Thursday September 03, 2015
Mitzi Blake, a young professional and mother, has a fierce alter ego that comes alive on the track. You can see her in September as the Cajun Crusher when she rolls with the Green Mountain Roller Derby (GMRD). Blake has been with GMRD since 2009 and is currently a blocker on the Black Ice Brawler team.
Blake, who has rollerskated her entire life, grew up in the south. Now a 15-year resident of South Burlington, Blake recalls when she moved to Vermont and began skating at Skateland, the beloved Williston roller rink. Once Skateland closed, Blake says there were no other roller skating opportunities in the area until a neighbor introduced her to roller derby. She adds, “I fell in love with the roller skating aspect and tried out and then became even more in love with roller derby. As an adult woman, roller derby has given me the opportunity to maintain physical activity in a challenging competitive environment,” says Blake.
GMRD, Vermont’s original and largest roller derby league, recently changed their name from the Green Mountain Derby Dames. The organization purposefully wanted to drop the gender-specific “dames” from its moniker, saying, “As our league and the sport of roller derby continue to grow, it has become evident that identifying as ‘derby dames’ may feel exclusionary to some in our community. We are a community made up of women, men, young adults, and children.”
Blake herself is instrumental in generating more interest in the sport, as she is an instructor and coordinator for GMRD’s Junior Roller Derby program, which has two sessions each in the fall and spring and one session in the summer. The next program starts September 9. Blake is excited to share her passion for the sport with young girls. In fact, her 10-year-old daughter is part of the junior team named Minor Catastrophes. Blake reports, “She loves derby and roller skating. It has been amazing to see her and her team grow and develop into strong athletic girls.”
According to GMRD Marketing and PR Director Najat Croll, GMRD is currently ranked 76 (according to Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) out of over 250 teams. Croll adds, “I don’t think people really understand how competitive the sport is. We have a ranking system that spreads internationally.” In addition, GMRD is a skater owned and operated sport. “We pay to play and in return we each own a piece of the league. We have a president, a board of directors and many smaller committees to help run the business side of the league,” says Croll. To that end, Blake also contributes to the league off the track by sharing her professional skills. She is the GMRD treasurer.
Croll is enthusiastic about recruiting new people to the sport, saying, “We are always looking for new members, teammates, and refs! We hold what we call ‘fresh meat’ night on Tuesday nights. We have all the gear, all you have to bring is a mouth guard.”
Roller derby is a physically demanding sport that requires speed, endurance, agility, strength, good awareness and communication skills. GMRD says that although many of their skaters never played sports until they discovered roller derby, the more in shape new members are, the more quickly they are able to pick up basic skating and derby skills. According to the GMRD website, “We’ve found that skaters with hockey, rugby, and other skating or sports backgrounds generally pick up skills quickly.” Croll adds, “I had never roller skated before I started playing, but I learned! People often think that they already have to know how to skate, but that is not true. Any and all skill levels are welcome. We have a great training team willing to work with any eager person.”
A visit to GMRD website will tell newcomers what they need to know about the sport including practice times and basic skills assessment. There is also a section titled, “What if I get hurt?” which is answered with, “It’s not a matter of if you get hurt, it’s when!” Roller derby is an aggressive contact sport, thus why appropriate gear and training is necessary for these athletes. In addition to what gear and skills one needs to play, Blake says the top three qualities someone needs in order to succeed and have fun at roller derby are, “A passion for the sport. Motivation to be patient while learning the skills and the game. And the energy and determination to get up, dust yourself off, and get back out on the track.”
Blake, who credits her southern Louisiana roots for her derby name, the Cajun Crusher, lists her mother as one of her idols, “for winning against breast cancer.” Strength and fortitude can be found in Blake as well. She puts it best when she says,
“Derby has taught me to never give up even when you fall hard or get knocked down.”
Green Mountain Roller Derby has open recruitment every Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. at Skateland Vermont, 8 Susie Wilson Road, Essex Junction. Their upcoming two home fall bouts are September 26 and October 17 at the Champlain Valley Expo. For more information, visit www.gmrollerderby.com. The Junior Roller Derby Program starts September 9. For more information or to register for Junior Roller Derby, visit ejrp.org.