Rebounding this summer from an ankle injury, Nina Erwes demonstrates that hard work, dedication and passion are the most crucial elements of great derby players. From injuries, MVP recognition and explaining porridge to Customs Officers, read on to learn more about Nina’s 2016 season and the Helsinki Roller Derby All-Stars’ road to the D1 Playoffs in Madison, WI September 23-24th!
Name: Nina Erwes
League: Helsinki Roller Derby
Team(s): Helsinki Roller Derby All-Stars
Year you started roller derby: November 2010
How did you get involved with roller derby?
Roller derby came to Finland in 2009 and my boyfriends cousin was one of the first ones. So roller derby talk came to our breakfast table and one day I went to the practice venue to see what is it about. I remember stepping in to the venue and thinking that ”if I’ll be here really quiet no one will notice me”. And that’s when all the skaters turned to look at me and came to say hello. In few minutes I had skates on for the first time. After the training I went home and ordered the whole gear package.
What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
My family has a big basketball (dad) and tennis (mom) history, and even though I tried those sports and a lot of other different sports too, only thing what caught me was downhill skiing and snowboarding. That is basically my only sports background. Started downhill skiing when I was 5 years old and switched to snowboard at age of 13 and still doing it.
Please tell us about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby.
When I got my gear I skated inside my house, it had nice circle to go: from living room through the kitchen and to hallway and back to living room. After fresh meat course it was all about practice, watching footage, practice, traveling in Europe to bootcamps and to see live games, practice more and more and more.
What is your skate gear of choice?
I skate on my custom made Wikko Skates and my wheels are Radar Presto Wheels. My body is protected by Steaks Roller Derby Accessories, my must have in games are my chest/ribs piece and hip padded game pants. Also S1 helmet and TSG and Pro-Designed pads.
Do you have a pre-game ritual?
Good big breakfast and walk outside with music, breathing in and out – no matter the weather.
Do you have a favorite motivational quote?
We have this thing called ”the Green line” in our team. It’s situated between the locker room and the track, it is in our home venue and it is also in everywhere we travel in the world (it literally travels with us, head coach Jori always tapes the green line in every single locker room we are at). When you pass that line, you are there only for the Team and only with the Team. All other things you leave behind. There’s always a same writing on the line, It says ”We didn’t come this far to only come this far”.
When getting ready for a game in our on skates warmups I think about what my dad always says; ”Let the opponent look at your warming up and preparation to the game, but don’t you look at them. Just focus on your own stuff and let the opponent get nervous.”
Also, Michael Jordan says it wisely, and this quote is written in my notebook: ”There is no I in TEAM but there is in WIN.”
Do you have a theme song?
Bob by NOFX and many other songs signed by Fat Mike gets me energized! Also the team’s playlist what we listen when warming up to the games makes me pumped up and ready.
What is your position of choice?
Blocker, in any spot what’s needed.
How would you describe your derby playing style? Do you have a signature move?
I am more a defensive player, and I talk lot on the track. I’m 181cm (almost 6 foot) tall, so I have a good reach with my long legs. And I get low – lower than some of my team ”midgets”. I think my signature move is the extending body that can follow the detached jammer. I remember when Stefanie Mainey was visiting in Helsinki and showing some drills about how to prevent the defense blockers following the jammer when the jammer is detaching and trying to get offense. Mainey named the drill ”f*cking Nina” and that ”name” is still in use in our trainings.
My ”different kind of” signature move is my little fingers sticking always upright when I’m focused on track. This is inherited from my father, who was a big time basketball player when younger, having his pinky always pointing up.
Congrats on being named MVP at this year’s Big O tournament! What do you think about your playing style has been grabbing other people’s attention?
Thanks! Just before the Big O tournament I got my ankle back in shape from injury, so I was really happy and honored to get the MVP!! Maybe people saw and feel my ”hungry for playing roller derby” on the track cause I was pretty exited and happy to play after the injury, the rehabilitation time was very sweaty and stressful time.
Please share your best derby moment (or moments).
All the road trips with the team, where ever we go and whatever games we have. Those are the best of times.
What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
Getting lead jammer and scoring against London Brawling. Two times, in two separate games. Hahaha, especially the one with Euro All-Stars 2015 when I had the star as a pivot in the previous jam, went to the box. Ballistic Whistle saw an opportunity coming and called it, leaving me to the box. When the next jam started I gave him a stare, got out the box, took lead, got the points and called it.
Off the track?
I have been a captain for the All-Stars for 4 years now, I think I have done something right to get the trust of the team and to get selected to this position for all these seasons.
What has roller derby taught you about pushing your limits, either physically or mentally?
I got injured on March 2016 in European Smackdown tournament in Malmö, at the end of the first game. My ankle ligaments went really bad, like all around, and the first though was that I can’t get it back on shape before Big O which was end of April. I started the rehabilitation as soon as I got the permission from the doctor. Luckily I had the best physiotherapist Heli Runteli (old team mate) who helped me and even came with me to try skating the first times when getting back on skates. My first serious injury, less than 1.5 months time to get it on shape. I gave all my time for the rehabilitation and had to work a lot also in the mental side. I watched my team mate MIA training who had just came back after breaking her ankle, thinking that she is a hero, she had a broken ankle and she made it – and I can make it too. It needs a lot of believe and motivation to get there where you want. Roller derby has taught me not to give up, you can succeed in many ways. You just need to believe. So I got back in shape to Big O, and after our games when we heard the MVP team, some of my team mates said to me that they were afraid that I will not be even able to skate cause of the ankle and there I was, selected as a MVP. That felt good, hard work paid off.
What have of the toughest losses of your career taught you?
Be patience. You lose, you fail – you learn and you succeed.
Who are your derby heroes?
My former team mate, captain mate, coach in Helsinki and in Finland’s national team: Suvi Hokkari. She guided me in roller derby all the way from my baby steps in to the serious business. She got injured badly quite many times when she was playing, and always stood back up. Switched to coaching in some point and now she is retired, but her name stands strongly in the Finnish roller derby history, forever.
Lorrae Evans from Victorian Roller Derby, I admire her roller derby career how she always gets to the goals what she sets up. She is one of my hero’s, strong-minded talented lady who works hard and loves snacks.
London Brawling has always been like a big sister to Helsinki Roller Derby. The first visiting coaches in Helsinki has been from London, and they have taught us a lot and they still do. One of my all time mega heroes is Stefanie Mainey. Love her coaching and she is just one big master piece when doing her things on the track. She also is about same height than I am so she is good “learning material” to me when looking at footages and thinking all the stuff what I need to train.
And the last but most important hero is my Team. All heroes.
What is your job outside of roller derby? And how, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby?
I’m a production manager in a film production company, I plan and make things happening, I work with big groups and keep all the strings together. I think my experience doing this job helps me a lot in league work and also in coaching and planning. Somehow I always get to make all the teams and leagues schedules and colorful excel sheets…
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?
Playing roller derby has affected a lot. It’s made me remember everyday how important is to feel good and stay healthy, sleep, make sure to get all the vitamins and protein and what ever body needs, and how precious is the fact that I can do sports. I stopped smoking when I started roller derby, and started testing and trying different sports like crossfit, yoga, running, etc. Roller derby hooked me up with sports! I plan everything around roller derby. When not working, I’m doing roller derby. Time flies in this kind of life style, it gives and it takes. There is stuff what I miss but still can’t think living without roller derby.
What advice do you have for people who want to play roller derby?
Do it, you will love it!
Do you have any video footage that you would like to share? Please provide a link and any context for viewing the footage provided.
This was Helsinki Roller Derby All-Stars first USA tour in July 2014, we had 6 games in less than 2 weeks. You can see some of the best highlights in this 3.5 minutes video.
You and the Helsinki Allstars are headed to Madison, WI September 23-24 for D1 Playoffs! How are you preparing for the tournament? What are some of the challenges of trans-Atlantic travel for games?
Training training training and more training. After the summer holiday we started our tournament prep; 4 on-skate training per week + scrimmage’s and off-skate (includes gym and crossfit etc). Before flying out to USA we quiet down a bit, relax and spend a lot of time in sauna. Like Finnish people do.
Challenges are the jet lag and different kind of food culture. Usually it is not as easy to find fresh food markets / healthy food in USA than it is back home cause WE ARE TOTALLY tourists, so we tend to spend a lot of time in airport customs when arriving, explaining all the porridge, nuts and protein powders.
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