Each week you can find Sue Nally in a helmet, tights, mouth guard and roller skates. Sue is a derby girl: a member of the TriCity Roller Girls, a flat-track roller derby league in Waterloo Region.
Sue’s on-track persona, Suzy Slam, is a force to be reckoned with. As one of the original league players, Sue has been delivering body slams on the track and shouting encouragement to her team mates on the home team, Vicious Dishes, or travel teams, Thunder or Plan B, since 2008. Sue loves the league so much, she has volunteered as the president of the board for the last three years. A natural champion for the competitive and entertaining sport of roller derby, Sue was happy to chat about her love of derby.
How long have you been playing roller derby?
I’ve been playing since the league’s inception in 2008 – but the first while was remembering how to roller skate as I hadn’t done that in about 20 years.
What is it about playing derby that you love so much?
I love how strong it makes me feel when I hit someone or take a hit. Honestly I love being on roller skates and adding full contact to that only makes it better.
What drew you to derby in the first place?
I read an article in Bust magazine years ago about the Gotham Girls league in NYC and thought it sounded like the best thing ever: the gals were strong, sassy and having so much fun. It seemed like the sport was waiting to find me.
What does playing derby bring to your life?
It’s hard to explain all of the elements derby brings to my life but to start with the basics, it’s a fun way to keep fit and active.
It’s also draws an amazing, diverse group of people who are looking for a unique sense of community. It’s a little bit rock’n’roll, a lot DIY and being part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association means being part of a revolution in sport and culture.
Derby also gives me a chance to get out of my daily life and let loose for awhile, which everyone needs in some form.
Is that initial draw to the sport what keeps you playing?
I’m nicer after I play or practice. The fact that derby is competitive and still evolving, unlike hockey or soccer which has had established rules for decades, keeps me on the track.
What do you think derby offers its audiences and what do you want people to think or feel after watching their first roller derby game?
Derby offers good, competitive game play with an element of theatrics. It can be very entertaining and I hope folks see that it’s a thinking game, not just showcasing skating skills and big hits. The strategy is fascinating and it’s one of the only sports that requires you to think, and play defensively and offensively at the same time.
The first time might be a bit confusing but any derby person will be happy to explain things.
How intensive is training?
Quite intensive. We practice between 2-6 hours per week if you’re on a home team and up to 10 hours per week if you’re on a travel team.
Most skaters do some sort of off-skate activities such as crossfit, yoga, running or rock climbing to get fit for derby as opposed to derby being the thing that makes you fit. Coming up to important games or tournaments, which are important for international rankings, skaters will train and eat as any top level athlete will.
Playing derby is one thing, but you are president of the TriCity Roller Girls board of directors. What made you want to be part of derby governance?
I’ve always loved being a part of the dynamic and creative energy of organizational governance so this was a natural fit for me. Being president is great job because I get to work with volunteers that are passionate and dedicated to this sport. The role can be rather time consuming as I’m involved in policy work, media/advertising, sponsorship and networking with other leagues in addition to tearing up the track, but I love it all.
I think of our board of directors as a team off the track: we have to be strategic and work together to succeed. Our board and league governance is a collective model which means more involvement from everybody. There is always a lot of people doing amazing work which makes my job easier. I’ve been involved in many organizations but I’ve found this to be the most dynamic group, encompassing of a variety of talents and personalities.
The culture of roller derby is that the girls are tough as nails and maybe somewhat intimidating in their fierceness. Are you/the other ladies like that off the track, or is that just part of ethos of derby?
Fierceness is a fantastic trait on the track and derby offers an appropriate outlet for any aggression. I’ve found that many of the women have brought the fearlessness and strength they’ve developed from playing derby into their real lives, both professionally and personally. If you know you can survive someone hitting you down physically, you can take that trait anywhere. I’ve seen our members blossom and do incredible things off the track.
Is there a unifying characteristic for all derby players?
Determination and courage! It takes a lot of courage to step on the track every time and determination to constantly improve your skills.
A majorly exciting thing is that we are the first league outside of the United States to host a major divisional WFTDA play-off. This is a huge deal in the derby world and means that hundreds of derby skaters and fans will descend on Waterloo from August 22-24 at the Waterloo Rec Complex to watch top level games. Get your tickets soon.
What other arts and culture things are in you involved in?
I enjoy the events that Wordsworth Books put on; CAFKA is fantastic; Blue Dot is mind-blowing; Open Ears is one-of-a-kind beautiful and I regularly try to get to see live music by the awesome folks at Starlight and Jane Bond.
I also was involved as a member of Stitch’n’Kitsch for many years and still find that to be one of my favorite events. I think we have a very vibrant arts and culture scene here in K-W and feel like we are so lucky.
Do you have a wish/hope for Waterloo Region?
My wish for the region is that we continue to support new creative endeavors and see the value in supporting the incredible creative people we have in this area. I’d like to see alternative cultures supported and more green initiatives.
P.S. What is your favourite topic of conversation? New ideas and funny things. And I’m always up for talking derby.