Travel: Val Capone Down Under
By: Andy Frye
Flat-track roller derby skates into its second decade with leagues sprouting all over the globe. Clubs get their boots under them and build travel teams that traverse both state lines and time zones just to skate or watch other teams skate.
Shadowing the zeitgeist, Val Capone made her way up to Toronto to announce of some of the live stream broadcasts for DNN at the December 2011 Blood & Thunder Roller Derby World Cup. Afterward, Capone talked with an old derby friend.
Amanda Jamitinya, a pivotal member of the Rocky Mountain Roller Girls, wanted to chat with Capone about the derby adventure of a lifetime.
She would soon be off to Adelaide, in the state of South Australia, to run a training clinic for Adelaide Roller Derby along with official Tootie Tinwhistle. Given ADRD’s rapid growth and the Aussies’ derby passion, AJ knew she would need some help.
How does February sound? she asked Val.
“I told her Feb of 2013 sounds great,” said Capone, knowing she would need plenty of time to save up. As it turns out, AJ had the trip basically set up. Better yet, she had an “in” for a buddy pass through one of the major airlines. Since they would stay as guests with some of the Adelaide skaters, this trip would be almost free.
The only catch: A 15-hour flight across the Pacific. But staying up for 24 hours before a flight was newbie stuff for Capone, a Windy City Rollers veteran.
“I grew up as a roadie brat and I’m an insomniac by nature,” says Capone about her knack for crashing on the fly.
In truth, Capone’s father did spend years as a roadie tailing a number of major bands that crisscrossed the country on tour. This gifted Capone not only a profound love of music. She’s also got a rolling stone’s wanderlust.
“I get restless if I don’t go on some sort of trip at least every other month,” she said. So, a trek to Australia in the middle of Chicago’s chilly February was probably just the right call. So Val Capone took off for Australia on Feb 25, 2012. As you would expect, Capone was excited about her quest.
ADRD was founded in 2007, and kicked off its first bout in February of 2008 in front of an inaugural crowd of 1500 spectators. ADRD launched its first home season that May, and has been on fire ever since.
Capone took photos of Australia’s landscape as the plane started to land, first to Sydney before hitting her final destination. The day after Val arrived she caught up with AJ and Tootie to get to work.
Monday was standard roller derby stuff. They broke the ADRD girls up in groups, with AJ and Val spearheading basic workouts and drills.
Later in the week, the leagues’ four teams trained separately with focus on running plays, defense, and how to capitalize on strengths of players within the squad. Another day consisted of a two-hour practice, an hour long officiating clinic and discussion on rules, followed by a two-hour scrimmage.
Through it all, Capone emphasized the importance of two things: communication and teamwork.
“If you can't learn to trust your teammates, nothing happens,” said Capone, maintaining that teamwork works regardless of skill level. And sometimes little things, like an ill-fitting mouth guard can hamper communication.
After derby, the trio made sure to soak up the Australian culture. They ate Vegemite and drank coffee through chocolate coated Tim-Tam straws. They met koalas, wallabies and kangaroos galore. They saw the city sights, sampled local wines and even polished of a meter-long hotdog together.
And every evening there was something derby to do. Each of the four teams would take AJ and Val out of a “lady date” that consisted of dinner, a cocktail or two, and a conversational session on roller derby strategy. Before she knew it, Capone was using Australian coins –stamped with Queen Elizabeth’s head—to demonstrate jammer tactics and defensive maneuvers.
Other lady dates consisted of entertainment, such as a trip to see “Love Birds”, a cabaret show consisting of a flamboyant offbeat number in which, as Capone puts it, one guy “showed his junk”. The final lady date and derby strategy session wound the week down more at Capone’s speed.
“They took us to an awesome seaside bar and grill with great seafood. And to top it off, they had karaoke!”
Capone, who hosts a karaoke every Monday night at Liars Club, in Chicago, is kind of a karaoke pro, and took up the after dinner entertainment. A nod to her Aussie hosts, she karaoked an old AC/DC favorite “T.N.T”.
“They were a little surprised that an American could sing Bon Scott and so well,” Capone said. One woman complimented Capone, saying it was the “best karaoke AC/DC” she had ever heard.
To conclude main week of derby training, Val and AJ participated in ADRD’s “Friends and Family Night”, a round-robin exhibition tournament. Capone both announced a game and bench coached two others.
After two weeks in the other side of the world, Capone came back to the US with new friendships and the knowledge that she helped push derby a little further. And what a rockin’ adventure.
Andy Frye has written for FiveOnFive Magazine, as well as the Chicago Sun-Times and ESPN.com. Follow his sports and roller derby mania at @MySportsComplex.