When Fetishly Devine, then known as Nicole Perla, was a little girl, she used to skate around the neighborhood all of the time. No one would skate with her because she had imperiously announced that she wanted to be the roller derby queen. Even then, she intimidated.
When QCRG first began, Fetish was an intimating skater known for her bruising hits and fast feet. If you heard her at a league meeting though, you might be struck by her soft-spoken, calm demeanor. She is all of those things and more: both on the track and off the track, as coach, teammate, friend or snowboarding buddy.
What was roller derby like when you first started?
In the beginning it was pure adrenaline. All we thought about was hitting the crap out of each other. We were going to knock each other around. It was totally physical. In the beginning your body took a beating. The harder you could hit people the better. There wasn’t much of “let’s build a wall.” Between then and now it has gone from mostly physical to mostly strategic. I think that as we’ve all gotten older we’ve gotten smarter.
Do you like the game better as it is now?
Yes. It’s totally different. I like the game now because you have to think. It’s a more holistic game. In the beginning everyone was out there for themselves. It wasn’t an ego thing, but you were out there as five individuals. Now when you go out there every part makes up the whole. Without those parts you can’t have that whole. The team dynamic has become stronger. The camaraderie and sisterhood hasn’t changed, that is still there, but the game has evolved into strategy and teamwork.
When we first started off there was a small group of us and we were all in it together. We were all learning together, falling together, picking each other up and pushing each other to our best potential as a group. As soon as we split up into teams it became a little more difficult. That’s where the separation started. Then the league became more segregated which was good in one way: the competition level went way up. Each team had its own personality and the bigger the teams got the more we were a Dollie, Knockout or Saucies; we weren’t just QCRG. Sometimes I think we’ve lost sight of the fact that we are each first and foremost a Queen City Roller Girl, whether you’re on the Court, a home team or a Furie — you’re a Queen City Roller Girl. We are part of the whole.
Why did you stop skating?
I stopped skating because my body was hurting. After every game I just hurt, especially my back. It just came to the point where I couldn’t deal with the pain anymore. I knew I needed to stop skating. But I couldn’t walk away from it completely. I just love it so much.
So it was after your injury that you started coaching?
Yes. I coached the Dollies with HerAssHer that next season. It was such a hard transition at first. As a skater there are times when you just know what to do. You know when, you know why and you don’t think about it. But as a coach you have to take the instinct and put it into words: this is how you do it. I had to figure out the result I wanted and then work backwards, one step at a time. Then turn it around and build it back up in a progression of drills.
I coached two years: one year as bench manager with HerAssHer and the next as a head coach (with Busty Pipes). Bench managing really helped with coaching. Having the experience as a bench manager was key for learning how to coach.
How did being a bench manager help with your coaching skills?
Say you’re in the heat of a game and you need to change lines. You need to move people around in the matter of seconds. You know what they need from you: calmness and trust. You then take that calmness and trust back to practice, when you are explaining to your team what you need and why you need it. They trust you and that trust builds a more cohesive team
Why did you decide to come back as a player?
I missed it. I missed playing competitively. I’ve always played sports, contact sports, all my life and I just missed it. I missed getting out on the track and skating. I missed the bond you have with your teammates as a skater.
Last August you were done. Completely done with everything derby. When did that change?
I realized that it was what made me happy. It was my outlet. It satisfied my brain and my body; to skate and to play. I had been tossing it around in my head over the summer. The more I thought about it the more I knew that, yes, I wanted to go back; I wanted to skate. The conversations Tease and I had before that time were that we were done. I don’t think she was ready to be done, but she and I agreed that we needed to do this together. So when I asked her: what do you think about going back and skating? It floored her.
Why did you think you could come back when you had left in so much pain?
I had realized that from the first day I started playing derby I was never in good physical shape. I was in good condition because I had played soccer and softball and other sports, but I wasn’t really physically fit. I was probably 45 pounds overweight because I hadn’t done anything for the past 2 years. Even after I had made the decision that I wanted to skate again, I knew that there was no way I could keep up with the women who were skating now. I felt that I needed to lose about 30 pounds by January. So I started changing my diet and then in October I started strength training with Michele Wozniak.
How has the strength training helped?
After the first workout with Michele I swear I could just feel that almost every part of my body was stronger. I think that kind of strength training (strongman training) is such a confidence booster for women. Women don’t give themselves enough credit and the things we lift and the things we do. Running with 145 pounds on a sled, pushing a car, deadlifting 250 pounds, or carrying a 150 pound keg make you believe you can do almost anything.
You left skating because of injuries. Did the strength training give you confidence that your back would be okay?
Well there is always the concern that you’ll get hurt when you play a contact sport, but my body is in such a different place now. It is so much stronger. I am working my body to do what it is meant to do; our bodies are meant to move, to work, to play. Pushing it to the potential that I know is there and it is giving me the confidence on skates to say, “I am strong enough to do this. I am agile enough to do this.”
How was the conversion from instructor back to player?
Ironically, making the transition from coach to player was really hard. It took me two years to be able to work through things in order to be able to explain it, and have people understand me. The game has changed so much in the last two years; the rules have changed, the dynamic of the game has changed. The game is so strategic now that you can’t really go out and just hit, hit, hit because it just doesn’t work the same way it used to. So it’s been tough trying to take all that I learned while I coached and make my body do it instinctively. I had to reverse the verbalizing and visualizing it for other people and take it in myself and do it.
Does it feel like a different kind of derby?
When you come back to skating after such a long break you have a totally new perspective on it. There is a completely new feeling. Another difference for me: this is the first year I have not had any leadership role. It is has been pure fun; it’s just about the game, just about the skating. There is the same fire and excitement as there was seven years ago when someone told me that there was roller derby, and asked me if I wanted to play. Hell yeah I want to play! It has lit that fire again for playing derby.