

Atom Bombshell (blue) enjoys an in-game rivalry with Fredericton’s Edith Paf (black) // © Richard Lafortune

Atom Bombshell (blue) enjoys an in-game rivalry with Fredericton’s Édith Paf (black) // © Richard Lafortune

AB: My favourite team on the east coast to play would have to be Fredericton [Capital City Rollers], actually. I’ve faced them on three occasions, and I’m always both impressed and terrified. I love skating against Édith Paf, because she’s a really intense opponent and always challenges me, and because our off-track relationship is so friendly that the dynamic is really always fun.

PLP: The HRDA players always seem so positive and friendly, even on the jam line with opponents. I often wonder what you guys say to opponents out there during a bout. 

AB: We’re usually discussing the afterparty and how we’re going to be the victors of it. Or, I’m discussing how badly I can’t wait to eat pizza and watch TV at the hotel!

PLP: I appreciate your time and candor, Atom Bombshell. As always, the afterparty in these interviews is the 5 in 25.

• 5 in 25 •

Questions? 5 Answers ≤ 25 words.

PLP: (#1) Can you tell about a couple of your hobbies or after-work activities?

AB: I embroider vulgar rap lyrics onto throw pillows sometimes. I like to go dancing 
and fishing and enjoy late nights in the lab.

PLP: (#2) What’s something derby players don’t know about you?

AB: I make all my own beauty products in my kitchen. It’s why I smell so pretty on 
the jam line.

PLP: (#3) What is your favourite food and/or drink?  

AB: I love fancy burgers and birthday cake and bitter, hoppy beer. Preferably all at 
once.

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

AB: I can’t stop listening to Childish Gambino’s Camp album right now.

PLP: (#5) Which well-known figure do you most admire?

AB: Jane Goodall is a badass.

© Roy Crawford Photography

© Roy Crawford Photography

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