Featured Skater: Pepper Stix #60

It was in Washington DC when Pepper Stix threw what she called a “temper tantrum” in a game. She had gotten clocked good by one of DC Rollergirls’ bigger blockers and was pissed when she came back to the bench. She pulled off her helmet cover and threw it on the chair.

That’s it. That was her temper tantrum.

It was no surprise that Pepper Stix was voted in as QCRG’s dream line jammer this season. It’s not just her success as a jammer or her calmness in a game. She is one of the most positive forces on the Lake Effect Furies whether it be in a sweaty 3 hour practice, during a lopsided game (when the other team is winning), or at a party showing off her version of the worm.

Pepper embodies good sportsmanship. But she would never agree with that statement. She would list you 10 or 12 other people on the team that are better than her. Because that’s just the kind of person she is.

Photo by Joe Mac

How did you come to roller derby?
I heard about Buffalo’s league a year before I started and was very intrigued. Then, two things happened. My husband went to a game and brought home a flyer. He thought it was right up my alley. At about the same time, I learned that a co-worker of mine (Hillary Collision) played. I asked her to sit down over Chinese food at lunchtime. Mae Plower joined us because she was also interested. We asked a million questions. That was summer 2008, before training camp. I decided to give it a whirl and went to one open skate. I was hooked immediately and went to every open skate and felt guilty if I missed one. When I came home from skating I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about skating and then, even when I did get to sleep, I was still skating in my dreams.

What kind of questions did you ask her? What were you concerned about?
My biggest concerns were: how much does it cost? And how much time does it take? Hillary told us right off the bat that it was an incredible time commitment. I didn’t believe her. She said it could take over your life. And I thought: ‘no way!”

She was so right.

How was boot camp?
Boot camp was so hard and very sweaty. It was very challenging. It was so hot in August in the rink. There were about 50 skaters at the boot camp. The first day I came home from boot camp I was soaked and starving. I pigged out, showered and then crashed for about 3 hours.

Do you remember your first hit?
I do. Holly Lulu hit me at a league practice. I remember that my spine cracked from my neck down between my shoulder blades. I had been hit before, but this was something else. It was the first time I ever really thought: is this dangerous? Am I going to break? It opened up my eyes and I realized “this is serious.” But I loved it and kept going back.

Did you start out as a jammer?
When I was in boot camp I had a thought that I might be a jammer but I wasn’t really sure where I fit in. When I was first drafted to the Dollies I didn’t train specifically as a jammer but in my first game the coach asked me if I would jam. I had a lot of friends and family in the audience and I could hear them screaming when I was jamming. It was so much fun. I don’t remember which jam it was during the game, but when I came back to the bench, every single person on the bench was standing. That was exciting. I guess it was a good jam. From that game on, I was a regular jammer for the Dollies.

Photo by Jim Bush

Were you nervous to jam?
I was very nervous my first two years on the team. I remember the first game that I was on the roster as the first jammer of the bout. There was just something so nerve-wracking to me about being the very first jammer. I swear my knees were shaking so bad that people in the audience could see it.

When did jamming go from knees knocking so hard while you stood at the jammer line to you standing on the line, cool as a cucumber, in the final jam of the 2011 Dollies vs. Knockouts championship game?

My third year just felt different. During my first year my head spun — constantly. There was so much to learn and everything was so exciting. During my second year I started to get a better grasp of the rules and started to feel more comfortable. In those first two years I would have looked away if the coach was looking for a jammer at an important point in the game. I would have thought that I wasn’t good enough; someone else was better than me. In my third year I had confidence. I wanted to be the one in the last jam. And it’s not that I felt better than other people; I just knew I could do it. And I wanted to be the person to do it.

How do you think you developed that confidence?
I’ve always had coaches who have done a great job of pushing me; knowing when to stop and knowing when they could keep pushing me.

Sometimes you are just really done, and you can’t go any further. But other times, you can be pushed harder. There were times when I would have just come off a jam and I would be reaching for my water and I would feel a hand on my back pull me to the track. HerAssHer would say to me: you’re going back out, right? It wasn’t really a question. She just knew how to get me to that next level.

The other thing that got me to be more confident was playing with the Lake Effect Furies. In my first year I played in three Dollie bouts. The following year I started playing on the Furies and I got so much more scrimmage and bouting experience so I wasn’t as nervous as I was that first year.

You were concerned about the amount of time when you first joined roller derby, so why join the travel team and add another team to your schedule?
I wanted to become a better skater. The Furies had three hours of intense practice each week and I liked the idea of skating with some of the great players from the other home teams. I thought traveling and playing against strangers was scary but I really wanted to become a better skater.

Photo by Joe Mac

Have you played any other sports before roller derby?
I played a ton of sports when I was younger. I played baseball and softball, volleyball, track, soccer and basketball. I was a very serious volleyball player. It was a passion of mine.

When I was in college I stopped playing sports on a serious level. Once I started playing derby, I realized how much I had missed a team sport; especially travelling. I have so many vivid memories of traveling with my teams on the school bus. These days, the Furies drive 7, 8, or 9 hours to our games in cars or vans with tons of snacks. We are always texting each other between the cars, playing games or just being silly. All that travel time for a couple of hours of roller derby is crazy but completely worth it.

What does your family think of you playing roller derby?
My family has incredible enthusiasm for me and the sport. I’ve always surprised my parents by the choices I’ve made in life so I was a little nervous to tell them when I joined derby, but they were very excited. They have only missed one game that I played in at Rainbow Rink and that was the 2011 championship game. They are so proud of me.

My husband Mike loves the sport, too. He started helping out in production my first year. The following year he was asked to head up production and he did that for a few years. Now, he is an the assistant chair of production.

He has always been amazingly supportive to me. He’ll make me dinner early on practice days. He doesn’t mind my stinky gear draped around the house and he’s always patient when the conversation works its way back to roller derby.

And then there’s your brother.
My brother Mike (known as Guy O. Tine) always came to watch me play. He has always been a crazy sports fan, too. I remember after one particularly close game between the Dollies and the Suicidal Saucies both my brother (Mike) and my husband (Mike) looked like they had been through the wringer. They were so disheveled looking because the game had been so close and intense.

Mike (Guy) had already refereed in other sports and I thought he would be a great derby referee and he was already a good skater. I bugged him about it for a while and then backed off. He thought about it and decided to give it a try. He is an amazing referee and an amazing coach, too.

His first major call was a major on you, wasn’t it? Was it weird?
You are correct! Not weird at all. He takes his job very seriously and it was just what he had to do. And actually, it wasn’t until later when I was sitting in the box when I realized what had happened. I don’t think he realized it when he did it.

What do you think about when you’re jamming?
I think about what my blockers are going to do. I try to see what is unfolding in front of me. I try to figure out where my blockers are going to go and what they are going to do as well as what the opposing blockers are going to do and of course, I look for holes. I might try to pick out a blocker that I think might be weaker than me. If I’m skating against the other team’s weaker jammer, I might try to hit her or deliver her to my blockers. I’m thinking about the points, too, if we are down or ahead, and if I need to help my blockers in any way.

Do you have a bout day or pre-game ritual?
I like to eat chocolate chip pancakes the morning of a bout. I used to do yoga each day of a bout, but with travelling so much, I have not had the chance to as often. I remember doing yoga in a really stinky hotel room once. The rug was so nasty, it was hard to do any floor poses on it.

What are some of the positives you’ve gotten out of skating derby?
I feel mentally and physically stronger since I’ve been skating derby. I think derby has made me a better person.

What are some of the challenges you’ve struggled with?
It is so hard to find the perfect balance. Derby is filled with tons of fun. There is always something to do, be it practice, working out, parties, volunteer activities, or meetings. It is an incredible time commitment. So you have to find the perfect balance and still have a life outside of derby.

My family is incredibly supportive and without that support I wouldn’t be able to skate. But I recognize that I need to take care of my family, too. My life can’t be all derby.

Also sometimes I struggle mentally. I’ve pushed myself to learn how to co-exist in this league of strong people; to have a thick skin at times and let certain things roll off my back. There are a lot of opinions and personalities in any big group of people. I’m the type of person who wants to be friends with everyone.

I’ve also learned to be more open when I meet new people. I can be really shy but I’ve learned to take risks with people I don’t know and jump in and get involved. I’m definitely better at speaking in front of a group than I used to be. I’ve ran many practices over the years, served as a board rep, and participated in so many meetings and events, that I’m more comfortable with that now. Now, as Director of Interleague, I’m gaining even more skills. All this has crossed over into my non-derby life too and has helped me.

What about on the track struggles?
The hardest thing I struggle with is keeping my toes tapping after a crappy jam. I remind myself that there is no giving up; this is a team sport and we all are one.

I push myself mentally to keep fighting, to keep trying to learn more, to push harder. When I’m tired- to push more, to keep fighting through that pack.

When I’m working out or practicing and I have a million other things to take care of in my non-derby world, I remind myself that I am training to play better. I have to make the effort and the sacrifice if I want to perform on game day. I’m doing this because I want to be effective out there.

What’s in your derby future?
I want to be a valuable member of the QCRG and the Furies and skate better each season. This year one of my goals is to become a better blocker. I want to be seen as a triple threat. And, of course, I am planning on playing with the Furies at next season’s division tournament.