Val du Morte (#63) of the Devil Dollies and the Lake Effect Furies isn’t flashy, but she is a surprising player. She’s one of the smaller skaters so you may discount her. You would regret that the moment she hits you. Then you take notice and maybe even try to avoid her. Unless, that is, you are her teammate, or are partnered with her during a drill; then you want to stick by her side.
Val brings her calm thoughtfulness and hard-working ethic to the track as a skater and to the table as a team member and committee chair. She has become a valuable member of QCRG in the three years she has been a part of the league.
How did you get involved in derby?
My mother’s dental hygienist is Bette Churass. Bette was just wrapping up her first season and my mom noticed that she had a little different way about her. Bette told her about the Queen City Roller Girls . My mom wanted to go watch a bout to see her play and wanted me to come with her. I thought it sounded like fun and started hunting around qcrg.net. I knew almost immediately that I wanted to play. And I knew that it was one of those things in life that I had to at least try to do or I’d regret it forever.
What kind of sports experience did you have before derby?
None. Absolutely none. Even after I first decided I wanted to play, I thought I was probably too short, too small and too old. I didn’t know what I had in me. At that point I didn’t realize that great derby players come in all shapes, sizes and ages. I wasn’t too old or too small at all. I often wonder now what it would be like to play at a younger age and there are times that I wish I would have known about it five or ten years ago… but I also know it would have been really difficult to do in the middle of my “baby days.”
What have you learned about yourself through playing roller derby?
I’m a lot tougher than I thought I was. I think most women realize that after they have been playing for a while. When I first started playing I was intimidated. But I learned that I had a lot more strength, and I don’t just mean physical strength. I am talking about the kind of strength you need to push yourself further than what you are comfortable with. My team captain my first season, Bea Aggressive, had a great saying too: “You can do anything for two minutes!” And it’s true. When I’ve felt like giving up or like I was just too exhausted to go on, I often think of her saying that and find the determination to finish. It might not always be pretty or perfect but I try not to give up. I also learned that I really like being physical. That sounds weird, but understand that when I was a kid Title IX was still relatively new. There weren’t girl’s soccer leagues all over the place. There weren’t girl’s hockey teams. I was more of an arty kid anyhow so I didn’t play sports outside of gym class. I’ve discovered that I like to sweat and move and push myself (and others, too, haha).
How did you pick your name?
Of course one of the big difficulties when you first start playing derby is picking your name. My husband thought it was ridiculous that I was struggling to pick a name and hadn’t even been drafted to a team yet. I was thrilled to show him the email that indicated that it was a top priority in the journey to becoming a derby girl! I had a lot of different options and thoughts that I put on post-it notes around my computer. My daughter, who was 7 at the time, added her own suggestions along with pictures of roller skates among the post-its. My sister in law was thinking about playing for Hudson Valley Horrors and she had come up with the name Val du Morte which means Valley of Death. I thought it was a pretty cool derby name. My son, who was 10 at the time, liked the name because of the Harry Potter reference.
What do your kids think about you playing roller derby?
Well, my son is a bit embarrassed by it. He doesn’t like to talk about it around his friends. He will come and watch my games and occasionally he will say something or ask a question which means he has been paying attention to the game. My daughter likes roller derby and likes that I play. But she isn’t interested in playing (yet).
How do you balance derby and motherhood?
It’s not easy and I’m one of the lucky ones. My husband is very supportive of derby. He enjoys the sport and enjoys the bouts as well as other events. He takes care of the kids when I’m at practice. I think the kids actually prefer it when I’m at practice and dad is in charge. I think he’s a little easier on them than I am. But it’s hard, too, because they are 9 and 13 now and do all sorts of activities. Sometimes I need to skip practice to go to a band concert, choir performance, girl scouts etc.
What do you hope your kids will learn from you playing derby?
I want them to try things they wouldn’t normally try. Even if it’s scary or hard. I want them to take chances and push themselves physically. My kids have an attitude sometimes that if they’re not 100% successful at something new they try, they’re failures. I try to tell them and show them that anything new takes a lot of practice and hard work, and roller derby is always a good go-to example. I hope, too, that they will become interested in playing a sport at some point.
What has surprised you most about derby?
I am constantly surprised by the complexity of the game and how it keeps evolving. I know a lot of people’s impression of the game is that it’s just kind of a demolition derby for girls to go out and smash each other around but it’s so much more. There is such tremendous skill involved, and strategy that ‘s constantly shifting. The game really starts in your head. I’ve put three years into it and I’m just at the very tip of the iceberg in terms of really understanding the game enough to be able to (sometimes) employ strategies effectively. It is never boring—there is always something new to learn, to try, to perfect— and I think that’s part of what makes it so great!
Kids? Family? Derby? Touch choices…
I really try to keep things balanced between derby and home. If it comes down to picking one over the other, though, the family always wins out. Sometimes it’s hard but generally it’s a no brainer. The kids are getting older so their “little kid” days are fleeting. There have been meetings I’ve missed in favor of a band performance. There have been many, many parties and impromptu get-togethers I have missed in order to have a family night. I have missed practice to spend time with extended family. Am I sad about that? Yes, sometimes, but I also really value my family time. I hope to never have to choose between the family and skating a bout but we’ll cross that bridge if and when we get to it.