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Published on January 20th, 2012 | by King James


Face Off with Meow Mix Yo’ Face Up

Meow Mix Yo’ Face Up is a lifetime competitive Jam Skater, Jammer for the Jacksonville Rollergirls travel team, owner of Vanilla Derby, as well as coach of the men’s derby team the Magic City Misfits and Jacksonville’s JR derby team.

Where are you from?

I am from Port Washington, Wisconsin. Its a small town just outside of Milwaukee.

When did you start skating?

I started skating when I was 13 years old. I am 26 now, so I’ve been in and out of rinks for 13 years. I used to be a rink rat at Skateland in Cedarburg WI. I grew up skating with good friends of mine who play derby now. You may know them as Juke Boxx with the Minnesota Rollergirls, as well as Skittle and Latina Heat with the Brew City Bruisers. I will always know them as my childhood friends who I enjoyed rolling around with. It’s super weird to call them by their derby names!

Before you played Derby you were a Jam Skater who competed at the National level. How did you first get involved in jam skating?

I started out working at the rink in Cedarburg, WI. Our rink had a big following of soul skaters on Saturday nights. Juke Boxx and I used to dabble in jam skating when we were younger, but I didn’t get hooked on it until I went to a different rink in Waukesha, WI, where I met Skittle and Latina Heat. They did all of these amazing moves while skating on the outside of the rink, which was called shuffling. They looked so fluent and effortless while doing it. Little did I know, it was super hard to look that good! Of course, I didn’t just go up to them and try to skate like them. I thought I was the best at my rink, so I watched them for a while and tried everything they did at my home rink.

A few months after that they brought Breaksk8, a jam skating team from Indiana, to an all-night skate. They were doing things in the middle of the rink that I never thought could be possible. It was a mixture of break-dancing, hip hop, and soul roll all on roller skates! I was hooked from that moment. Eventually, we all became friends, and from age 16 to 21 traveled the United States competing in jam skating competitions. At the age of 17, I was driving 12 hours to Atlanta for one skating session, just to drive back home right after it was done. Skating was my life for the majority of my teenage years. It was always the 5 girls from Wisconsin who drove EVERYWHERE just to skate and meet new people. So when you ask me how I got involved in skating, I certainly owe it all to the 5 Wisconsin gals who I will always respect and admire.

How did a Wisconsin girl end up way down here in Florida?

I actually moved to Daytona Beach first for a boy, Streak, now with the Magic City Misfits. I moved to Jacksonville because I was sick of driving an hour and a half each way 3-4 times a week for derby practice. It was a lot of miles on my car and a lot of money for gas!


How did you find out about roller derby?

In November of 2008, I did a halftime show for the Little City Rollergirls in Johnson City, TN. They played the Hard Knox Rollergirls, from Knoxville, TN. I saw them skate and said “I could do this!” When I got home, I went to my first practice with the Jacksonville Rollergirls.

When I joined in November of 2008, I thought “I can skate, how hard can this be?!” Oh my god, I was wrong. Derby has been by far the most challenging sport I have even encountered. My biggest hurdle was trying to be a good teammate and play with my team. Jam skating is a solo sport. If you want to win, you work your ass off… YOU were the only person accountable if you lost. In derby, it’s you and 13 other ladies. If you have a weak link, it’s not just her fault, it’s the whole team’s fault for not pushing her to be the best she can be. Just that (the team work aspect of derby) took me 3 years to understand.

Do you play on a home team for Jacksonville?

I do! I play for all 3 home teams! Jacksonville has a different way of setting up their home teams. There are no permanent players on each team. The roster is different every time we play. The only rosters that are the same are our B team and New Jax City Rollers, our travel team. We do not keep track on who wins and we do not have a championship game. Basically, you sign up if you want to play, then the captains and coaches decide who is on what team. I love playing in home team games. It gives me the chance to try new things and not be worried if I mess it up!

What sort of roles and positions do you play off the track for Jacksonville?

I am currently one the WFTDA reps for our league, though I like to dabble in everything. I basically send out ideas to improve our league in every aspect, from the skaters to the committee heads. The amazing thing about the Board of Directors for Jacksonville is that they embrace change and understand that sometimes changing is for the better. I also come up with strategies for our travel team. I am always on the road, skating with different teams, at every tournament, watching the higher level of play. I like to bring it back to my team and show them the newest form of derby.

What positions do you enjoy playing most?

I LOVE to block. On our all star team I am in a strict 3 jammer rotation though. I usually get to block about 3 times in a WFTDA sanctioned game. So when I get to block, I am like a kid in a candy store! But then again, if I was strictly a blocker I’d be begging for a spot in the jammer rotation. I guess I have the “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome.

Do you use some of your previous talent and abilities as a jam skater? Do you want to branch out to new positions?

I definitely use my jam skating talents as a jammer. I can cut and push my way through a pack. My footwork in the pack makes me the skater that I am today.

On the downside, I sometimes wish I didn’t have a previous background in skating so I could have been molded for derby. I definitely have old habits that I wish I could get rid of. For instance, I tend to stand straight up once I get out of the pack. In jam skating that is how your posture is all of the time. You never have to get really low. Now, in derby, I NEED to get lower. I have tried and tried for the past few years and I still go back to my old ways.

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When did you join Team Vanilla? Was that a big deal for you?

I joined team Vanilla in 2004, when I was skating with Breaksk8. My best friend, Mike Lehrke, was in the beginning stages of starting a boot company. It all started because he was sick of paying an ungodly amount of money for a pair of skating boots that killed his feet just to break in. He recruited his “pro team.” At that time, I was very much at the top of my game in jam skating, participating in every competition there was. Mike came up to me at the National Competition in Virgina and asked me to be a part of the Vanilla team. I was ecstatic. Mike picked 3 guys and 1 girl: Me. I quit Breaksk8 and I decided to follow the road Mike was going to pave for us.

At this point, getting a free pair of skates was UNHEARD of! The skates I was wearing were Riedell 395s and my mother spent every last dime she had on them, and that was not even enough. My friend Dusti helped me with the rest (THANK YOU, Dusti!) Mike handed me my first pair of Vanillas and I was set. Vanilla Skates was not even a full time company then. It was basically a version of “by the skaters, for the skaters” and a few prototypes. I believed in Mike, and to this day, he is one of the few people that I will trust and follow to the end of the earth. I knew he would make this company into something bigger than I could ever have imagined. Fast forward to present time, where I have my own signature skate boot, 5 Vanilla posters, a full time job in the skating industry, a best friend who I know will always be there for me, and an experience of a life time.

You work full time for Vanilla Skates now. Why did you decide to get involved in the business side of skating?

I am really good at talking to people and making a great relationship with our fans and our customers. There are some skaters that are just there to skate and that’s what they do. I am someone who is there to skate, but also to get to know everyone. About 4 years ago, it hit me, I can’t just skate for a career, I will get old one day. I needed to have a back-up plan. I wanted to stay in the industry, but I also wanted to do more. I started making relationships with rink owners, then the skaters. I became well known among the rink owners, some of them would ask for me by name when dealing with Vanilla Skates. The amazing thing about Vanilla is that you can do what you want to do, all you have to do is ask. I wanted to get involved more on the business side, so I asked. Mike thought it was a great idea, so we ran with it.

When I started derby in 2009 Vanilla was a jam skating company. I wanted to start and operate a different side of skating that Vanilla was not accustomed to. That is when I became the president of Vanilla Derby. Every idea, product, ad, promotion and decision from Vanilla Derby is made by me or my team of skaters. I just became full time this year. I currently work off of my computer at home, or I am flying to Kansas City where our home base is. I was not nervous at all. This is what I wanted to do. I feel super lucky to have such a great career.

Athletes are sometimes famous for pregame rituals. Did you have one of your own?

Whiskers and Prime. Whiskers is my face paint… and prime is Gatorade Prime. I live on those! If I don’t have a Prime before a game, I feel like my whole game is off. New Jax (our all star team) has a ritual that we do. I lead it and my teammates respond. I could live with out my Whiskers and Prime, but I could not live without the ritual New Jax does. It makes me feel on-point and calm.

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How did you find out about the Men’s Derby team the Magic City Misfits?

I was dating Streak at the time, and he saw that I was getting heavy into roller derby. He was interested in it, so he decided to get a few guys together and start a team.

What made you want to add coach of the Magic City Misfits to your list of responsibilities?

MCM started out with a few coaches, none of them knew their skating style or how to handle them. I attended their second or third practice and was asked to coach them. At this point all they were learning was falling and pace line drills. So it was pretty easy for me to teach them off the top of my head. I think I might love coaching my men more than I love playing derby myself. Most of them were previous jam skaters whom I have known for my whole skating career. They are my family, so to me, it is not a responsibility. I feel super lucky to be a part of their team. One side of me is super protective of the guys and another side of me is very hard on them. I know their talents and I know what they are capable of. I am just there to make sure they live up to it.

How do you make time for two teams in two different cities?

The Magic City Misfits are the Jacksonville Rollergirls’ “brother team.” We have a tight-knit relationship with the men’s team. That makes it super easy for me to balance both. We hold double headers with Magic City and even hold games Magic City vs New Jax. The men can practice with us whenever they want. The men have their own practice in Jacksonville which our women’s travel team attends. Our all stars have our practice where the men attend as well. I cant even explain how amazing it is to be able to skate with our guys. They have challenged our all star team to a new level. Their skating talent is far beyond anything I have ever seen. They bring a new skill set to the table. They have been teaching our girls some crazy stuff lately, and I can’t wait to be able to take what I have learned from them to the track.

What are some of the challenges involved in coaching men? How is it different than women?

The very first challenge is trying to travel with the guys. Me + 10 guys + 14 hour road trips = Mean Meow. My guys like to joke and to get me riled up. It’s so funny when I hear someone that is not involved with derby say “Don’t say that, there is a lady in the room…” I laugh to myself and tell them, I have seen it all, I have smelled it all, and I have heard it all. You cannot gross me out.

Seriously though, the biggest challenge I have encountered this year was trying to find drills for practice that the guys won’t be bored with. Sure, you can find hundreds of drills online, but all of the drills were either made for women OR had to do with learning to skate. My guys already know how to skate. There is NOTHING new I could teach them when it comes to skill, balance and agility.

In my opinion, men’s derby is different than women’s derby in all aspects. Most importantly, mentally. Men just have a different way of thinking. They want to KILL KILL KILL. Women tend to think it through and pick the best answer. Men just want to hit someone! My guys are like that. We have worked really hard this year to stop the big hits and become more of a stable, well-rounded team, especially before MRDA championships.

Personally, my biggest challenge is switching the “coaching” cap to the “playing” cap. Sometimes, at JRG practice, I am still in coaching mode. I am currently learning how to sit back and listen to my coach at the JRG practice (which the previous night was my player at MCM practice). When I coach them men, I am strict, loud, and I like to push them to the extreme. I have to learn how to switch from being a pushy loud coach to teamwork and being a supportive player. It is a work in progress.

Do you feel like you have sacrificed much to be so involved in roller derby? It sounds like it permeates your entire life.

I don’t think I have been able to carry a healthy relationship in over 4 years. I figure this is what I wanted, and I’m happy. I like to joke that Vanilla Derby is my boyfriend. My life is derby. My work life is derby. If anyone has a problem with it, they can leave. At one point I will settle down and want to have children and a husband. At that point, I will be interviewing all of the derby moms out there to find out what the trick is. Until then, it’s just me and my skates! My family is the one thing that is somewhat a sore spot for me. I don’t get to see my nephews enough. They are in Wisconsin, and I am in Florida. I miss them tremendously.

Do you have a mentor, or someone that you just look up to?

Streak from the Magic City Misfits. I may not give him the credit he deserves all of the time. He has been my rock since I started derby. He has always been there when I needed someone to vent to, to cry to, and celebrate with. For some reason he sees something in me that I don’t even see. He always makes sure to compliment me and boost me back up when I feel like I had a bad game, or give me the criticism and push that I need when he deems necessary. I sometimes wonder if he thinks I am one of the guys and can be harder on me than the rest. To this day, I have not skated in a game without him there. He is my rock, my mentor, and my best friend. For all of that and so much more I thank him.

Also, New Jax City Rollers. I love you ladies more than words can explain. I am so proud to be a part of something so wonderful. I look up to each of you in different ways. I am so proud to be apart of this amazing group of ladies!

What is the biggest mistake or misstep you made that you think other skaters should avoid in their derby careers?

Not knowing what you’re good at. You may be great at offense and assisting other skaters but you are put on defense time after time. Then you don’t say anything to your coaches, and you feel like you are lost. Know what your strengths are. Know that you can help your team tremendously by helping yourself first. You don’t have to be the best skater on the team, but you do have to be the best skater FOR your team. Know your skating style and run with it. Don’t try to be like anyone else but yourself.

What is your favorite derby moment you have been a part of, on or off the track?

There are so many!
– Making all of my amazing friends in derby during my travels with Vanilla. They may not be in the same state, but I – Coaching MCM at MRDA championships and making them hold hands and say “wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle!” (Just to get the jitters out!)
– Skating in RollerCon on Great Lakes All Stars with some of my favorite derby players.
– Getting lead jam against Streak at the men vs women game in December. Yeah, I said it!
– Being on 5 billboards around Jacksonville for New Jax City Rollers.
– Watching my best friends Skittle and Latina Heat play for the first time at North Central Regionals.

After seeing the World Cup, do you plan on trying out in 2012?

I think everyone should try out! I will be trying out in 2012! I may not make it, but it will be a great way to see where I stand with the best skaters in the USA!

Any other plans for the future?

I want to make it into regionals with my team New Jax City Rollers. We have been working super hard to fix our mistakes from last year and grow as a team. We decided not to take an off season this year and train harder than ever before. Everyone, down to the new recruits, has been very dedicated to reaching our goal for our 2012 season.

As for Vanilla Derby, we are currently working on a ton of stuff for this season. Including colors, wheels, clinics and events! You will just have to keep updated to see!

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Thanks, Meow, and best of luck to you and your team in 2012

King James is an auxiliary coach for the Tallahassee Rollergirls, and runs in his spare time.

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