Skater Profile

Gotham Girls Roller Derby

Skater Profile: Greta Turbo of the Queens of Pain

by: Thomas Gerbasi
October 28, 2010

Watch Greta Turbo and the Queens of Pain in the 2010 GGRD Championship bout this Saturday night at 8:30pm.  Tickets available at www.ggrdtix.com, or stream it live at DerbyNewsNetwork.com/live.

Greta Turbo Emerges From The Shadows
by Thomas Gerbasi

This is Greta Turbo’s first interview. After you hear her story, you’ll hope it won’t be her last.

“I chose the moniker for a reason,” chuckles the five year vet from the Queens of Pain. “I’m not particularly keen on getting my photograph taken – I never have been – and was never really all that keen on being in the press either, so I figured I’d make it part of my personality. I think I’ve always been a little bit nervous being watched. I like to be obviously invisible.”

So when you see her photo in the 2010 Gotham Girls Roller Derby yearbook, complete with turned head, hat, and wig, it all makes sense, but unlike the reclusive film star she took inspiration from – Greta Garbo – it’s pretty easy to catch Ms Turbo during derby season as she puts in her time on the track for Queens, as well as the Wall St. Traitors, and as far as her performance under a line of questioning, she can spin a yarn like she’s been doing it for years.

Tell her that and she’ll laugh and accept the praise gracefully, but when it comes down to it, she’s like her colleagues. They’re not in this for the fame or attention – the play’s the thing.

Greta (at right) blocks for the Wall Street Traitors during the 2009 bout vs. Suburbia.  Photo: Brendan McMullen

Above: Greta (at right) guards the line for the Wall Street Traitors during the 2009 bout vs. Suburbia.
Photo: Brendan McMullen

“I joined derby for a challenge,” she said. “I didn’t join it because I thought I’d be good at it. (Laughs) I wanted the challenge of having something that I had absolutely no reason to do, and see what happens.”

What happened has been a roller coaster ride that has seen her win championships with Queens, struggle through some lean times for the team, and dig deep to come back from injuries that would have finished off lesser athletes. Not exactly what the Columbia University grad expected when she signed up for this.

"I went to see a classmate of mine in the first Expo bout Gotham ever had [November 2004],” recalled Turbo. “She was a member of the (Manhattan) Mayhem; this was before Queens even existed.  I watched her, and everybody else for that matter, fall down over and over and over again and decided that with absolutely no prior skating experience, this is exactly what I wanted to do. I joined as a result of watching other people fall down a lot.”

Greta (#32) uses her booty to slide Sweet Sherry Pie aside during last season's Queens/Manhattan bout.  Photo: Tizoc Gomez

Above: Greta (#32) uses her booty to slide Sweet Sherry Pie aside during last season's Queens/Manhattan bout.  Photo: Tizoc Gomez

Unfortunately, Turbo wound up hitting the track herself soon after, bruising her tailbone in her first practice and breaking it in the second.

“I was only out for two weeks (with the broken tailbone) and then I wore this huge pair of hockey shorts for another four, so I was able to continue to train,” she said. “But I had two big injuries my first season. The tailbone was relatively minimal – it was just painful – but my second one was a torn meniscus in my left knee that basically took me out for a month and a half.”

That was just for starters, as she then suffered a spiral fracture of her left tibia and fibula in 2007.

“I was Gotham’s second broken leg,” she says, and even after coming back, she wasn’t out of the woods yet. 

[Note for league history buffs: the league's first broken leg was suffered by Plenty O'Toole, who originally skated as Red Barin for the Brooklyn Bombshells, and now rolls with Harrisburg Area Roller Derby]

“That broken leg took me out from October to April and then I came back for my first bout in June, and in the first minute of the first bout, I tore all my scar tissue and had to go to the ER and was out another six weeks.”

Greta gets wheeled into the 2007 Championship by Queens mascot The Persuader.  Photo: Nicholas Tang

Above: Greta gets wheeled into the 2007 Championship by Queens mascot The Persuader. 
Photo: Nicholas Tang

Yet as Saturday’s championship bout with the Bronx Gridlock approaches, Turbo is finishing up her second injury-free season (knock wood), and she has been a key contributor to the Queens’ resurgence, with a +41 points differential in 33 jams. It’s an inspiring comeback story, one that begs the question – why?

“I always said to myself that I would stop skating when I stopped getting better, and I don’t think I’ve stopped getting better yet,” she said. “I think that there’s always a little further that I can go and I think that if I leave before that happens, I will always regret that. I also happen to love my team. I’ve been totally happy and lucky to be on, in my opinion, the most cohesive team in the league. Even when the chips were down, we never got depressed about it. We lost two major skaters one year, and last year was pretty much a rebuilding year [with an 0-4 record], but we never really lost our resilience, energy and good humor. It’s a blast being on Queens, and it always has been.”

Now the team is one win away from a fourth championship in six years, and though the prospect of facing an intimidating Gridlock squad might be daunting to some, it’s old hat to number 32.

“This is the weirdest statistic, but because of my injuries, I have played the Bronx twice as much as I’ve played the other teams,” she said before their August 7th meeting, won by Queens 128-92. “So I have knowledge about that team more than I do of the other teams. Personally, I feel like playing the Bronx is like coming home again.”

Greta (#32) clears a hole for her jammer, Puss n' Glutes, earlier this season against Brooklyn.  Photo: Brendan McMullen

Above: Greta (#32) clears a hole for her jammer, Puss n' Glutes, earlier this season against Brooklyn.
Photo: Brendan McMullen

And when it’s all over, the championship will rest in the hands of one of the only two teams to earn a GGRD title, making this meeting of Gotham standouts even more compelling.

“There’s probably a more distinct rivalry between Queens and Bronx because we’ve matched up against them so many times,” said Turbo. “We’re the only two teams that have won championships, and each of us has one of the nation’s strongest jammers, and each of them [Bonnie Thunders and Suzy Hotrod] couldn’t be more different in their styles. I definitely respect the Gridlock a lot because they have honed a style of play that is very distinctly their own.”

That’s a feat in itself, considering the nature of this ever-evolving sport. Turbo has had a trackside seat as modern derby has grown, and the changes may have been overwhelming at times as the sport unifies the rules being used in leagues and countries around the world.

“We’ve had major rule changes happen over the years, and things that are so extreme that a fan watching from the first season to now might be slightly confused,” she said. “As a sport evolves, what also evolves is the ability to find ways to strategize so that you can exploit the rule set to your advantage. And every sport goes through this."

"To put it in perspective, basketball rules were so different over the years. They did things like (implement) the shot clock specifically to speed up the pace of the game. Then they kept on widening and narrowing things because people kept getting taller. They had to evolve the sport, or it was going to end up being dull.  And every sport’s going to go through this sort of thing, especially a sport where speed is paramount. Every year, we have to re-learn the game in some way, and every year a strategy changes in some way, or we find out that you can’t do this anymore so you have to change your entire way of skating with a particular maneuver. It can get to the point where it gets confusing and a little bit frustrating, but if you put it in perspective and say ‘well, basketball’s rules were changing and they didn’t quite become the basketball rules we know now for 60 years.’ We’ve got a long way to go. But it’s way more of a sport now than a game, and I have no problem with it as it evolves.”

And as it does, expect Greta Turbo to be a part of it. But that’s not her concern right now. That focus is strictly on this Saturday’s bout against the Gridlock and a GGRD championship.

Greta lays a hit on Brooklyn jammer Hard Anya earlier this season.  Photo: Brendan McMullen

Above: Greta lays a hit on Brooklyn jammer Hard Anya earlier this season.  Photo: Brendan McMullen

“There’s definitely a feeling of upward momentum,” she said of her squad. “I feel that the team that we have right now is the strongest team from A to Z. We might not have the same level of jamming power that it looks like we had in our championship seasons [2005, 2006, and 2008], but I think that this team is the strongest team as a whole that we’ve ever had. We’re playing together better than we’ve ever played. It’s a motley crew, but everybody comes together, and it’s like the ultimate synergy. It’s like watching a 15 piece band and everybody’s playing their part and it’s all working out.”

Greta and the Persuader, prepared for battle on the track.  Photo: Chris Chin

Above: Greta and The Persuader, prepared for battle on the track.  Photo: Chris Chin