Skater Profile

Gotham Girls Roller Derby

Skater Profile: Bonnie Thunders of the Bronx Gridlock

by: Thomas Gerbasi
June 29, 2010

Bonnie Thunders – The Captain

The captain toes the line.  

Five years into her career as a roller derby skater, it’s not the first time she has done this and it won’t be the last, so there’s a certain cool to Bonnie Thunders’ demeanor before the second whistle sends her racing around the track for much of the next hour.  

During that time, she will have to be faster, craftier, and slicker than those on the opposing team, beating the jammer next to her out of the pack while dodging the hits of the blockers trying to knock her off the track and into the VIP seats. 

From there, time almost stops as she soars around the track. The crowd roars in appreciation, getting louder as the approach to the pack a second time begins. From there, Thunders dodges here, ducks there, jukes once, jukes twice, and in a matter of seconds, points are scored, the hopes of opponents are deflated, and it’s two hands on the hips and the end of another jam. Just as her namesake, Johnny Thunders, once sang, ‘you can’t put your arms around a memory,’ you can’t put your arms around Bonnie Thunders, because if you try, she’ll be a memory. 

Bonnie Thunders jams against Windy City at the 2010 ECE.  Photo: Asa Frye
Above: Bonnie Thunders jams against Windy City at the 2010 East Coast Extravaganza.  Photo: Asa Frye

Beth Amphetamine, a veteran of the Windy City Rollers All-Stars, said recently of Thunders: “I was talking to one of our blockers the other day, a really talented blocker, and this is her first year on the All-Stars and I was like ‘don’t try to hit Bonnie, because it’s not gonna work, she’s gonna go away.’” 

This past weekend at Pennsylvania’s East Coast Extravaganza, Thunders’ Gotham Girls Roller Derby All-Stars rolled over quality squads from Windy City (191-50) and Boston (166-82), securing their number one spot in Derby News Network’s WFTDA rankings. Yet despite two more dominating performances, the captain, as is her custom, deflects praise onto her teammates, making the point clear that without the blockers in the trenches, she can’t do what she does. 

“Some people are just drawn to different types of skating,” she said. “There are certain players that just get more attention. People flock to Beyonsláy, people flock to me, a lot of people love Kandy Kakes, Ginger Snap gets a lot of attention ... I think everybody has a different type of fan that they attract to them. I think we all have small little subsets of people that are like ‘ah, I love that player.’ And there are definitely people that don’t think I’m very good…” 

What? Who? 

“It’s hard because if you’re a jammer, you stand out because you’re scoring points, but at the same time, there are a lot of other things that come into play, because if your team is not stopping their jammer, then that other jammer can score points just as easily as you can.” 

Johnny Zebra indicates that Bonnie Thunders is, yet again, Lead Jammer.  Photo: Tom Igoe
Above: referee Johnny Zebra verifies that once again Bonnie Thunders has earned 'Lead Jammer' status for the Bronx Gridlock.  Photo: Tom Igoe.

Few do it like Thunders though. The All-time local league scoring leader for GGRD, owner of the record for most points scored in one bout (88), 2009’s Best Jammer and All Stars MVP, as well as the 2008 Nationals MVP, she has compiled a body of work that only a select few can lay claim to. And she does it with a poker face that is quietly intimidating to her opposition, though she does admit with a smile that “I give a couple fist pumps every game.” 

But like anything, she didn’t fall out of the sky with skates on her feet, something she was reminded of when her GGRD team, the Bronx Gridlock, held a pow-wow before their first bout of 2010.

“At our first little get together, we watched the first game the Bronx ever had [a 2006 to the Mayhem] and it was my first game ever, and everybody was like ‘oh my God, you sucked, you were bad,’” she laughs. “It’s kind of inspirational for some of the new skaters, because they’re like ‘oh, I can become an excellent skater. I’ve just got to work hard at it.’ I think that in the past two years I’ve really started to rise above and climb. But I’ve also been taking it more seriously since then as well, so hard work has paid off.”

Bonnie celebrates winning June's Bout MVP honors along with Mayhem skater Miss American Thighs.  Photo: Chris Chin
Above: Bonnie celebrates winning June's Bout MVP honors along with Mayhem skater Miss American Thighs.
Photo: Chris Chin

A competitive soccer player throughout her formative years, as well as a synchronized figure skater in college, Thunders said she “stumbled onto” derby after moving to New York City.

“I wanted to continue with synchronized figure skating because I really, really enjoyed it,” she said. “It was fun, I loved to skate, I like the team aspect, and there were a couple clubs down here that I had in mind, but then I found roller derby.  I thought, well, this is a little bit cooler than wearing a pretty dress and having to put makeup on and tie my hair up in a big bun. (Laughs) So I’m gonna play roller derby. I was a soccer player since I was a kid as well, so it wasn’t like the contact sport part of it was weird or scary or frightening. It fit.”

By 2008, Thunders was a legit derby star, and she responded by helping to lead the Gotham squad to their first National Championship.

“It was a pretty surreal experience,” she said. “I know we were the expected winners at the 2008 WFTDA championships because we had been winning for so long before that, but I think what surprised everybody the most was that we beat everyone by so many points, and that was completely unexpected.”

Since then, she’s only gotten better, buoyed not only by experience and an all-star cast around her, but by an even more complete dedication to the sport. And while her humble nature prevents her from expounding on the topic of Bonnie Thunders, it’s clear that when she’s on the track, she has a little bit more on her fastball, as well as an almost eerie prescience that allows her to see three moves ahead of her opposition.

“I guess it’s sort of an innate feeling for strategy,” she said. “I watch a fair amount of roller derby, but I don’t watch games every single weekend. I think I’m just really instinctual and always go with my instincts. Luckily, that works for me. There’s definitely some sort of innate sense that I have out there that works really well in my favor.”

And truth be told, watching Thunders on the track is a joy, like watching any top athlete on top of her game. But unlike other top pros, on Monday, like Superman going back to life as Clark Kent, Bonnie Thunders returns to civilian life as Nicole Williams.

“I’d love to play roller derby for a living, that would be nice,” she muses. “Sometimes if I think about it too hard, I kinda get frustrated – if I am so good, then why aren’t there any opportunities? But they don’t exist.”

She pauses before continuing.

“It’s kinda cool to be sort of famous in your own little subculture. A lot of my co-workers go to the games, but they only come to the local games, so it’s a little bit funny. I’ll send them a little link where somebody blogged about me, and they’re like ‘whoa, you’re famous.’ Well, not really, but in this weird little subsection of roller derby, I’m kind of well known. It’s something to definitely tell your grandkids about.”

But like her peers, it isn’t about fame, fortune, or signing autographs. Thunders’ hopes are simple: “I don’t really need to make millions of dollars, I just want to be able to skate all the time.” And for now, all that matters is pulling off a double play this fall – a GGRD title for the Bronx, and a WFTDA crown for the All-Stars.

Bonnie Thunders toes the outside line at the 2008 WFTDA championship bout vs. Windy City.  Photo: Jules Doyle
Above: Bonnie Thunders navigates on the outside line at the 2008 WFTDA championship bout vs. Windy City.  Photo: Jules Doyle

“Last year, we [the All-Stars] didn’t do as well as we were expected to, and I think there’s a lot of vengeance built up for this year because we want to win and we want to get it back,” said Thunders of her All-Star expectations. “I think that everybody’s really prepared to put in the extra practice and do the off-skates work and make it happen for us because we’ve got something to prove now.”

And leading the way will be the captain, just the way she likes it.

“I know that I’ve got a job to do for my team, and I just keep that at the forefront and that’s really my focus for the game – getting done what my team needs and expects me to do,” said Thunders. “I definitely don’t want to let anything get in the way of that. My goal is that if I can keep calm and keep clear and keep doing well, then the team will have that to follow and do the same.”

 

 

 

----

Bonnie Thunders and the #1 All-Stars are next in action at 11am on Sunday, July 18th, against the #10 Dairyland Dolls of Madison, Wisconsin,  in a neutral-site bout hosted by the Boston Derby Dames in Wilmington, Massachusettes.  Text coverage of this bout will be broadcast at www.derbynewsnetwork.com/live.