Editor-in-Chief Amanda Van Slyke interviewed Victoria Stevens Barbicidal Maniac over email about why she decided to go into roller derby, the supportive community she found in it and the brave life changes she was inspired to make because of it, such as leaving an unhappy relationship, starting a business and learning to love herself.
Amanda: Tell me a little about yourself:
Victoria: I’m a 34 year old self-employed business owner and guardian to a seven year old Basset Hound named R’lyeh (pronounced Riley). I own a small salon in Edmonton and have been a hairstylist for over 12 years. I’m originally from Brandon, Manitoba and on a whim moved here when I was 19, with only $800 in my pocket and one suitcase. I’m politically active, and volunteer my time with a couple events and organizations in Edmonton, Canada, including Beautiful Me, which is a yearly event that helps promote self-love and confidence in at risk and deserving youth. I love to travel, and most recently spent nearly two months in India backpacking. Discovering new cultures, trying interesting food and meeting all kinds of people is a passion of mine.
A: Why did you decide to join roller derby?
V: I had been an athlete in high school, but since moving to Edmonton I hadn’t been involved in much sport. I was very out of shape, had health problems and a poor view of myself. I had read an article in a local paper a few years early but was dissuaded from joining. A friend of mine started playing and it peaked my interest in the sport again. I needed somewhere I could be active and meet new people, and this seemed like a good idea. I have always been a very physical person, I loved slide tackling people when I played soccer in high school, so the physical nature of roller derby really appealed to me.
A: What are some examples derby has improved your life?
V: When I joined derby, I was at a low point in my life. I was in a six-and-a-half year relationship that I was not happy in but was going along with because it was comfortable. I was incredibly overweight and out of shape, and was getting severe cluster migraines on a regular basis. I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without being winded. I was dealing with severe depression, to point where I tried to take my own life a few months prior to joining derby. I had no idea what I was getting into but something about it made me feel like I had to do it.
In derby I found a truly supportive community. I found a confidence in myself that I hadn’t been able to find for nearly a decade. No matter how many time I failed a skill, someone was there to support me, and that also transferred into life outside derby. I remember one moment, very early on in my derby career, where we were skating 50 laps on the track as a group. I could barely skate at this point and five laps in I realized that I could not keep up. Others on the track literally dragged me around that track with them. I fell so many times, but each time I did they stopped, waited for me to rejoin and continued on. It was lap 45 and I remember falling and saying ” I can’t do it, ” and one skater, The Nean of Mean, reached down, grabbed my arm and said, “You aren’t quitting now!” and hauled me back to my feet. I finished those last five laps. I remember crying at the end of that practice, and not because it was hard. I cried because I have never, in my whole life, felt so supported and accepted as I did in that moment. Thinking about that time still brings tears to my eyes.
In derby I found people who accepted me as I was, no questions, and that included the depression and the quirks I had. No one tried to change me. They embraced me, all of me. Within six months I had left the relationship I was in. I leaned on the support of my family, both derby and other, to get me through that. I had left the salon I had been working at and moved into self-employment. The derby community has been a huge factor in my success with that as they have supported my business. I unintentionally dropped nearly 100 lbs over the next year. I began to care about myself again. I took up power lifting because I wanted to be stronger. I found my voice and took the steps to become active in things I was passionate about, like politics. I still have moments of self-doubt, and still struggle with depression, but I’m able to overcome those moments much more easily now, and I have friends I can go to for support. I have literally had people show up at my house at 2 am because I needed them.
There is a quote by a well known derby player, Bonnie D Stroir, that says, “We ruin our bodies to save out souls, and for some reason that makes perfect sense.” And for me, that sums it all up. Derby saved my soul.
A: What challenges did you overcome getting started in roller derby?
V: I had a lot of resistance from some of the people around me to me joining derby. My father, being your typical dad, was worried for my safety and my ability to work if I got injured. My boyfriend at the time wasn’t really interested in supporting me in this. My brother actually laughed when I told him I was going to do this. I wasn’t much of a skater as a child. And it was him laughing about it that made me even more determined to do it.
That leads into the biggest challenge: I couldn’t skate! Not at all. I put my skates on at recruitment night, and when my paired buddy, Sour Cherry (who is the sweetest women ever, but also terrifying at the same time), told me to stand up and go over to her, I said no. Standing up on those skates was hard enough – I didn’t know how I was going to move on them. I spent most of that night, and the better part of three months, on my butt. Skating doesn’t come natural to me, and I am still, after four years, not a graceful skater. I have had to work hard every step of the way.
I also had to overcome mental blocks, such as the fear of being laughed at when I was unable to do a skill. Having found sports of all types easy as a kid, having derby be a challenge was completely out of my comfort zone. I would get angry with myself when I couldn’t complete a skill correctly the first time. I get very down on myself, and I have worked hard to learn from everything and use it to be better next time. I have a temper, and I’ve thrown water bottles, yelled at trainers, coaches and referees (which landed me in the penalty box a few times), and have left the track in a rage a few times. Those moments and few and far between now.
A: What advice do you have to give to someone who’s interested in derby?
V: Be prepared to fall, be prepared to hurt a bit and be prepared to be pushed beyond what you think you can do. I do quite a bit of the training with the new skaters. That’s right – they now let me train new skaters! Who would have thought? And I really try to push them outside their comfort zones, physically and mentally. I had the last group jumping over my leg. They kept mentally preventing themselves from doing it, so I laid down and said, “You have two options. Jump over my leg, or hit my leg and hurt me.” And every single one of them jumped over my leg, no hesitation.
Be prepared to become addicted to the community, the support and the sport itself. Be prepared to be embraced and accepted into a community of supportive people. And be prepared to be consistently surprised at what you’re able to do.
See the Grand Slam Roller Derby photo shoot with Victoria and more of her teammates in the fall issue of FLURT for FREE here.