Featured Skater: Below Me

Our featured skater this month is not one to shy away from a challenge! A physical and strategic player with an all-consuming passion for roller derby, Below Me has gone above and beyond to overcome her injuries and continue to play the sport she loves. This month she will be competing in the first WFTDA Division 1 Playoffs in Europe, hosted by her league, the Crime City Rollers, for a chance to go to Championships. Read on to learn about how Below Me’s struggles have led to success and her thoughts on roller derby’s self-governed ethos.

Name: Mina Dadashzadeh, “Below Me”
Number: 1
League: Crime City Rollers
Team(s): Crime City Rollers A-team and Team Sweden
Year you started playing roller derby: Mid-2013

What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
I grew up in the north of Sweden in a little village where there was nothing to do except for sports. And since it was winter most of the time, winter sports were dominant. I tried many different sports but nothing really caught my full attention. I played ice hockey for some years, but quit even though I really liked it because I thought the girls on my team were mean.

Then I thought maybe an individual sport would suit me better so I tried snowboarding for some years, but when we started going on the big jumps I realized I was afraid of heights! Being really reckless when it comes to going for big jumps on a snowboard in addition to being afraid of heights was not a good combination and I got many concussions during those years. I only went snowboarding maybe one or two times in almost 10 years after that. I wouldn’t say my pre-derby sports background has been very successful!

Photo by John Hesse

Please tell us about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby.
When I finally moved from the tiny place in the mountains where I grew up, I decided to move to the biggest city in Sweden: Stockholm! I thought it would be good to take up a sport again after some time of heavy partying! I thought about ice hockey, but it was too boring not to be able to tackle other players, as a girl (what is that stupid rule anyway?). I had a friend who was an official who thought I should start playing roller derby. I had never heard of it, but I went to the taster session and of course, after all those years of ice skating, it turns out I could skate on roller skates as well. They even thought I was a transfer skater from another city at first! I got put in a team almost immediately and played my first game just a couple of weeks later as a jammer. I had no idea what I was doing. I just stared at the opposing jammer on the track and did exactly what she did. I even called the jam off when she did!

So one can say I learned to play roller derby the chaotic way. It took a while before anyone realized I did not know a single rule of the sport.

Do you have a pre-game ritual?
For as long as I can remember I have done my off-skates warm-up by myself before games. My team has just accepted it and not made a big deal out of it, which I love them for. They have also accepted the fact that I will panic over the choice of wheels right before the game every time. So basically my pre-game ritual is warming up alone and then freaking out.

Do you have a favorite motivational quote?
It’s not really a motivational quote and I’m not religious, but I often think of this prayer because it’s what I struggle with the most: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Do you have a theme song?
My team has a theme song that we sing together in a ring before every bout. The name of that song is “Just idag är jag stark” and it means “Today I am strong.” The meaning of the words are that I might not be strong tomorrow, or yesterday, but I am strong right now and that is what matters. I think we sing it as a team because everyone has their difficulties and problems but in the moment, when we sing this song, we are strong no matter what.

Photo by Len Rizzo

What is your position of choice?
I prefer being in the communicative brace position since it gives me a sort of overlook of everything that is going on and kind of allows me to decide what is going to happen next. I guess being in control is my favorite position!

How would you describe your derby playing style? Do you have a signature move?
My signature move is single backwards blocking. I’m quite good at catching a jammer alone backwards, and then following that jammer’s lateral moves, still backwards, to lure them towards the inside or the outside line so I can push them out of bounds.

This year Crime City will be hosting the very first WFTDA Playoffs in Europe in what will be a historic event. We know from your interview with Double H that apart from watching high-level games, fans traveling to Malmö can look forward to falafel and nude saunas. What are YOU most looking forward to both on and off the track that weekend?
Well, I have unlimited access to nude saunas and falafel, so I am mostly looking forward to playing high-level derby in our home arena and hopefully winning the game that will take my team to Championships in Philly. My team and my league have been working so hard to get the A-team to Champs. Now we have the chance to do it together, as a league, with our families near, our friends watching and all our fans being there when we get there.

Off the track, I’m looking forward to eating my own food, not being jetlagged, sleeping in my own bed, biking to the venue and knowing my way around. Also, all the awesome afterparties we will have! If there’s something we are good at, it’s afterparties!

You’ve transferred leagues several times during your derby career and also play for VR Nordic and Team Sweden. What have you learned from playing on different teams?
I’ve transferred leagues two times, first from the Royal Swedish Roller Derby (a league in Stockholm and my first team) to Stockholm Roller Derby and then I moved to Malmö to study and transferred to Crime City Rollers. I have been playing with CCR ever since. Every time I transferred I gained a lot more knowledge about this sport both on and off track, which has definitely made me a better player. I felt that transferring was something I needed to do to evolve as a derby player, since I am a person that needs a lot of change and challenges.

Now since I also play with Team Sweden, another team in my own league, VR Nordic and in other challenge bouts, for example at Euro Derby Con, I get the diversity and change that I need. Playing with other people gives me that extra push to become better on track and allows me to learn things from other players that I would not have learned in my team.

Also, playing “just” for fun sometimes is super important to me because I take every practice and game with my own team very seriously and that can get exhausting. Before each off-season and break I think to myself that I don’t need a break from roller derby, I need a break from being serious all the time!

Photo by Anja Wettergren

Please share your best derby moment.
I transferred to Stockholm Roller Derby after being off skates for six months because of a knee injury. I got put in the B-team, but less than a month later I found my name on the A-team as well, as a double-chartered player. Then some months later the A-team was going to Beach Brawl, our first tournament in the US. They told everyone on the charter that they were welcome to come but no one would be guaranteed any play time. I canceled my trip to Thailand without getting any money back for it and went to Beach Brawl with the A-team, with no expectations of getting any play time. In the end I got to play every other jam, for all of the four games we played there.

What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
Like Helsinki, Rainy City and Stockholm Roller Derby, Crime City Rollers used to be extremely under ranked just a couple of years ago. Going from being ranked around 150 in the world to now being this close to Champs is probably the greatest accomplishment of my team and the other European teams in the top 20. Without all of these European teams traveling to the US one, two or sometimes three times a year just to get a fair ranking, we would not be this close to Champs now and we would have definitely not have had Playoffs here in Malmö this year. I think every single player in these teams should be really proud of the work we put into this.

Off the track?
I played as a key blocker in all of the games at The Big O this year only four weeks after the plaster was taken off from the ankle I had broken in three different places. I would not have been able to do it if I hadn’t done everything in my power to get back on track as fast as I could. I felt like quitting so many times and was constantly moving between “I can do this and I will” and “Why the hell am I doing this?!” I will be proud of this accomplishment as long as I live.

Photo by Benma Photo

What has roller derby taught you about pushing your limits, either physically or mentally?
It has taught me that I will not get better if I don’t try to be better, and I will be able to do it if I work hard enough for it. It has taught me to get out of my comfort zone and not only do the things that I’m already good at but to keep doing things that I hate just because I am bad at them until I’m not bad at them so I don’t hate them anymore. Then move on to the next thing.

It has also taught me that I need to watch out so I don’t push myself over the edge mentally. I’m working on the mental bit more and more now, because that is what I have often neglected in the past, and it has come back to bite me in the ass this year.

Who are your derby heroes?
My derby heroes are every single player out there who has been injured and still keeps fighting to get back on track. Without your determination, roller derby would not be what it is today.

In February of this year, the roller derby community stood with you and other skaters in your situation as you faced the possibility of not being able to travel to the Big O due to the US travel ban on citizens from several Muslim-majority countries, because of your Iranian citizenship. The ban was lifted and you were able to attend, but some important questions were raised about the ways in which roller derby should support and protect its community. What roles do community and activism play in today’s roller derby?
I think it plays a huge role! What if roller derby had been bought and the players in it were getting paid to play by different external companies? Then no one could stand up for each other or come out and say what they think and feel, without risking it all. The reason we can do this is because we are free. By the players, for the players: that is the most important thing about roller derby for me. And it’s important that it stays that way, even though society is moving in another direction.

What have of the toughest losses of your career taught you?
I have been injured a lot. I have had doctors tell me that my knee is done, that my shoulder needs surgery because it’s popping out all the time, that I might be able to walk without trouble in a year or so. I have cried countless hours, thinking I was not going to be able to continue doing what I love to do, and I’ve even started questioning everything about myself. But in spite of everything people have said, I’ve kept doing what my gut has been telling me, which is to keep pushing my limits. And it sounds so cliché, but I’ve come back physically stronger and better after each recovery. The mental bit is another story.

Have you held any leadership positions in your league? How have those positively impacted your personal roller derby career?
I am the captain of my team, together with Curly Håår. One positive thing that’s come from being captain is that I’ve become much more focused on the team as a whole than on my own personal development. Before I became a captain, I could nag myself like crazy about things that I needed to become better and stronger at. Now I mostly care about the team becoming better and stronger.

What is your job outside of roller derby? And how, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby?
I study Social Work at Malmö University full time. I also work part time at a home for unaccompanied refugee children, which is very challenging but also the most fun job I have ever had and is something I can see myself doing even after my studies are finished.

My job there, and other jobs before that, has taught me how important it is for most humans to have an anchor in life, whether it is derby, another community, school, work or a sister or brother. Having this support system can mean life or death for individuals.

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?
What is real life? Just kidding, but that has been my truth the last couple of years. Finding that balance is very hard and I think I have failed at doing that. I’m not the right person to ask about finding balance, in anything. Either I give it all that I have, or I don’t give a damn about it. I’ve given roller derby everything I have. I’ve lost friends, quit jobs, failed exams, missed my brother’s kids growing up, and ended relationships because I could not give something else as much love as I give roller derby. It’s quite sad when I think about it, so I try not to. I try to think it all just got replaced with other things I wanted more and that I would have been more regretful if I had not given it all I had.

Photo by Carlos Marco Tapio

What advice do you have for people who want to play roller derby?
I often hear that people are scared of starting because they have the wrong picture about roller derby being something extremely dangerous. That’s not correct. It’s not more dangerous than any other sport. Give it a try! Everyone sucks in the beginning.

Do you have a special message to your fans?
Eat a falafel while you are in Malmö!

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