Featured Skater: Brawn Swanson

Our featured skater this month is known for her sense of humor and exceptionally controlled positional blocking. A fan favorite, Brawn Swanson was named MVP at the 2016 International WFTDA Championships in Portland when her then-team, the Rose City Rollers, took home the Hydra trophy for the second year in a row. Next month, she returns to WFTDA Champs, but will be competing at the tournament for the first time with her new team: Denver Roller Derby’s Mile High Club. Read on to discover how Brawn learned to forge her own path in roller derby, how she feels about the possibility of facing Rose City at Champs next month with her new team, and — most importantly — the secret behind her mustache!

Name: Brawn Swanson
Number: 8
League: Denver Roller Derby
Team(s): Mile High Club
Year you started playing roller derby: 2012

How did you get involved with roller derby?
A little birdie named Scald Eagle inspired me to try out for roller derby. I’ve followed my big sis in sports since I was knee-high to a pig’s eye, and when she made the transition from ice hockey to roller derby, naturally I became intrigued by the sport.

What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
My parents made sure that my sisters and I tried out for all kinds of sports when were growing up. I’ve played everything from organized sports like volleyball, basketball, and track to outdoor sports like downhill skiing and mountain biking. By the time I was in high school, I primarily played fast-pitch softball and ice hockey. Prior to derby, my skating background consisted of playing ice hockey for 14 years.

Please tell us about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby.
I joined Rose City Rollers’ Fresh Meat program in November of 2012 and was drafted to the High Rollers the following May right before home team championships. My rookie year of roller derby was a huge learning curve for me. It had been so long since I joined a new sport that I forgot what it feels like to learn everything from the ground up. I’ll admit that my ice hockey background gave me an advantage as far as having the muscle base required simply for skating, but learning the sport was a very humbling experience, especially because I set my goals too high too fast. I was really unhappy at first because I was trying to be as good as Scald Eagle right out the gate. As soon as I recognized this and reevaluated my goals, my personal game began to improve tenfold. Eagle also worked with me one-on-one and I still use a lot of techniques and form that I learned in those one-on-one sessions today. I have to give a shout out to the RCR Fresh Meat program of 2012–2013, the High Rollers, Scald Eagle, and my endurance coach at the time, Troy Chambers! All of them had a major impact on my rookie year and my personal growth in the sport.

Photo by Peter Troest

What is your skate gear of choice?
All about Bont! I skate the Hybrid Carbon boot on the Infinity Plate with 20-degree sliders on my heels and the 32-degree sliders on my front.  I skate on Bont FXX 93A wheels and I LOVE my Toe-Goes! I’m really excited to try the new Athena plate by Bont as well. I’m currently playing in the Bauer Nexus 1N hockey shinguards. I’m still on the hunt for my favorite elbow pads and wrist guards, but as far as my helmets go, S1 all the way! I have a custom Best Guards mouthguard by Gerard Brevet that is hands down the best mouth guard I’ve ever had in all my years of sports.

Do you have a pre-game ritual?

  2. I’m a weirdo and I don’t eat a lot of food on game day. It goes against everything anyone will ever tell you about fueling your body right, blah blah blah… but I have discovered from many years of sports and personal experience, that I perform better on a mostly empty stomach. If I do nibble, then jerky it is! Oh, and lots of water.
  3. My mustache. I get about five or six games out of a mustache and then it’s time to retire it. I try to make sure I have nice new bushy ones for high-stake games like Playoffs and Champs.
  4. A tropical flavored Red Bull right before the game starts, always.
  5. LAUGHTER! Always and forever. I jump on every opportunity to be a dillweed that I can. 😀

Do you have a favorite motivational quote?
NAILED IT! Bahahahaha, does that count?

Do you have a theme song?
I don’t have one theme song — more like theme stations, depending on the day and the game. When I was in Malmö, the theme was disco and funk. At Sibling Rivalry the theme was Robyn and Cajmere. Some of my game day go-to artists include Kormac, Santigold, Caravan Palace, Nikka Costa, Flyleaf, Seal, and the Punch Brothers (I LOVE BLUEGRASS). I could go on and on.

What is your position of choice?
All the things! Okay, maybe not jamming, BUT I keep telling myself I’ll try it at some point! I’ll play whatever position my team needs me to play. I strive to be efficient in every position so that I continue to improve in all aspects of the game. I don’t like isolating myself to one job on the track.

How would you describe your derby playing style? Do you have a signature move?
Hmmmm… I would consider myself more of a positional blocker. I’m not a very hit-heavy player and I much prefer the capture and slow grind of sucking a jammer’s soul out like a dementor on the track. I also try to play as clean as possible. Going to the penalty box is the worst for me. I don’t think I have a signature move, but I can tell you one of my favorite moves is catching a jammer at the top of the pack when they think they have gotten out. A lot of times blockers will go for the huge hit in that moment, but I like to come in super fast and then immediately pump the breaks, so that when the jammer goes to juke and redirect they usually redirect right into me, having thought I would overshoot them. Ehehehehe, it’s such a good feeling when they get reabsorbed into the pack.

Photo by Bill Zingraf

Your move to Denver, with your sister, Scald Eagle, was one of the most surprising transfers of the season. What adjustments have you had to make to adapt to your new league?
This year has been pretty crazy and there have been some major adjustments for Eagle and me. Our family situation has us commuting from Driggs, Idaho to Denver, Colorado weekly. Sitting in a truck for 17 hours a week has not been easy. My biggest adjustments have probably been having less skating time on track because of the commute and learning how different leagues work. Having been roller derby born-and-raised in Rose City Rollers, it’s been very educational to come to a different league and learn more about our sport from a different perspective. I’m incredibly grateful to Denver Roller Derby for working with Eagle and me, given our situation. Thanks to Denver, I can continue to play the high-level roller derby that I love. Also, Eagz and I are from Gunnison, Colorado and being back in our home state has been a real treat.

Photo by Vinciane Piérart aka NSP189

Congratulations on advancing to Champs! What are your expectations for the tournament and how do you feel about the possibility of playing against Rose City, the team with whom you won the Hydra two years in a row, with your new team?
CHEERS! You know, I really don’t know what to expect at Champs, but I will say, I think that this year’s Champs will be really exciting to watch, and on ESPN2 no less (SO COOL)!!!!! I personally would love the possibility of playing Rose City. What I love about team sports is the camaraderie and friends. I have a lot of friends on the Wheels of Justice and would love the opportunity to banter with them on track!

Please share your best derby moment (or moments).
Ahhhh this is hard… Oh I GOT IT! Being nominated and chosen for the WFTDA Featured Skater of October 2017! I’m so stoked about this! Hahaha. Also, winning Champs MVP last year was a very amazing and humbling experience. The support from the derby community was such an incredible feeling.

What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
My greatest accomplishments include Rose City Rollers’ Rookie of the Year Award in 2014; first place at the Rose City Rollers Home Team Championships in 2013, 2015, and 2016; Rose City Rollers’ Best Blocker Award in 2016; first place at the 2015 WFTDA D1 Playoffs in Dallas, Texas; first place at the 2015 WFTDA Championships in Saint Paul, Minnesota; first place at the 2016 D1 WFTDA Playoffs in Columbia, South Carolina; first place and Most Valuable Player at the 2016 WFTDA Championships in Portland, Oregon; and second place at the 2017 WFTDA D1 Playoffs in Malmö, Sweden.

Photo by Danny Ngan

Off the track?
Off the “game track” I’ve had the opportunity to work with and meet amazing people and businesses alike. I’ve really loved the opportunity to travel internationally and start coaching in different places.

What has roller derby taught you about pushing your limits, either physically or mentally?
THIS!!! Roller derby has taught me the importance of an athlete’s mental game and pushing through self doubt and self limitations. Skill is a great thing to have when it comes to sports, but it doesn’t mean jack if you’re a complete banana upstairs and can’t work with others. It has taught me to look inward and take accountability and truly be the best teammate I can be both on the track and off, both to my teammates and leaguemates. When I think about pushing limits, that can come in so many different forms. I want to be a good ambassador of the sport and help it grow, so personally I’ve taken myself out of my comfort zone and have started coaching others. It’s weird for me to visualize myself in that kind of leadership position, because I very much consider myself a follower. Hahaha! Tell me what to do and I’ll do it!

In recent years, many skaters have chosen to eschew derby names and game day makeup, but both you and your sister have proven you can embrace the more theatrical elements from the early days of the sport and still be taken seriously as an athlete. What are your thoughts on this and what can you tell us about your name and signature mustache?
I’m so happy to answer this question, because I have feelings! One of the things that drew me to derby was the fact that it WASN’T like many of the other sports I’ve played. I like derby names because they’re fun and different and I personally believe that whether you skate under your real name or a derby name, it doesn’t matter; your skill and the kind of person you are on and off the track will speak for themselves. Also, while I’m proud of my name Buscovick, it really gets butchered a lot when people try to say it! When I was trying to choose my derby name I was asked if I had considered Brawn Swanson and if I had ever seen Parks and Recreation. It only took one episode and I was like, Ron Swanson is basically my spirit animal. And thus, Brawn Swanson was born! Before that, in similar fashion to the bird nicknames that Eagle and I had in ice hockey (Condor and Goose), I was playing around with bird names like Awwwspray, Puffin My Chest, Slammergeier, The Gutsy Gobbler, and Raptor Thighs. Who knew I was a beautiful SWANson all along!

Photo by Denver Roller Derby / Salvador Photography

Who are your derby heroes?
My derby heroes are my derby friends. Not trying to sound corny, but I genuinely love the fact that I have amazing and talented friends on so many teams all over the world — refs, NSOs, and photographers included! I love the banter, discussions, camaraderie, and learning opportunities I get while playing with, talking with, or watching my friends. #GoodStuff.

It seems like there are always kids cheering for you at games and wearing the Brawn Swanson mustache. How does it feel to be a role model for children and perhaps even the next generation of derby players?
A ROLE MODEL?!? Hahaha I always thought I was just a complete dillweed! On a serious note though, It feels amazing! I’m so stoked to see younger generations taking an interest in this awesome sport. Derby is unlike any other sport/community I’ve ever been a part of and I hope that the next generation of young spring chickens continue to carry and drive this amazing sport that we all love and play well into the future.

What have the toughest losses of your career taught you?
Losses in general have taught me over the years to try and find the positives and/or the solutions in situations through goal-setting and hard work. It is possible to lose a game but know that you personally killed it and had an amazing game. If that’s not the case, then I reevaluate and take accountability for the moments where I know I can improve my game. Whether it’s physical skills, mental game, teamwork, or communication, I try to figure it out so that I’m better prepared for the next high-stake situation.

Have you held any leadership positions in your league? How have those positively impacted your personal roller derby career?
This year has been so crazy with the commute to and from Driggs that Eagle and I are just trying to meet our basic requirements. We have coached several league practices, but a more permanent leadership position would be very difficult, simply because of our bizarre schedule. That should change as soon as our personal family stuff is all wrapped up and we can be more present at the league.

What is your job outside of roller derby? And how, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby?
Outside of derby, I work construction. Construction is very physical and certainly helps me stay active in regards to roller derby. I particularly like doing restoration work and seeing transformations as a result of my own hand. Alongside construction and working with my hands, I have a BFA in oil painting. I love art, but I’ve put it on the back burner since joining derby. I’m hoping to change that starting next year. I’m hoping to start my own roller derby helmet painting business. My knowledge of airbrushing contributed to me painting the helmets for RCR’s Wheels of Justice last year! It was so much fun and I loved how they turned out so much! And it’s related to derby which makes me happy. So stay tuned, derby community! As soon as I get my swans in a row, it will be first come, first served! Hahaha!

Photo by Allyson Woodard

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?
HAHAHAHA I don’t! Remember the time I moved to the Pacific Northwest and was like “I’m gonna go to graduate school and get my MFA!”? Aaaaaaaand then ROLLER DERBY happened. I got my MVP instead of my MFA. I thought the commitment to derby would be comparable to other sports I’ve played… I was wrong. At this point, I would call roller derby a lifestyle choice and a lot of the decisions I make in my everyday life revolve around my commitment to this amazing sport. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to start coaching and I have found that I really enjoy it. I hope to continue on this path for many years to come because it makes me happy!

What advice do you have for people who want to play roller derby?
To start, ask yourself why you want to play and what you want out of the sport. Once you have your answer, go get it, but along the way, be kind to yourself and set realistic goals! When I first joined roller derby I was constantly comparing myself to my sister and I finally realized I had to forge my own path. My path took more time than Eagle’s and I realized that’s okay. Also, and I think this is very important, control your controllables and always keep your side of the street clean. You hear stories of bullies and politics in sports. A common parallel that I’ve seen in poor derby experiences is a lack of accountability on ALL sides. Don’t let people walk over you, don’t give people ammunition to use against you, and treat everyone how you want to be treated. I know it’s easy to say that and a lot harder to put it into practice, but there it is. And if you want to play the highest level of roller derby possible, truly ask yourself what you need to do to improve your game so that you start making those roster spots. The higher you climb in this sport, the more competitive it gets, and what might be considered fairness goes out the window sometimes. I have found that if you work hard and constantly set goals for yourself to actually improve (and I mean to elevate your game, not just meet the basic requirements of your team), then you get to a point where your skill speaks for itself. Find that stride and continue to push and improve your game from there, because the minute you think you have it all figured out, the only place left to go is down. In other words, don’t get comfortable and don’t get complacent.

Do you have a special message to your fans?
To my fans, I say, “THANK YOU!!!!” Thank you for your support and commitment to this awesome sport that we play and enjoy. Thank you for always complimenting my mustache! Oh, and slap some bacon on it!!!