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Published on December 14th, 2015 | by Andy Frye

Between Jams: Bonnie Thunders

Champion. Trailblazer. New Yorker. Animal Lover. World Cup winner. Sports ambassador. Captain. Junior derby coach. Entrepreneur. Bonnie Thunders is all these things, and much more.

Joining up for roller derby after an early sports life made up of ice skating and soccer, Bonnie has had an impact on roller derby matched by few others. Since her start in 2006, she has helped lead Gotham Girls’ Roller Derby to five Hydra trophies and Team USA to two World Cup titles. But her participation in roller derby off the track has been as valuable as her time on it.

Last month, as we all know, Gotham’s five-year undefeated streak was ended by Rose City in the WFTDA Championship final. But, is it the end of an era? Not likely. Bonnie’s got more jams in those wheels.

(Bonnie, right, with Gotham teammate and partner OMG WTF. Photo by Danielle Flowers.)

Winning isn’t everything. It is, but it isn’t.  There is one way to spell fun and that is w – i – n. When you play on a team with a sixty-odd game win streak, winning could easily become a given. But for Gotham, it never has been. Winning is what has kept us going all these years- the closer teams came to beating us, the harder we worked. Now that the streak as ended, we are all eager win again, to start a new streak and set new records.

Rose City really gave us a game.  Our energy, camraderie, and cohesiveness in the Rose bout was of another world. Rose played an exceptional game, very targeted at breaking down our defense, which challenged us to adjust our own strategy and formations. I was so impressed by our defense’s ability to lock it down and put up some punishing jams against their extremely talented jammer rotation. Against their formidable defense, our jammers and offense had some hard-to-forget moments that I just want to play on repeat. On all levels, I think the game was exactly what we all expected, and the kind of game you want to play over and over to make you stronger and more capable for the next one.

I love animals. (Maybe even a teeny bit more than people.) After leaving a career in wildlife conservation to open Five Stride Skate Shop, roller derby became my career and not just a hobby. Everyone needs a hobby in their life and so I went back to my love of animals to find a hobby. There were a lot of feral cats in my neighborhood and I started feeding them in my backyard. Trap – Neuter – Return or TNR is an effort to try to stabilize their population. The streets of NYC are not a place for kittens to be running around, so we try to end the cycle and eventually, the population will decline if no kittens are born.

Bonnie and Freddie talk up pet adoption on a Petco commercial.

You think derby is exciting now. Just wait. Every time I meet a junior skater I say, “I hope to see you on the track one day”, and I mean that in the most sincere way. One thing you can’t coach is being as comfortable on your skates as your own two feet. Very few people can get to that level having started skating as an adult but if you have 10 years of skating under your belt by the time you’re 18, then wow, think of the possibilities.

Retire from derby? That ain’t happening any time soon. I love the training, team work, and camaraderie, but I really just love the game- the pressure of performing, the moments of glory, and the sheer joy I get from skating with my team is not something I plan to give up.

Upon joining roller derby, I never ever thought that I would be playing at an international championship tournament. I’ve played sports all my life beyond the recreational level but never on an international stage. I thought synchronized figure skating national championships at 21 years old was where I would max out, but somehow as I get older, more opportunities open up. In sports, it doesn’t usually happen this way.

I feel extremely lucky to be have been involved in derby through its formative years, and am excited to continue to see it grow and evolve.

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Andy Frye writes about derby for Fiveonfive and has written for a variety of other sports publications. As LeBron Shames, he skates with the Chicago Bruise Brothers.

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About the Author

Andy Frye writes about derby for Fiveonfive and has written for a variety of other sports publications. As LeBron Shames, he skates with the Chicago Bruise Brothers.

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