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Published on October 26th, 2011 | by DerbyLife

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Bijou Blacknbleu, One Of Denver Roller Dolls’ Strongest Skaters

This interview is reprinted with permission, and can be found on the Denver Roller Dolls website.

Bijou Blacnbleu skates with the Shotgun Betties and Bruising Altitude. Bijou has been with the Denver Roller Dolls since the early days. Through the years, she has been a Green Barrette, a Bad Apple, and a Shotgun Bettie! She is also the Co-Captain of our JV All-Star squad, Bruising Altitude, a role she has held for the past two seasons.

DRD: You’ve been with the Denver Roller Dolls for a long time. How did you find your way here? Did you have prior skating experience?

BB: After watching the A&E Documentary about the Texas Rollergirls, I decided that roller derby would be a great way for me to meet like-minded women. After all, I was a bit of a tomboy and was quickly coming to the realization that the older a women becomes the more she will need female friends. And, as fate would have it, my boyfriend and I were having brunch at a local hot spot, Hot Cakes, when our server, Ankle Bitin’ Annie, handed me a recruitment flyer for the newly formed Denver Roller Dolls. To my surprise Denver had not one, but two derby leagues.

I remember driving home with the excitement of the possibilities roller derby could bring to my life. Even my boyfriend (now husband) knew it was in my cards. On the way home he asked me what my derby name would be…

Showing up to tryouts at the time meant if you could stay upright on your skates, you were in. I hadn’t been on skates since I was 13 and I was 30 at the time. I was so nervous to really put myself out there, and I remember thinking about how intimidating the veteran skaters were. They were so empowered, strong, and amazing on skates. Doing snake drills or paceline drills used to make my knees weak, and I promised myself that one day I would be at the back of the line pushing the pace. And that is where I find myself today…pushing to better myself and my derby skills.

DRD: You’ve been with DRD through many ups and downs. Can you compare the league now with where it was when you joined?

BB: When I joined DRD in early ’06, it was in its infancy. The league was much more edgy…I remember there being a few seasons with Dolls wrestling in creamed corn or other uncommon items to raise money for the league and spread the word of derby. I’ve seen many women come and go and come back again. Teams formed, dispersed, and formed again…only to add one more. I have skated for three of the four home teams…the joke around the league is that I eventually will skate for the Cuties completing two years on each team.

Now the league is much more mature in its events, touting family friendly good times for all. It has become a place where I encourage my family to come spend the evening. Our committees and board have also grown through the years fairing trials and tribulations only to come out on top. We are all very passionate about derby and want to share it with everyone. And, I am actually witnessing derby becoming a bit more mainstream…watch out for the Roller Derby World Cup! And, big props and congrats to Heather Juska and Tracy Akers for making Team USA. So honored to skate with you ladies!

DRD: You’ve been on Bruising Altitude, our JV All-Star squad, since its inception in early 2009. What’s it like to be co-captain of a highly competitive interleague team?

BB: Bruising has renewed my love of purple! And, being one of the Co-Captains for the team has its ups and downs. I love my team and all of the amazing women who have and currently do skate on it. The chemistry the team has as a whole never ceases to amaze me. All of the women have each other’s backs no matter what situation arises. I think one of the hardest things that comes with being Co-Captain is choosing the roster.

The competition has surpassed previous years tenfold. You really have to separate leading the team and friendship. Now that may sound bad, but I have found that separating the two is essential…I do not want to hurt my friends’ feelings, but in the end, it is about the team. Sometimes, that means putting it before myself and friendships. I know that sounds harsh, but one has to seperate personal feelings from the business of running the team. Got BEEAF?

DRD: Last year you were diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. What is Multiple Sclerosis? How did you feel when you found out you had it? What effects has it had on your persona;. work, and derby lives?

BB: Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, optic nerves). And, basically, one’s body is attacking its own myelin sheath. When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, producing the variety of symptoms that can occur. Symptoms vary from person to person greatly. Some of the symptoms I deal with on a regular basis are numbness, burning sensations like lava is flowing through my veins, fatigue like you wouldn’t believe, cognitive issues (thinking of one word only to have something completely different come out).

For instance, when Richard Pryor realized that he had MS, he was doing a movie scene and it called for him to go right, but his body kept moving to the left. It can be extremely frustrating at times, but when I start to get frustrated, I remind myself to slow down. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. And, although most with MS look perfectly normal on the outside, our bodies are raging a war within.

When it became a possibility that I may have MS, I think deep down I already knew. It explained so many things I dealt with on a regular basis, but had chalked up to having severe migraines for twenty three years. After many tests, MRIs, and one fateful spinal tap later, my neurologist confirmed; I had MS. Although I had told myself, my family, and some friends prior to the diagnosis, it did not lessen the blow. The hot tears streamed down my face for what seemed forever. Sometimes it seems like a bad dream that I will awake from, but the days have turned to months, and now a year later; it is true; I have MS.

In the past year, I have had a few fumbles, but over all have remained upbeat and positive. I mean after all, what good does it do me to dwell on it? I decided very early on that I would continue to drive myself to achieve all that my heart desires. Sure, I’ve had my set backs, but then again, who doesn’t?

My personal life is much more rich for having MS. Sounds insane, I know, but I don’t take things for granted. I really try to put myself out there and live fully. I have had a few bumps on the professional side which I just keep on forging my own path. I am a freelance graphic designer and hairstylist. There are some days where doing both is a challenge as my right hand (the one I cut with) is completely numb or I will get a migraine and have to retreat to bed. However, again, I find that putting my cards completely on the table helps me put a human spin on this disease. It varies day to day and I have to say honesty is the best policy. I know when one is newly diagnosed they are told to be careful who they share with, and I have had my difficulties with that, but you have to learn to rise above it.

As far as derby goes, my connection with it has become much stronger. I feel it is one of the things that keeps me healthy. For one, I am extremely passionate about it. Not to mention, it keeps me active, and for someone with MS…that can be crucial. There are days that my body wants to rebel, but I can’t let it. My leaguemates have all seen my bulletproof vest (a.k.a. my cooling vest). It helps keep my body temperature down as I don’t really sweat which you may think to be a blessing, but is actually very dangerous. I really have to listen to my body now, but I don’t and won’t let it stop me. If anything, it has pushed me to prove to everyone that I am just as capable as the next Doll on the track.

I do remember when I decided to tell my team that I had MS, that I explained to them not to take it easy on me on the track because I definitely was not going to take it easy on them and if I found out they were taking it easy on me…I would seek them out. Now, I often forget that I have it when I am on the track and sometimes I think others do to. I am just grateful that I am still able to skate and at such a competitive level.

Now I use derby as a platform to help educate people on MS. With the help of the derby community, friends and family, the team I formed “Skate it Off” has raised close to $15K for MS (both here in Colorado and in New York). Now I feel like I am helping not only myself deal with this devastating disease, but encouraging others to go beyond what they see their limitations as.

DRD: Since you were diagnosed with MS, you have been actively involved in organizations that help raise MS awareness. What are the goals of these organizations? What’s it like to be a leader in your community?

BB: The National MS society is here to help people with MS lead better lives, educate people about MS, raise money and awareness about MS, and hopefully help find a cure for MS.

Being a leader in my community is nothing I take lightly. It actually helps push me on days when the fatigue feels like I am walking through sand to my knees. I am honored to know that I am a role model for people with MS, little girls with dreams, and anyone dealing with something larger than they are. I will keep fighting, educating, raising awareness, money, and hopefully myself and others afflicted with MS will be cured!

DRD: You have been the head of the DRD Calendar Committee for the past few years. Tell us about your creative process in designing and putting together our amazing calendars.

BB: Wow. Thanks. The calendar is a great place for myself and my committee to really go a bit wild with ideas and design. The foundation for all of the calendars is an inspiration to movies, eras, etc. The first calendar was my homage to The Warriors movie. The second a shout out to my love for B Movies. And, currently, inspired by our very own Crash Dance…an 80s themed calendar. I have an amazing group of ladies on my committee and with their help we are able to make something out of a hint of an idea. Mold it into something unique and fun.

DRD: Do you have any advice for new skaters?

BB: Of course, that little voice in your head, don’t listen to it. You CAN do it! Sure derby can be challenging, but take the zen approach to derby. Find happiness in the mundane…repetition… etc. Enjoy the challenge and really push yourself to go beyond what you think is possible. Step out of your comfort zone. Trust me; you will thank yourself later. Lastly, the sheer empowerment that comes from doing something challenging is reward itself. Remember, YOU CAN DO IT!

Read the rest of Bijou Blacnbleu’s bio here.

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