November 1, 2012
Even though Teflon Donna wasn’t her first name choice, she has really grown into it! It is the perfect moniker for a skater who has given many a blocker the “slip” on her way through the pack as a jammer for the Philly Roller Girls. As a member of Team USA, Tef has had the opportunity to see the world through roller derby, a unique perspective that helps her to be a leader on the track for her home league, and work with experienced and new skaters alike to achieve their goals. Read on to learn more about Teflon Donna, and be sure to look for her and the Liberty Belles at the 2012 WFTDA Championships!
What is your derby name? Teflon Donna
How did you choose your derby name?
Well, I actually skated as Annabelle Lector in my very first bout, but when a teammate tried to register it I was denied. I struggled for a while to come up with something I liked. I always admired Val Capone's choice of skate name. I wanted a name that was fun but also exuded power, confidence, and general badass-ness (qualities I definitely didn't possess at the time as a skater or in my everyday life). So, when Teflon Donna was suggested by a coworker I thought it was exactly what I was looking for in a derby name. Not everyone knows it comes from John Gotti, who was known as the Teflon Don. Lots of people associate it with my slipperiness as a jammer and blocker. I guess I grew into my name because neither the skills nor the personality fit at the time!
What is your number?
85. I originally chose this number because they talk about Hannibal's heart rate not getting above 85 when he bit someone. It just so happened that 1985 was the year John Gotti took over the Gambino family. So it worked out to keep my number.
What is your home league?
I skate for the Philly Roller Girls, and have since 2007 when I transferred to the area for a job. I got my roller derby start skating with the Carolina Rollergirls. I started playing roller derby in August 2004, knowing very little about skating and the game.
What is your position of choice?
Anything roller derby! I really love (like, really love) playing roller derby. I'll play wherever I'm needed most. Right now, I am almost exclusively jamming for the Liberty Belles. So jamming has been my primary focus. I still jump at the opportunity to block. Plus, I throw in my own blocks as I jam my way through the packs. I really appreciate the individual and teamwork challenges both positions provide.
What is your skate gear of choice?
I wear Reidell 595s (custom w/ the shearling tongue lining), PowerDyne Reactor plates, the new Radar Bullets (usually on the harder side), and 187 Killer Pads – including the new Pro Derby Knee Pad! I can always find whatever it is I need at Five Stride Skate Shop.
Do you have any pre-bout rituals?
The only thing I really stick to these days is putting my uniform on early in the day. I find it's a very simple way to get my body and mind focused on what lies ahead. It's a few minutes to focus on me before I handle any captain duties and focus on the team. Plus it means I'm ready for the bout and can handle whatever odds and ends get thrown my way throughout the day without feeling like it compromises my personal readiness for the bout. I used to have a standard pre-bout meal, but the more I started to travel to play derby the harder it became to stick with it. It was really only about not eating anything "new" before a bout because I wouldn't know how my body would respond.
What do you think about when you're lacing up your skates?
Who knows what goes through my head? Though I'm sure you can sometimes find me looking like I'm deep in thought or focused. Other times I'm holding conversations with teammates or laughing and goofing around.
What is your motivational quote?
Ever since I was a kid I can remember my mom always telling me “Give it 100%. Nobody could ever ask for more from you.” That's something that's stuck with me in all sorts of situations. It's a way to calm my nerves. I tell myself, “If I give it 100% that's all that's expected of me.” It's a way to ease any feelings of disappointment I might have about my performance. “If I left it all out there on the track and gave it my all, then I did my absolute best.” And it certainly gives me focus on practice days when I need that little ounce of encouragement.
Do you and your team have a psych-up ritual to prepare for games?
Everyone needs different things on game day, but one thing we found as a team is that we like structure on game day; from team meet-ups, to a long and structured warm-up, sometimes we even include team meals. Despite all that structure we still like to keep it light – which is why you can often find us laughing and dancing around.
What is your personal theme song?
"Da, da-na-nu, da-na, na-na-nu-na..." Okay, the Rocky theme song isn't my personal theme song, but it's a part of the team and it has become a part of me. We sing it after every team practice. We sing it together before bouts. And when we travel my roommates and I wake up to it as our alarm on bout day.
Please share with us your best derby moment?
My best derby moment was when we won the Eastern Regionals in 2009, beating Gotham Girls Roller Derby by a single point. There is just something completely magical about working together with your friends and teammates to achieve what you have set your sights on achieving all year long. It was a beautiful, collaborative effort and one I won't soon forget. When I think back to that moment, I am just in awe as to how it all came together. How all those hours of training, of sweating together, strategizing together, developing teamwork, and developing the belief in ourselves as individuals and as a united team paid off. Every single person in the league and on the team can be proud of their season long efforts that led to that victory.
Why did you want to start playing roller derby and what was your first exposure to the sport?
When I joined, the Carolina Rollergirls hadn't played a single game. So I had no real understanding of what I was getting into and really what the sport was. It pretty much existed in the head of our league founder, Celia Fate, who had seen a game in Austin, Texas. It's crazy when I think about it because I really had no clue what I was getting myself into. It blows my mind that in eight years I have watched the sport grow from splitting into "home" teams to play each other, to playing in my first interleague bout against the Minnesota RollerGirls (hello, no standard rule set), to organized tournament play, to regional and national championships, to international and World Cup roller derby. If I had to pinpoint why I wanted to do it I would have to say it was a combination of starting out on my own in a new city, missing athletic activities that were an everyday part of my life, and just the right set of circumstances that piqued my interest.
Can you talk a bit about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby?
I honestly learned as I went. Just a short month after joining the Carolina Rollergirls, I played in our first expo bout. I had no business playing derby at that point. I borrowed someone's skates because I was still practicing on rentals. I could barely stand upright. It's fun to go back and look at the video. Just before the first game of the Carolina Rollergirls' first bout, I was traded to the opposing team who had just suffered the loss of a strong skater. It was quite a lopsided "trade" as they had lost a strong jammer and I didn't really have much to offer as a blocker or a jammer. However, they saw something in me and relied heavily on my ability to develop as a jammer. It was a fantastic opportunity and certainly paved my way, giving me lots of opportunities to learn and grow as a skater.
The Carolina Rollergirls did have a fantastic program for teaching the fundamentals of skating. I owe a lot to the skaters and coaches that put that program together. I still go back and reference those skills when I am trying to break down and learn new things.
What advice do you have for anyone who want to join roller derby?
Don't be afraid to ask for help! Do everything you can to master the fundamentals of skating and skating skills. Most importantly, if it's something you really want: jump in with both feet and be prepared to work for weeks, months, years, etc. to achieve it. Whatever it takes.
As a veteran skater with eight years of roller derby experience (wow!), what advice do you have for skaters about maintaining health and fitness in roller derby?
When I started out I was playing roller derby as a way to get in shape. Now I make time to workout so I am fit to play roller derby. In a similar way, I was using my active lifestyle as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted. Back in December 2011 as I found myself closer and closer to surgery and facing several months of inactivity I realized that I couldn't use exercise as an excuse for poor eating habits. I wanted to be recognized as an athlete so I needed to treat myself like an athlete. Changing my diet and exercising regularly – outside of practice – has been a slow progression and I still have setbacks, but I have felt the difference in my performances on the track.
How would you describe your derby playing style?
I play with a lot of determination. My mental focus and strength really help me power through tough physical experiences. I often look at other skaters and if I were to compare myself to them I would likely be defeated right there on the spot. Most of my competitors and teammates possess so much raw talent and individual skill, but whatever they might have in derby talent I have twice as much desire to improve and determination to just use what I have to be successful.
What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
I was first enrolled in gymnastics at 3 years of age. I competed as an all-around gymnast from 7 years old until I graduated from high school. In high school, the athletic director convinced me to pole vault on the school's first women's pole vault team.
What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
Learning to skate! I am somewhat serious. It's a regular part of the little successes I am proud of, because I am still learning today. So by far my greatest accomplishment is being competitive for the last eight years, as a chartered and rostered skater for both the Philly Roller Girls' Liberty Belles and previously the Carolina Rollergirls' All-Stars. That is a huge personal accomplishment for me, because I am far from being considered a "natural" on roller skates. I hope to stay competitive for several more years. While I didn't do it alone, competing in six WFTDA Regional Playoff tournaments and four (soon to be five) WFTDA Championships tournaments with the Philly Liberty Belles. Of course, trying out for Team USA, being selected, and winning the first ever roller derby World Cup!
You are traveling with the Philly Roller Girls to WFTDA Championships this month. Congratulations! What have you been doing as a skater to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the tournament?
There is no doubt that the difference between winning and losing can be as subtle as how physically and mentally prepared you are as a skater. I am preparing myself to fight for every initial pass, fight for every point, and to leave it all out on the track. As for the skating, I am making some small tweaks; focusing on my footwork and form. In the gym, I'm at a point of maintaining my strength and conditioning.
Please tell us about your experience as a member of Team USA. What was it like to skate in the first roller derby World Cup?
I am struggling to put it into words. There are so many great things about the team as a whole; playing on a team full of skaters with impeccable awareness, coveted skills, incredible leadership, unbelievable derby smarts, and a ton of respect for what we each bring to the team. It was all-around any captain's, manager's or teammate's dream come true! Plus it's gone beyond the World Cup. We played at ECDX, RollerCon, and traveled to Finland and England to play Team Sweden, Team Finland, the London Rollergirls' London Brawling, and Team England.
In so many ways the experience rejuvenated my roller derby passion. I spend so much time being critical of my skills and my performances. I was able to see being selected for the team as recognition of my personal accomplishments, and at the same time it gave me an even bigger reason to keep working hard. I was reminded of how much love I have for the sport and the community that has made all of this a reality for me. And even bigger than all that, I have played a role in strengthening and growing the sport of roller derby worldwide, world-fucking-wide! How cool is that!? We are international, y'all and in a big, big way.
What have you learned from being a member of Team USA? Have you been able to translate any of what you learned back to your league?
Being a member of Team USA reinforced the significance of teamwork. We didn't have many opportunities to practice together and so what little time we did have was spent working on communication and learning to work together. While we were successful at times relying on our individual skills, we were by far the most dominant when we worked together.
For the Liberty Belles, strengthening our teamwork has definitely been a focal point this season. We have made significant strides in this area solidifying our confidence in working with each other, relying on the strengths each of us brings to the team and how to maximize our success as a team.
What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments off the track?
Being elected to the WFTDA Rules Committee and spending four years helping to make the game better (I know not all will see it that way). I think that involved three rule set revisions, but it's all a little fuzzy now.
Captaining the Liberty Belles for almost five full seasons now. I have grown and changed and discovered so much about myself and other people through it all, and I know that I am far from being done learning how to be a better teammate, captain, and leader. Despite mostly good intentions my blunt and critical nature aren't always received as having the best interest of my team or teammates in mind. It's an endless endeavor and I will spend a lifetime trying to perfect it.
My absolute favorite has been training and spreading my love of learning. Not just learning to skate or derby skills, but also sharing what I have learned along the way as far as rules knowledge, coping with injuries, mental training, goal setting, and so much more. I got involved in training early on because I naturally wanted to help others achieve their goals, but also because I felt like my lack of a skating background allowed me to approach teaching from a unique perspective. I am now getting the opportunity to coach private skate lessons locally and travel worldwide for league trainings and derby bootcamps.
We understand that you are instrumental in your league’s Fresh Meat program. Please tell us about why you got involved with the program, and how this role influences your experience of roller derby.
I got involved in our Fresh Meat program because there is so much I wish I had known, and frankly that others had known so they could teach me, when I joined roller derby. More importantly I saw how my leaguemates' direct interest in my personal training was not only a source of encouragement for me when I was starting out but also how our relationship grew into a camaraderie pushing each other to be better. I might be the trainer standing in front leading a practice, but the relationship goes far beyond me as the teacher and them as the student. There isn't a session that goes by where I don't learn something from the Fresh Meat. Plus their enthusiasm for learning and the sport is infectious!
Who are your derby heroes?
Roxy Rockett and Shirley Temper are two of my all time favorite teammates (Carolina Rollergirls) and best friends. The experiences we shared learning to skate (I did most of the learning) and learning to play derby have bonded us for life. Sassy for teaching me, the hard way, why I should put toe stops in my skates. She revolutionized the game for me the first time she hit me out of bounds, stopped on a dime, and ran clockwise. Pretty much anyone that has taught me anything about my weaknesses, and everyone that has inspired me to be better by mimicking bits and pieces of their success and trying to make it my own.
Is there anyone that you’d like to thank?
Heck yea! I want to thank my family for their endless support and encouragement. My parents never miss a home game and they frequently travel to cheer me on. My sister, Copper Top, tried to avoid derby for years but we sucked her in. She is a loyal teammate, my best friend, and derby wouldn't be the same without her. My leaguemates who see the good but also deal with the bad and still keep me around! A huge thank you to whomever nominated me for WFTDA Featured Skater. Your timing is impeccable!
Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.