Annie Swanson joined Arch Rival Roller Derby five years ago after a brief stint with Confluence Crush Roller Derby. She became one of their main jammers right from her rookie season and hasn’t looked back since. Her hard work paid off last year when she was recognized as Tournament MVP at the D1 Playoffs in Madison, WI, and recently as one of the 2017 Big O MVPs. Learn more about Swanson’s audible call-offs, her derby crushes, and how she’s been developing her mental game.
Name: Annie Swanson
League: Arch Rival Roller Derby
Teams: ARCH All Stars, M-80s
Year you started playing roller derby: 2012
How did you get involved with roller derby?
My sister-in-law, Hydrogen Bombshell, started playing at ARCH a couple of years before me, and I was hooked after seeing her play one game. I was living in my hometown of Kansas City, MO at the time and started going to rinks to try and teach myself how to skate. Since I was moving to Saint Louis to complete college, I had my mind set on trying out for ARCH, which I did in May 2012 after getting my feet wet at Confluence Crush Roller Derby.
What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
I played soccer until I was twelve, then volleyball in middle and high school. Neither were my forte, but I was also a chubby kid for a long time. Once I got to high school, I mostly stuck to volleyball to stay in some sort of shape. I had never worn a pair of skates until I decided I wanted to play derby; I went to skate rinks by myself and taught myself to skate. I can still remember when I figured out crossovers — “The Edge of Glory” started playing at the rink at that moment! It was like a damn sports movie montage.
Please tell us about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby.
My first year of derby involved me skating six days a week — I went to every ARCH and GateKeepers (GKRD) practice I could, then skated for a few hours every Friday morning at the Skatium. Bled Zeppelin from GKRD, who I first met at Crush, would be there every Friday to work with me (read: knock me around for a few hours). I have a lot of fun memories from those days.
My first game with ARCH was August of 2012, on our Rookie Rivals (now known as the Fleur-de-Linquents) against Dark River Derby Coalition. I think we lost that game. But I won MVP, which made me incredibly hungry to level up — whatever that meant at the time.
What is your skate gear of choice?
Chaya Onyx Boots, Shiva 1.0 Plates, Juice Java wheels (90 hardness preferred), and Wicked Bearings!
Do you have a pre-game ritual?
We have a team pre-game ritual — outside of that, I usually just try to get lots of sleep and a big breakfast. If we’re home, Creed is usually on the TV on game day. I don’t put my jersey on until I’ve started gearing up, and all my gear goes on right, left. Also, every game, the night before — kombucha.
Do you have a favorite motivational quote?
This is kinda funny — this year, I’ve been digging the Kia “Rain” commercial with LeBron James for inspiration.
“Doubt isn’t a storm — it’s a drizzle. Just enough to make you stay inside, second guess yourself, or quit. Or let them have it. Or question your limits. But that’s only if you’re afraid of a little rain.”
Do you have a theme song?
My all-time most played amp song is “Flawless,” by Beyoncé with Nicki Minaj but I’ll play anything Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar or Arctic Monkeys to get real hype.
What is your position of choice?
I have always been a jammer, except for a local season where I tried to block due to burnout and then my captains made me jam only by the end of the season. Sad!
How would you describe your derby playing style? Do you have a signature move?
I would not describe myself as a pretty or technical skater. My upper body is disproportionate to my lower body, so in open track, I feel like a gorilla someone taught how to skate. In the pack, I would say I’m a little physical, a little fancy. I have a moonwalk thing I pull off sometimes, like a spin into skating backwards. I also often have an aggressive jam call-off — it’s like a slap on the hips more than a tap. I don’t know when or why I started doing it, but I can’t stop. The jam ref has to HEAR the call-off too!
Please share your best derby moment (or moments).
Oh, definitely both times we made it to Champs — we give everything to this team, and we’ve been able to seriously reap the rewards. Obviously winning MVP at Madison was a huge honor. Getting to play as a Big O MVP was a really cool experience — I got to play with some really talented and really cool women.
Outside of those really monumental career highlights, some of my best derby moments have been early Saturday morning workouts with Bricktator, Fletcher, Harmony, and Saint. All of these hours we put in together have some of my dearest and most fun memories. Also, eggs after. Brunch life, forever.
What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
This is an intangible thing, but I scored 90 points at Playoffs against the Minnesota RollerGirls — I’d played their team every year and up to that point, had barely made a dent in their defense. I think I finally leaped over a hurdle that I didn’t realize I had set for myself.
Off the track?
Last year I won the best arms award at ARCH! The gun show is always a work in progress.
What has roller derby taught you about pushing your limits, either physically or mentally?
My rookie All-Star year (2014) was one of the most difficult things I’ll ever experience. We had a rebuilding year with the schedule of a better team. For a lot of our games, I was one of three jammers — after less than two years on skates, I was not ready for that. I spent more time crying than smiling, felt very alone, and nearly quit multiple times (ARCH, you can thank Saint that I didn’t).
Every year since then, I’ve thought less about how horrible that was and more about how good it can be. The girl who tried to wander the streets of Portland in tears after an ass-whooping from Rose didn’t believe she could ever be good enough to have Playoff medals or hang with Bricktator and Harmony or score points on Team USA (humble brag alert!). The girl I am today still isn’t satisfied, but I always look forward — not back.
You have talked about how this past season you focused hard on developing a “mental edge” over your competition. What kind of advice to you have for skaters looking to develop their mental game on the track?
It’s kinda like what I said before — forward, not back. I have had some bad jams and entirely rough games, but there’s always another jam or game after that. Doubt can follow me when I leave practice or a game, so I practice confidence and positivity when I’m not on skates. On game day, I’m ready to reset from bad jams and celebrate good ones. (I do love to celebrate). You have to make a conscious and continuous effort to be positive and to learn from this moment to better for the next — like training muscle memory, it’s about consistency.
Who are your derby heroes?
When I first started skating, I wanted to skate like Magnum P.I.M.P. — so athletic, such a good skater, and dominant. Likewise, from the women’s game, I can’t help but admire Bonnie Thunders — she has been among the best since before I knew what roller derby was, is so professional, and I can’t tell if she ever gets tired. I am definitely sucking wind after, like, thirty seconds into a jam. Though I can’t breathe through my nose so maybe that’s part of it. Also, Wilhelm, I have a derby crush on Wilhelm.
You were recognized as tournament MVP last fall at the 2016 International WFTDA D1 Playoffs in Madison, Wisconsin. What did it feel like to receive this honor?
It was very surreal. Just two years before, my rookie year, ARCH finished sixth at the Salt Lake City Playoff, after a season I had spent on the verge of quitting the All Stars. Bricktator received that Playoff MVP in that bracket, skating for Bay Area. I think I realized then that that was a level I wanted to be on as an athlete, though I didn’t know how (or if) I would get there. When my MVP was announced, I was reminded of that — I wanted it. I didn’t expect to get that award, but in hindsight, I definitely wanted it. And I don’t feel guilty in saying that I know I earned it. The other candidates of that weekend, they would have earned it, and my 2016 MVP peers, they earned it. There are a lot of deserving people who haven’t received such an honor, so I feel both humbled and empowered from the experience. And getting to be the first skater to receive it as an ARCH All Star — I feel like we’ve arrived.
What have of the toughest losses of your career taught you?
You can do literally everything right, and sometimes a team is just better than you. You can also be the better team and totally screw up and lose. It’s the nature of sports that sometimes things just don’t work in your favor — but you you can still fight, and you can still learn.
Aside from being a leader on the track, you are also a leader off the track as a member of your league’s Board of Directors and have also been a member of the Coaching Committee. What can you share about your experience with helping your league and fellow skaters in these two roles?
When I joined the BoD last summer, I finally saw the whole picture of our league, and what it means to all of the individuals who make it great. It’s become important to me to make sure ARCH can continue to grow and preserve its positive and competitive culture, so that we can have a positive influence in athletes’ lives for years to come. For eight to nine months I was both league Secretary (BoD) and Coaching Committee head, which was very busy and sometimes involved decisions or statements that didn’t make people happy. But I’ve always kept in mind what I believe is right for the league. ARCH has changed my life, so I want to give back.
What is your job outside of roller derby? And how, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby?
I work for Lockton Companies processing certificates of insurance, and I love my job. Previously I taught preschool, which didn’t support my derby habit very well financially or in terms of my health. My current work environment is infinitely calmer and less physically taxing, which makes it a lot more appealing to go skate or fitness after I leave for the day. I also have five coworkers who play derby for ARCH and the GateKeepers, which is a pretty sweet gang to be in.
How has your involvement in roller derby affected the way you live the rest of your life? How do you find a balance between your derby life and “real” life?
My derby life is my real life, in only good ways. Saint has been my coach longer than he’s been my love interest. I made most of my friends through derby after starting at ARCH. I am very fortunate that I have close relationships and interests that don’t compete with derby and vice versa — in reality, they foster each other. I do sacrifice time I could spend with my family in Kansas City, and I haven’t experienced a normal lifestyle without many dollars and hours spent on derby. But I wouldn’t change anything about it, because I get to chase a dream with my 21 best friends.
There are three things that I do to keep myself sane — I spend concentrated time with my guy on the weekends; I say no to extra social things when I need the alone time; and I take one day off per week completely from skating and fitnessing.
What advice do you have for people who want to play roller derby?
Do it. Whether you are looking for new friends, a way to stay in shape, or to compete at the highest level you can, you won’t regret it. You will meet some incredible people and experience new cities and you will learn about yourself and what amazing things you can do. Also, YOLO.
Do you have a special message to your fans?
I have a lot of pals in Saint Louis and my family in Kansas City that I am so happy to have their support. Also, hopefully he counts as a fan, but Saint — big shout out. We’ve pulled each other through a lot of challenges and shared a lot of victories — and I’m just so grateful to have a partner who dedicates so much time to me and to ARCH in addition to dominating the MRDA. He’s legit.
Do you have any game footage or other videos that you would like to share with your feature?
A couple come to mind, like this jam from the Big O MVP game, or this one, also from the Big O, of Arch Rival v. Angel City.
Is there any other information we haven’t covered in the previous questions that you’d like to share with the wftda.com readers?
I also love to celebrate — I always find the ARCH fans, get them pumped up, throw shade, even if we’re losing or are having a weird stretch. Derby is FUN and it’s okay to bring the swagger!