Skater Profile: Raggedy Animal of the Brooklyn Bombshells
by: Thomas GerbasiOctober 7, 2010
Raggedy Animal and the Brooklyn Bombshells wave farewell to 2010 vs. Providence at Saturday's Post-Season Showdown. Tickets available at www.ggrdtix.com, or watch the live stream on Derby News Network at 8:30pm.
Raggedy Animal in the “Land of Misfit Toys”
by Thomas Gerbasi
If things had gone according to plan for the young lady who went on to become known as Raggedy Animal, there probably wouldn’t have been roller derby in her future. Instead, there would have been Gold medals, trips around the world and a life defined by her first love – gymnastics.
“If you look at every single English assignment and short story from the time I was in first grade into seventh grade was some story about me going to the Olympics,” she said. “Which now is ridiculous, but it was my life, for sure.”
It’s a typical tale for young athletes. Every boy wants to play centerfield for the Yankees or quarterback for the Giants. On the female side of the field, soccer players want to be Mia Hamm, tennis players Serena Williams, and gymnasts, Mary Lou Retton. Then reality sets in, usually due to injury or the realization that you’re just not part of that tiny percentage that makes it to the elite level.
Raggedy Animal didn’t fit either category. Instead, her gymnastics career was ended simply by growing up – literally – as she shot up to 5 foot 7 between sixth and seventh grades. It was a cruel fact of life to deal with.
Above: young Raggedy Animal, champion diver
“It was my first love of my life breakup,” she said. “It was really hard. I grew up as a tomboy, and I was pretty slight as a kid, and then I just shot up really, really quickly between sixth and seventh grade. It was a really, really horrible transition. You’re in puberty, I didn’t understand what’s happening to me, I can’t be in this sport that I love anymore, and suddenly it’s weird for me to play football between recess. It was really, really difficult. I felt like turning into a girl was robbing me of being an athlete. It was a horrible breakup; it was extremely painful and I didn’t know what to do with myself for a while.”
Listening to her talk about it now, five years into her stint as a blocker for the Brooklyn Bombshells and Wall St. Traitors, it’s clear that her athletic journey didn’t end there, but you can’t tell that to a teenager. She quickly jumped into diving and volleyball (“sports where I could be really tall,” she said), but Raggedy’s attention eventually settled on her studies, where it stood until she moved to New York after finishing graduate school and got the athletic itch again.
“I moved to New York and I was kind of feeling depressed and not really understanding how not to be a student because I went straight from high school to undergrad, did it in four years, went straight from undergrad to graduate school, did it in three years, and then was in New York City, but I don’t have any homework.”
“I really didn’t know what to do, but then I thought, ‘You were raised as an athlete.’”
From there, it was a whirlwind ride of boxing, Capoeira, and hip hop dance, among other pursuits. Eventually, roller derby found its way into her sights, but it wasn’t in the usual fashion.
“There wasn’t an a-ha moment for me,” she said. “The a-ha moment happened to my boyfriend, who called me from Texas because he was at a wedding, and said ‘baby, there’s something you need to see.’”
Soon, he wasn’t the only one pulling her sleeve about this growing sport, and she broke down and went to see a few bouts.
“I was still a little defensive about it,” she admits. “I was like ‘I don’t want to join a league with a bunch of girls.’ (Laughs) Slowly but surely, I said ‘I think I should try out for this. Maybe I want to hit them.’”
Above: Raggedy takes a knock from Ana Bollocks during her very first bout in 2006. Photo: Nina Rich
Yet all pre-conceived notions went out the window once she arrived for tryouts. It was then that all the answers in her head turned into questions:
“What is this?”
"What am I doing?”
“Why are 125 people trying out?”
“What do I have in my athletic background that’s going to make them think I should be playing roller derby?”
“I was not sure I was going to be able to fit in at all,” she admits, “but it was so organized and everyone was really professional, and smart, and had it all together, and were funny. Immediately I was like ‘ohh, this isn’t how I thought it was gonna be.’ So I first responded to that.”
She passed her tryout, and her first season with the GGRD league was 2006. Four years later, Raggedy Animal is still at it, still hitting, still clearing the way for her jammers, and still playing derby.
Above: Raggedy Animal takes on Luna Impact at CCNY in 2007. Photo: Asa Frye
“It is for the love of the sport, but I think another motivating factor is that there’s a common element in all of us somewhere, that we’re sort of from the Land of Misfit Toys, each in our own special way, and we found each other in New York City,” she said. “I think we also share a common feeling that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves and we’re part of a movement and at the forefront of that movement, and we have the potential to be role models and influence people. If I were a little girl and somebody was like ‘look, here’s roller derby, look at these girls,’ I would have grown up in a different way. I would have had a different image of what things could be. I didn’t even have the WNBA when I was growing up, so I think somewhere in us, we’re connected to the greater good and it’s good to feel like you’re part of something that’s bigger than yourself and that grew from this little seed in the Bronx at the Skate Key. It’s intense to see how much it’s grown and it’s great to feel like you’re not alone on your island of misfit toys, but you found some other friends.”
Her closest friends since she first entered the league have obviously been her teammates from Brooklyn, and in their final bout of the 2010 regular season, they showed the potential they had hinted at all year long with a 125-80 win over the Manhattan Mayhem.
Above: Raggedy stalks the track vs. the Mayhem in May 2009. Photo: Tom Igoe
“It was poignant,” she said. “It was just a great feeling, and the icing on the cake was that it actually equaled winning. But aside from that, I knew that game was in us. I knew that we had that. We had done it in practice, we have some of the best attendance as a team in the league (in practice), and we’re so hard working, I knew it was in us. And everything comes down to psychology. Talent to talent we can do it, but somehow our bench psychology, we fall apart or one person withdraws and another is emotional. But we maintained a kind of maternal, peaceful bench. In the past, we’ve had two or three bad jams and just spiraled and chewed off our arms basically. And this time it wasn’t like that and there was a very peaceful feeling on the bench. I’m so proud of everyone, and every single person on our entire team made a difference in every jam they were in.”
This Saturday night at Hunter College, Raggedy and the Bombshells will close out 2010 in a Post-season Showdown bout against Providence. It’s an opportunity for the gals from Brooklyn to finish the year with a two bout winning streak, and for Raggedy to get down to some hitting. As for the idea of playing a team that she may not be too familiar with, that’s no worry for number 67.
Above: Raggedy gives a helping hand to Traitors teammate Megahurtz vs. Suburbia in April 2009. Photo: Brendan McMullen
“It’s different for different people – for me, I don’t care,” she said. “You all have on a different uniform and you’re all equally my problem. You’re just a jammer I need to help stop. I don’t care if you’re Susie-Whosie-Whatz or Polly Pretty Pants, I don’t care; you’re just someone from that other team. Other skaters like to see the picture, find out the strengths and weaknesses of each skater. Me? I could care less. I don’t care who you are. And I really like the freedom of skating against people you have no pre-conceived notion about at all. I find that really fun.”
Having a packed house cheering for the two Gotham squads playing this weekend doesn’t hurt either.
“The thing that’s so different and why the Post-season Showdown is so wonderful is that typically you have a thousand people and a portion of the crowd is rooting for you and the other one is rooting for the other team, but for this, there’s a thousand people rooting for the home team,” she said. “So I think it must be fairly intimidating to come into that situation. I know that when Montreal came, and that was back when (current Bombshell) OMG (WTF) was still there, we played them and they had like five fans and they were the loudest fans ever, but they had to come and hear a thousand people screaming ‘Bombshells, Bombshells.’”
Hearing the roar of the crowd is something that isn’t part of the job description in Raggedy’s day gig as a college professor, but that doesn’t mean the two aren’t able to co-exist in her world.
Above: Raggedy Animal and her Brooklyn teammates. Photo: Asa Frye
“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” she said. “I don’t know how one would work without the other. I’m on the coaching committee for the league and it all plays into each other. I learn a lot from my day job teaching that feeds roller derby, but I learn a ton from roller derby that feeds my teaching style, my patience in teaching, the way that I relate to my students, and the way that I conduct and manage my classroom, I pull from roller derby and from our coaching meetings and from other people’s ideas and the professionalism in our league.”
Suddenly a gymnastics career seems to be a distant memory, one replaced by hundreds of other moments that have filled Raggedy Animal’s five seasons of roller derby thus far. So what would be the more memorable?
She pauses for a moment. “There are so many.”
But then she comes up with one that not only defines the selfless nature of a blocker, but what the league is all about.
“When we won Nationals (in 2008) it came out of that season of homelessness that led to actually finding our very own space,” she said. “That was a great moment and it wasn’t just about winning Nationals, but it marked us. Struggling through being homeless, skating in the craziest and most horrible places, not killing each other while we were doing it, trying to find a positive attitude through what seemed like a completely hopeless situation, finding this crappy cigar factory in Queens, putting on facemasks, cleaning it, scrubbing it, tearing down these huge shelving units, creating a space, making a home, getting through that next season of having a home, regrouping. It took so much hard work and stamina, I feel like that moment culminated in that win at Nationals, and it wasn’t like the travel team won at Nationals, it was like our league went through hell and managed to come out the other side. And here we are, representing the sport in a really positive way and winning well and winning intelligently. That was a really wonderful moment for our league.”
And for a former gymnast named Raggedy Animal.
Above: Raggedy Animal Loves You. Photo: Chris Chin.