Many of you know her as Brooke Sloan; some of you remember her as Sushi Roll. Whichever name you know her by, she’s been around since the beginning of Hard Knox. In what ways has she seen the sport of roller derby evolve over the last decade? How has she kept her love for derby alive after all these years? Where does she look to for inspiration out on the track? Read on to learn more about June’s featured skater, Brooke Sloan.
You’ve been around derby since the inception of Hard Knox. How did you get the idea to play roller derby back when it was such a new, foreign concept to the general public? How did you hear about roller derby in the first place?
At the time, I was in my mid 20's, and I was really missing the athleticism and sense of being apart of a team, which my school years provided me. I had joined UT’s recreational rugby team, but it was not a sport that I had a lot of heart for. Then this show, Roller Girls, came on A&E, and it featured a grass roots banked track team. It was everything I was looking for: an athletic group of women that were able to work and be adults but find friendship in a sport. Unfortunately, the show did not make it to the 2nd season, but the ideas that spun from it led to a huge boost for the sport. You can easily look at how many leagues that are having their 10-year anniversary this year. Three of them are in Tennessee alone, and it was in part, thanks to the exposure from that show.
What made you decide derby was for you?
It brought together everything I needed: being an athlete, being on a team, and having a social group. At least those were the things that I was aware of right off the bat, but it really was so much more. We basically formed an organization from scratch and in that processes we learned how to organize large groups of people, grass roots marketing, collaborating with other businesses and organizations, and volunteering time to help other good causes.
I think the biggest things I have learned are about women and myself: how to not take things too personally, how to understand that there is a huge difference between "I think" and "I feel," and learning the differences between the two. Also, really understanding the meaning of the phrase, “labor of love.” And, understanding the balancing act it was going to take to be a happy, healthy, adult while creating a happy, healthy home and lifestyle.
We’re about to kick off our 2016 home season at Maryville College. Can you tell us the significance of this season? Would you mind elaborating on HKRG’s move from the Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Coliseum to Maryville College, touch on the awesomeness of having our very own sport court, and shed some light on what all it took to make this transition possible?
Oh goodness! This was a hard decision. We loved the Coliseum, but after taking a long hard look at the business end of roller derby, we had to make some decisions. We love our crowd and its solid, consistent numbers over the years. We saw some spikes in it right around the time the movie Whip It came out, but we never quite grew into the type of crowd that could support a venue as big as the Coliseum. The Cooper Athletic Center at Maryville College is the perfect size for us. It’s big enough to allow for growth but not so huge that there will be a lot of empty seats. It really will be the perfect size for us. We did have to purchase a special floor to protect their gym floor, which is really the first giant purchase the league has ever made, but this floor will give us a lot of options for future venues, such as playing in parking lots, other gymnasiums, banquette halls, etc.
This is the 10th anniversary of the Hard Knox Roller Girls. Since you have been around pretty much the entire time, can you tell us how you’ve seen the sport of roller derby change over the last 10 years?
Well one can definitely see in the process of it that this sport is made for women, by women. What other sport allows you to be on offense and defense at the same time?! The rules keep evolving and men have been added into the mix. Every single loophole that someone could find in the rules has been closed. It has also evolved a little away from its original roots. The two-whistle-starts of earlier years was a banked track rule to allow the jammer to pick up speed before hitting the pack. On a banked track you have to constantly be moving otherwise you would slide down the bank. Obviously, that is not the case with flat track roller derby, and girls were finding ways to abuse the two-whistle rule by slowly crossing the pivot line or starting on a knee to create a no-pack scenario. The one-whistle-starts really create a new dynamic. Not only that, but the sport has developed in such away that in the first decade or so, it was the jammers that ruled the track. Now, even though the jammers still get the cheers, the blockers rule the track. Defense has really evolved into this impressive show of athleticism and strategy.
You started out with a derby name, but now you skate under your legal name. Can you tell us a little about what your derby name meant to you, and why you decided to drop it a couple of seasons ago?
I actually did not care for my derby name. I picked it, but it never felt right on me. So when I actually started doing well in roller derby and people would comment on how well I did and say my derby name, Sushi Roll, it made me feel like this other girl was getting credit for skills I was achieving. So I dropped it, and now I get credit for the cool stuff I do.
Because you and Val Killmore shared the same derby number, she wants to know the significance of the number 2 to you.
The number 2 is for my husband and me. We have vowed to conquer the world together, and as long as we have each other, we can do anything. I have had to learn the hard way that family and friends come and go, but you have the power to create your own circle, your own family, and your own support system. From the moment I met him, I knew that together we were going to do awesome things, and we have. Through thick and thin, we are the best of friends.
You took a year off from derby a couple of seasons ago to get your business up and running. Can you tell us a little bit about what kind of business you have? And how is it that you’re able to balance owning and operating a business with the huge time commitment that derby also demands of you?
Technically I don't really like calling myself a business owner. I think it’s more that I just own my job. I do mobile dog grooming, and I love it. Balance is very important to me. You have to learn how to balance family, work, and play. Derby is very demanding, but you have to know when to say “no” to things. You do what you can do and make changes where you can. For instance, you might make a time commitment to derby for a whole month at a time knowing that the next month will be more dedicated to family. Having a vision and a plan for both the long game and the short really helps.
You’re a super busy chick! If you ever actually have any free time, what do you enjoy doing with it? Do you have any fun summer vacation plans coming up?
Traveling with my husband! We love New Orleans, and we plan to go back in the fall. As for summer plans, we will be going to the Outer Banks for my sister’s wedding in July causing me to miss a game, but I love her and support her, so I am going.
Who is your favorite “top team” in roller derby? Who is your favorite skater? And do you look to these folks for inspiration out on the track, or do you look elsewhere for the latest developments, tips, and tricks surfacing in the world of roller derby today?
I admire Rose City, Gotham, Denver, and Victoria—all for different reasons. I don't really have a favorite skater.
I get ideas and info from YouTube and Facebook. I follow several people that I have either met or admire, or someone that just likes to share. Then, I try to share the knowledge I find with others. My Facebook is littered with videos and roller derby shares. I know that I bore my friends to death with the crap I post about roller derby, but I don't care. Some channels I follow are: Atom Skates, Blaze Streaming, Sarah Hipel, Saursage Roll, Scott Whitkop, Skate House of Derby, and Urrkin Derby.
I follow a lot of people on Facebook, too. If you meet someone that seems active in the derby community, 9 times out of 10, their Facebook has a ton of info. So don't be afraid to befriend people so that good derby info will pop up in your feed, instead of farting cat videos.
Tell us about any personal goals that you are working towards achieving this season.
I’m really more focused on having the move from the Coliseum to Maryville College go smoothly. Also, I would really love for us to do better on the business end this season.
What is the biggest obstacle that you’ve overcome in your roller derby career?
Learning to have better relationships with women, and I am still learning. Women are so complicated, and they really think about things backwards and forwards, and what was the meaning behind that, and why would she say something like that... The way we speak can be easily misinterpreted, especially if you have dyslexia. Sometimes things can come out a little wrong and be misinterpreted into something rude.
Of all the road trips, of all the home bouts, of all the intraleague bouts, scrimmages, pick up games, and all things derby…what is your most memorable roller derby experience, and why?
When it was all said and done…our first game at the Smoky Mountain Skate Center in Maryville. I looked around, had a moment of gratitude for letting it take off, and I’ll never forget that moment. I was so relieved and happy. We have done a lot of amazing things since then, but everything has a beginning, and a lot of things have to come into alignment before things can happen, and derby fell together like magic.
How have you kept your passion for derby alive after all these years?
Balance! Take time off when you need to, and come back to it when it calls.
Do you ever see yourself retiring from roller derby? If and when you do, would you have any plans of coaching to continue sharing all that derby knowledge you possess?
Yes, eventually. I think derby will always be apart of my life, and I definitely see a break in the future, but I hope to always be involved in some form or fashion.
Who would you like to see as next month’s featured skater, and why?
In the spirit of our ten years of derby, I would love to read Barbara Bushwhacker’s answers to some of these questions. I am sure she could elaborate more on some of these thoughts.
Well, there you have it folks, a decade of derby from Brooke Sloan's perspective. Thanks, Brooke, for sticking with me through this lengthy interview. Great insight!
Until next month,