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Published on October 29th, 2012 | by DerbyLife

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Champs 2012 Preview: Slambda Phage, Gotham Girls Roller Derby

by Bruzin’ Brody, Gotham Girls Roller Derby

A masters in public health in epidemiology, with a focus in infectious disease; she was a Division One hockey player, and now a rising roller derby star. It might not take a masters degree to play roller derby, but Slambda Phage has got one.

Slambda Phage came from Minnesota where hockey is the predominant sport. She grew up playing and always knew that she wanted to one day skate at a serious competitive level and she eventually achieved that dream. “I grew up playing hockey and that was really, for as long as I can remember, like the one thing I wanted to do, was play Division I college hockey.” She attended Cornell, where she skated on an ECAC team and also studied biology. That is where she got the inspiration for her unique and mysterious derby name, Slambda Phage. And in case you’re wondering, Phage let me know that it was inspired by “a virus that infects and kills E-coli bacteria.” Phage says she is “generally interested in molecular biology and micro biology, now more in a public health way.” She adds “but I still think organisms are cool.” (laughs)

After playing Division I hockey at Cornell, she continued playing in Minnesota on a more recreational level, while also going for her masters in public health at the University of Minnesota. She eventually moved to New York where she tried to do the same. But she found it wasn’t enough for her. “I played on a team here but the level of play wasn’t that high, we didn’t practice.” If practice was what she was looking for she was sure to find it at her new home, Gotham Girls Roller Derby. Phage came into Gotham’s recreational league practices only a week before their November tryouts. She had seen a roller derby bout in Minnesota and it had always been in the back of her mind. She was surprised by her success at each step in the tryout process, saying “…if you had said to me a year ago that this was the way this year would turn out I would have been like – yeah right, whatever. That’s not going to happen.” What did in fact happen was that Slambda Phage didn’t just make it onto the league, she also made it onto Gotham’s All Stars team.

Her hockey background helped make the transition to roller derby smoother. Something every derby girl is familiar with is her edges but none more so than a hockey player like Phage who says “the edges on roller skates are so big that I feel like you can’t miss them.” After skating around your whole life with just a blade under your feet roller skate wheels are a bit different. She says “When we talk about edges in practice I imagine a blade on my feet. Imagining the thinner edge makes you feel a little tighter.” And even though she has this really helpful athletic background, Phage insists “there’s definitely a lot in derby that I have to learn.”

It’s not just her athleticism that makes her so adept on skates but also her intelligence. At practices Phage watches each and every skater around her looking for the things they do well and then studying them so she can do the same. She says “Most of what I do when I look at other skaters is, I isolate in my own mind like things they do well and I try to pick up how they do those individual skills. Like there are certain things that Bonnie [Thunders] does that I want to isolate and try to understand more. Every person has particular things that they do very well. You know those superheroes that go around trying to collect super powers I want to get the individual super things that everyone does.” (laughs)

And roller derby is full of superheroes, considering how much it takes to make this sport happen. It is a departure from the way things are done in most other traditional sports. The skaters make major decisions regarding their leagues and they are also making decisions regarding rules and evolution of the sport. This is something Phage loves about the sport, saying “I think that just the fact that the skaters are the ones making things happen, the skaters are the ones testing and creating the rules, decisions that will actually impact the evolution of the sport as it moves forward, I think it’s just really exciting.”

Roller derby also has more opportunity for inclusiveness regarding athleticism. She says “…people who are adults, especially, and have like no athletic background in their life and they come to roller derby and become athletic and be supported and be pushed, and push themselves.” Which means more superheroes to watch and learn from, as I am sure Phage will be doing even as others (like me, for instance) will surely be learning from her.

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