The Rose City Rollers roller derby organization is dedicated to empowering women, girls and gender-expansive individuals on and off the rink. Its Rosebuds junior team won the regional championship and is competing in the National Junior Roller Derby championship. And they’re going into it head-on, with a number one ranking. We talk with coach Hedy Stevens and one of the Rosebuds team captains, Ruby Patrick.
Editor’s note: The Rosebuds went on to win first place in the championship.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. We end this week with roller derby. Portland’s Rosebuds recently won their regional championship. The Rosebuds are the junior team that’s associated with the Rose City Rollers. Now they are headed to the National Junior Roller Derby championships in Arizona with a number one seed. Hedy Stevens is the coach of the team. I should note they happen to be related to one of our engineers. Ruby Patrick is a player and one of the captains. They both join me now. Welcome to Think Out Loud.
Guests: Hi. Thank you.
Miller: It’s great to have both of you on. Congratulations, also. Ruby first. How are you feeling heading into this weekend’s championships?
Ruby Patrick: I am so excited for my team and also very nervous, but I think I’m feeling pretty prepared.
Miller: So what does it mean to be prepared right now? I mean what have the last few months or maybe years been like?
Patrick: Well I feel like we’ve worked so hard since the beginning, since years ago. Now that we’re back from our COVID break, I think it’s just been this amazing reset, and we’ve all been able to work so hard together for this moment.
Miller: Have you been playing with some of the same teammates for a while now?
Patrick: Yeah. I’ve been playing with a couple of them since the beginning, since I was like 9 years old.
Miller: And how old are you now?
Patrick: I’m 18.
Miller: So, for half of your life you’ve been a roller derby player, and you’ve been with some of these teammates literally for half your life.
Patrick: Yes, more like a family than anything really.
Miller: For good and for bad, I imagine sometimes. Hedy Stevens, have you taken a team to a national championship before?
Hedy Stevens: I have not taken them to the championship game. No. This is a first for me. I’ve been coaching the Buds for about three seasons. We did take, like Ruby said, a COVID break, and this is as close as we’ve come to going to the championship game. So I’m pretty excited, pretty proud of these kids. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, especially with Ruby.
Miller: What do you mean?
Stevens: Well, I’ve been able to coach Ruby on our all star teams, which has been each year for several years. But Ruby has never been on my home team, which goes during the regular sports season for the school kids. So this is pretty exciting to take Ruby to a championship game, especially since this will be Ruby’s last game with the Rose City Rollers for a while.
Miller: Let’s go back in time. Hedy, first, how did you first get into roller derby?
Stevens: Well, I was hanging out at Oaks Park. I had taken my wife and my child there to roller skate since I used to skate there when I was young. A couple of teenagers rolled by with shirts that said, ‘Ask me about roller derby.’ My kid and I, we immediately went and asked them about roller derby. I’d really never heard about it; I’d vaguely heard about it. They were very excited and told us how wonderful it was and that if we can roller skate, we must join roller derby. They told me the date of tryouts, and I kind of told my kids how great I would be at roller derby – not having any experience whatsoever – joking with them. And my daughter insisted I try out. That date kind of came closer and closer. The day before the tryouts, again I hadn’t prepared, I went and bought the gear. On tryouts I wore some skates from when I was about 11 years old. And the gear I had trouble putting on because I didn’t even know how to put it on. I showed up and I made it onto what they used to call the fresh meat training team. That was…
Miller: So, on some level you were right, that you actually were good enough never having done it before that you could make that team?
Stevens: Oh, I suppose so. I could roller skate, but I didn’t have much game knowledge at that point. It took a while.
Miller: How old were you when you started?
Stevens: Well I’m 50 now, and that was about 11 years ago so 39.
Miller: Is that a relatively late age to start roller derby?
Stevens: I think so, but it’s really all ages. I’ve known a lot of people that have started in their 30s. At that time, it felt like I was a little older than the average crew. But I quickly just blended in, and no one seemed to notice my age.
Miller: And did your kids get interested at the same time?
Stevens: Yes. Right away, before I really even was on a home team, someone asked me, ‘Hey, why don’t we start a kids roller derby team?’ They’d had the Buds roller derby group there – that’s the 12 to 18 year olds. So we started a group for, back then it was, 6 to 12 year olds. So we started a traveling team right away, and my daughter was on that. We just kind of continued from then, and I’ve never stopped coaching since I very started derby. Now I have a 12 year old that’s also been playing since they were 7, so it’s been pretty much ever since then I’ve been coaching.
Miller: It’s pretty cool that you were able to start and get into a sport alongside your children. You could sort of learn at the same time.
Stevens: Yeah, it’s wonderful. We have so much to talk about and worry about together and learn together. We train together. We train outside of roller derby, we weight lift together. We’ve shared trainers. We share gear. It’s just really great. They know all the gossip of the adults and I know it all of the children, so it’s a pretty fun experience. We’re so busy, but we get to be busy together. We travel together and it’s really made us very close. I’ve had such a good time.
Miller: As opposed to the usual story of the soccer mom or the soccer dad who is just basically in this never ending cycle of ferrying kids around and getting snacks ready. You can do that but also take part.
Stevens: Exactly. And I’m on skates. They can train me. I can learn from them all the time. I can bring what I’m learning with the adults to them. So it’s just really a great collaboration. It’s made both… I’m really close to my child Haddie, who is 12 and then my other child Elsie, who is 16. This has made us very close. It’s great.
Miller: All because of a very successful t-shirt saying, ‘Ask me about roller derby.’ It actually worked.
Stevens: Yeah, it worked. It changed our lives.
Miller: Have you worn a t-shirt that says that, since then, yourself?
Stevens: I haven’t, but I’ve always wanted one. [Laughing] But I keep telling everybody about roller derby, and I don’t think they’ve asked, and I’m not sure everyone wants to hear about it.
Miller: Oh, you don’t need to get their permission, you just go up and tell people.
Miller: ‘Let me tell you about roller derby.’
Stevens: It’s all I know.
Miller: Ruby Patrick, what about you? What was your beginning, your entrance into the sport?
Patrick: I have sort of a similar start in a way because I was also at Oaks Park for a Dougy Center event. I already really enjoyed roller skating since I was really little. But I think I was about 8 years old, and I saw some girls in the center of the rink. They had a bunch of gear on and they were trying different… I could hear their wheels chatter, and I just thought they looked so cool, so I had to go up to them. I was super nervous, but they were excited to tell me about it. Yeah.
Miller: Do you remember what you saw in them or what they were doing that made you think, ‘This is cool and this is something I want to do. I want to be like them’?
Patrick: Yeah. When I was young, I think I saw… They were a bit older than me, and I saw their confidence. I mean it was a normal session at Oaks Park, and they just had no worry in their mind. They were just in the center doing what they wanted. It just, yeah, it really drew me to them for sure.
Miller: It’s such a powerful thing to see people who are confident in what they’re doing, whatever they’re doing. Had you felt that, yourself, before?
Patrick: No, I don’t think I had. And I didn’t really have, at the time, I didn’t have a hobby or anything that I was really connected to. So it just felt like the perfect opportunity to give something like that a try.
Miller: Do you remember the first time that you did give it a try because it’s one thing to see something people are doing and to think I’d love to do that. It’s another to do it and actually find out what it’s like.
Patrick: Yeah, I think it was like within the next week. I went to a Derby 101 class at Oaks Park, and I immediately loved it. I loved wearing all the gear, and I loved falling down and then also succeeding. Like, I felt pretty good. I don’t remember it being an insane struggle to figure out how to skate like that. It was really good.
Miller: And even the falling down, you enjoyed.
Patrick: Yes. Yes.
Patrick: Well it helped that I had a lot of padding. But I don’t know, it just, it kind of meant that I was learning. It felt really good to make those mistakes but get up and know that I was working towards something. It felt really good, being that young.
Miller: Hedy, it’s been a little while since we’ve talked about roller derby on Think Out Loud. Can you remind us the basics of how the sport works?
Stevens: Well, let’s see, we have blockers and jammers. So there’ll be two teams. And you start a jam. Four blockers from each team go out to play offense and defense. And two jammers – those are the people that wear the stars on their cap. Once the whistle to start the game blows, those jammers are pretty much fighting to get through what we call the pack – that’s the group of blockers from both teams. The first jammer to get through that pack legally, using legal target zones and working their way through that pack, becomes lead jammer. Then once they come back around the track – they race back around the track as quickly as they can, and as they pass the opposing blockers hips with their hips, they earn a point. So, as they come back around the track, they can earn four points as they pass those four opposing blockers. There’s offense and defense played to help them get through and to prevent the other jammer from getting through. Once that other jammer’s also through, they can start scoring points on their second and third and fourth passes. But the thing about becoming lead jammer, you are now kind of in control of the jam, which can last up to two minutes. I know two minutes seems like not much time, but it is quite a bit of time when you’re kind of hitting and skating and jumping and doing all the things. So, if you’re lead jammer, at any point in those two minutes, you can take your hands and hit your hips with them and call off the jam. So it’s very strategic how you can control the points and control the game that way. Then a break happens and a new group of skaters comes out and the new jam starts. And that goes for about an hour.
Miller: For an hour. Ruby, am I right that your position is jammer?
Patrick: Yes, I’m a jammer.
Miller: It seems, based on the way Hedy has just described it, as a really important, really high profile position. Does that, almost by definition, make you a kind of team leader?
Patrick: I mean, I think so. There’s about six jammers on our team. We do carry a lot of weight, but we also can’t do it without our blockers. So it’s definitely an effort for sure, big effort.
Miller: What does it mean to you to be one of the captains of this team?
Patrick: It feels like a great honor really. I don’t feel like I have this… Let me think how to describe this: It just feels like I’m a part of a family and I’m more like there to support them and help us all get to achieve what we want. I think regardless if I was the captain I’d feel the same way. So it’s not like a very hierarchical thing, if that makes sense.
Miller: Hedy, what about your role as coach? What do you see as the most important aspects of that role?
Stevens: I think it’s kind of keeping everyone, like Ruby said, kind of as a family that’s functioning. We have several other coaches and we all work really well together. But I think my role is really just kind of keeping that flow between the coaches and the skaters, maybe making some final decisions when we’re having a tough time making them. But really, I collaborate with all the other coaches. I collaborate with the captains. We’re pretty transparent and I let the kids know what we’re thinking and what we’re doing. I really feel like I’m just kind of a leader in the way that I keep the group flowing and going and really try to support everyone being kind to each other and make sure there’s time for that along with learning strategy and skills and drills. I really try to support the emotional part of the team and the players and the other coaches.
Miller: My understanding, from what I’ve read, is that inclusivity is a big part of the entire Rose City Rollers organization. What does that mean in practice?
Patrick: [laughs] Well, I think what it is is that we just strive to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome here. We don’t want to exclude anyone or make anyone feel unwelcome in this sport. I think that it just makes roller derby such a special place because it’s so hard to describe a roller derby skater. We’re all different, and we all come from different walks of life, and it just creates this amazing, strong community.
Stevens: It really does, and we talk about it a lot. We talk about inclusivity and what we need to do to be better and to learn from experiences we’ve had and to show our support to all different types of skaters. I mean we are the all star team, but there’s quite a range of levels and ages and types of skaters, even on the all star team, certainly on the home teams. We make room for every level of skater, and you can grow at any level you come in and any type of person you are. I think we really work on that.
Miller: Ruby, you’ve been doing this now, as you noted, for half of your life: age of 9 to 18. How do you think the sport has changed you?
Patrick: I think that it’s just given me an idea of what it feels like to be in a really healthy environment. I know what it’s like to feel supported, and now I can kind of transfer that over into my next stage, whether I continue – well, I will continue roller derby – but in college, like everything, it just all transfers over to real life. And it just, it’s taught me so much, really.
Miller: Hedy, what about you? I mean, you can’t say you’ve done this for half your life because as you noted earlier, you started when you were 39. But has the sport changed you as well?
Stevens: Oh, so much. It certainly made me have an understanding that it was really important for my children to find some sort of sport. It’s nice that it’s roller derby, but it’s also volleyball and weightlifting and whatnot because I realize how much that brings to us and how that’s a whole nother family. When things aren’t maybe going so great at school for kids or work is not so great, you can go to your other family and hopefully get some love and support there, and get some energy from that group of people. It’s also kind of turned me into more of an athlete than I ever was. I don’t think that will ever go away whether I stop playing roller derby – I still play also. But there’s so much training that I like to do outside of roller derby to prepare to play roller derby that that’s kind of changed my life. It’s just hard to do anything but live a healthy lifestyle when you’re trying to be prepared for these games and prepared for coaching, and so I feel life’s maybe a lot healthier. Certainly I have so many friends. I mean I’m just, I feel like I know everyone in the league and I have just a million friends from it. Even people that don’t skate anymore are some of my best friends. It’s just, it feels so good. It really changed my life actually.
Miller: Ruby, your first round matchup is against the Pixies from Spokane. Do you have a sense for what’s going to be in your head when the game starts?
Patrick: Yeah, I think that I’m just going to focus on the moment and focus on my team in that moment and try not to think too much about the next day or whether we’ll win or we’ll lose. I’ll just be focusing on playing my best game and making sure I feel good and my teammates feel good while doing it.
Miller: Well, Ruby and Hedy, best of luck to you and thanks so much for joining us.
Guests: Thanks, Dave. So nice to talk to you.
Miller: Likewise. Ruby Patrick is a player on the Rosebuds junior roller derby team, also one of the captains. Hedy Stevens is the coach. They are playing in the national championships this weekend.
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