Featured Skater: Arti Choker #74

Arti Choker is a girl with heart and spirit. A dedicated skater and the QCRG Job Coordinator, she has worked her way up from a first-year rookie to become a valuable part of the Queen City Roller Girls. We sat down with Arti and asked her what it’s like to train in the league, from picking a name to joining a team. She also had some pretty good advice for new skaters.

What got you interested in derby? How did you find out?
There’s a short version and a long version to that question. The short version is that I had been watching for a couple years and really liked the game so I thought I would give it a shot. It looked like fun!

The long version is that a few of my friends and I went to the first Queen’s Court Chili Cook Off before ever seeing a bout. My husband, who is now my #1 fan, won the door prize, which was a basket full of team t-shirts. We went to the first bout with me wearing a Kats shirt and my husband a Saucies shirt.

Like a lot of first timers, I had no idea what was going on and I couldn’t see very well. I just remember a lot of fishnets and cheeky butts. But we had such a good time we kept going back and we figured out that sitting on one of the bumpers in the back near the arcade was the best place to watch.

Photo by Andy Foremiak
Photo by Andy Foremiak
After watching for a year or two and picking up on the actual game, I heard about the boot camp and figured, why not? I didn’t know how to skate at all but I knew about the Queen’s Court so I thought I’d skate at least a year to try it out. This was in the fall of 2011.

So in August 2011, I signed up for the boot camp with my friend Blackrock Bruiser, and that was it. I didn’t pass the assessment that first time but it was okay, I kept skating with the Queen’s Court and most important, I kept trying.

I had never played a sport, let alone a full contact sport before. I really don’t know why I wanted to play. I think I wanted something different to do. At the time, I sat a lot for my job so I think I just wanted to move around. Little did I know what I was getting into.

How did you pick your name?
I was so stressed about it for a couple days after I started boot camp. I didn’t want to use my name and I really didn’t think I was clever enough to think of something good. So after the second Sunday of boot camp, I thought, “I have to figure this out. What to do I like?” and before I got overwhelmed thinking of everything I like, I started with the letter A. My first thought was “artichokes.” From there came “artichoker,” and then “Arti Choker.” And that was it. I never went on to “B.”

I was so freakin’ happy I thought of something. And then I was paranoid someone else would think of it, so as soon as I could I started telling people so I could be Arti. And I knew right away I didn’t want that “h” in my name, as in “Choke Her.” I didn’t have plans for choking anyone in particular.

Photo by Andy Foremiak
Photo by Andy Foremiak
How good were you as a skater when you started?
I was pretty terrible. I didn’t know how to skate. At all. I couldn’t cross over. I was just happy to stay on my feet; just ask Wailing Wench. The first time I tried to do the 25/5 I think I did 13 laps, maybe. At the time I never thought that I would get drafted onto a home team. During the boot camp when I was trying to T-stop, I fell so many times I had a bruise on my hip area the size of my head. But I kept getting up and trying.

How did you improve the first year?
Within a year it was like night and day. I mean I still don’t think I’m the best skater today, but even I could tell that I was getting better. It took a lot of work but it was so much fun. Before passing my assessment a bunch of us new Queen’s Court girls would go to open skate and practice basic skills. That really helped.

What was it like the night you got drafted to the Saucies?
It was crazy— definitely a roller coaster type of night. I was so nervous. I had been trying to improve for over a year and I really couldn’t tell if what I had been doing would be enough to get drafted. Sometimes you can try and try and it just doesn’t cut it. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be enough for the teams.

And then when my name was called, I was shocked. I mean, they picked me! I cried because I was so relieved. Then I realized that some of my closest friends were on different teams. I figured that would happen but it was still a little sad so I cried a little more. I cry at almost everything. Honestly I don’t remember too much after that. It was a bit of a blur— but not because I was drinking; I was just so keyed up from getting drafted.

Photo by Andy Foremiak
Photo by Andy Foremiak
But then, at my first team practice I went from being pretty good in Queen’s Court to being at the bottom skill-wise. It was definitely a wakeup call. Being on a team makes me want to work hard at improving my skills: for myself and my team.

What would you say are your strengths in derby?
I listen well on the track. You tell me to get somewhere and I try my hardest. Most times, when I’m on the track, I’m yelling about what’s going. When I know I can’t get somewhere to block, I try to tell someone who can.

What is your most memorable moment in derby?
One that comes to mind when I’m talking to newer skaters is the first time I went to a league scrimmage. I was out-of my-mind nervous because for some reason no one else from Queen’s Court was there.

I didn’t tell anyone it was my first time at a league scrimmage (big mistake) and I was told to jam. Jam? Yikes! I felt like I could barely skate and I was supposed to get through a pack of vets. Yeah right. Vajenna was blocking on my team and she just cleared a path. I followed her and got lead jammer. I don’t remember how many points I scored, if any. It didn’t matter. I just felt so relieved that I got through first.

The rest of that night was tough. CU~T (Captain of the Lake Effect Furies and a 7 year veteran) was not on my team… I’ll leave it at that. But in the end I learned things. And, obviously I had a good enough time that I kept coming back.

What other role do you play in the league?
I’m the Job Coordinator for the league. I help people get league jobs when they join and work with the committee heads to make sure people are doing what they signed up to do. I’d like to be able to spend more time on it—lately my real job gets in my way. I love my real job, don’t get me wrong, I just wish I had the time and energy to do both 100% of the time. I’m also the newly appointed Suicidal Saucie representative for the Board of Directors.

Last year when I was still a part of the Queen’s Court, I was the bout volunteer coordinator and it was my job to make sure people signed up and worked at the bouts. I really liked doing that. Then last September I was the volunteer coordinator for the regional tournament. That was a ton of work but I loved it, too. Doing these jobs really helped me meet everyone in the league. I know a lot of the people, at least by name and face. I’m probably one of the few people who knows people’s real names and derby names.

Is derby different than you thought it would be?
When I started I had never played a sport, I didn’t work out. I didn’t like to get hurt. I didn’t like to sweat. I still don’t like sweating or getting bruised but I don’t mind it as much. It’s easier to say that I’m not what I thought I’d be because of derby. For as intense as the sport is, I have really learned to let things go and try not to let stuff bother me. I can only do the best I can do and I can’t get upset about that.

What is it like being a part of QCRG?
When I was in Queen’s Court, it was a like starting college again. There were tons of new people to meet. I didn’t know my way around a skate, and I just felt uncoordinated. But getting to know the people who were in Queen’s Court with me helped me to adjust.

I didn’t go into derby thinking I was going to make friends or have a new kind of social life. I just wanted to do something different. But I got both: something different and a bunch of new friends. Then the Sauce! Oh my god, those girls are amazing. Talk about getting on the right team for me… who knew? People told me before the draft that somehow it works out that you get on the right team. I look forward to practice every Sunday and then going out to breakfast. They make me want to work hard and be a better player. They picked me— I don’t want to let anyone down. And I love them all.

Now that I’ve been a part of QCRG for a while and have made so many friends, I don’t cheer for any specific home team to win any more (unless the Saucies are playing, then of course I want to win). I just want everyone to do well and for the bouts to be exciting for the fans. I want everyone to make good plays and to improve. That’s one reason I really love watching the Furies bouts. I can cheer loudly for our team.

Do you have advice for new skaters?
I guess fake it ‘til you make it. For the longest time I had no idea what the hell I was doing and so I’d go through the motions of the strategies of derby, and then one day it all clicked.

Or maybe just go for it, relax, and have fun. I mean we’re not getting paid and it’s not like we’d fail in life if we aren’t good at derby. It took me a little while to let it go. I wanted to do so well right in the beginning but I had to keep reminding myself that I’m brand-spanking new to derby. Even now, I remind myself that I’ve only been skating for 18 months and I try not to beat myself up too much about not being the best player… yet.

I think the biggest thing to remember is to keep trying and practice as much as you can; especially if you don’t know how to skate or if you’re not exactly an athlete. People progress at different rates, so try not to compare yourself to too many people. I mean it’s really hard not to, but try.

~By Maulbright Knocks