July Featured Skater: Barbara Bushwhacker

Cat-snuggler, day-hiker, 10-year derby vet, Allstars’ Captain, and now league President, Barbara Bushwhacker is like the Horse...err…Unicorn of a Different Color. As an original member of the Hard Knox Roller Girls, she has watched the league grow and evolve into what it is today. In Brooke’s interview last month, she chose Bush as July’s Featured Skater because she said: 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. So to appease Brooke’s request, I’ve repeated some of the same questions I asked her back in June to get Bush’s viewpoints now. Let’s see if Bush’s opinion on things is different or stays the same.

Like Brooke, you’ve also been around since the inception of Hard Knox. What made you decide to join? Did you already know how to roller-skate? How did you come up with your derby name and number?

Roller Derby started up in Knoxville just when I needed it.  I was a year and a half out of college and looking for a community I no longer had.  A friend sent me a message on MySpace about an interest meeting for the Hard Knox Roller Girls. I knew this was something I had to be a part of.  I grew up skating but was never very good.  I even had my 13th birthday party at a skating rink.  I couldn't make it to the first meeting but I went to the first practice.  I felt so out of my element.  I thought everyone already knew each other and I was the new kid.   I didn't really talk to anyone and no one really talked to me.  I think we were all socially awkward.  As I was leaving, a skater was walking to her car and struck up a conversation with me about roller derby and Hard Knox.  Had it not been for her, I may not have gone back.  Turned out only a couple of people knew each other and we were all the new kids.  That skater was Brooke and I thank her frequently for talking to me on that day.  Roller derby is what I was born to do.  It's been a huge part of my life for 10 years. 

Oh the name selection process!  I originally chose a different name but it was taken by a skater on a different league in a different state.  In the early days there was a database of names that had been claimed.  If the name you wanted was on there, you had to try again.  So I went back to the drawingboard and thought of all kinds of witty or funny names.  I knew I wanted a name with multiple meanings.  After much deliberation I settled on Barbara Bushwhacker.  It's a play on Barbara Bush, an homage my favorite childhood wrestlers, the Bushwhackers, and Bushwhacking is also a form of guerilla warfare involving ambushes done with the intention of wearing down the enemy to the point of collapse through continuous loss of personnel and materials.  Brutal!  And my number was easy.  27 is my lucky number. 

What are some of the various roles you’ve held within the league over these last 10 years? Which of these was your favorite position, and why? Which was the most challenging, and why?

I have been Head of Training, Lolitas Locas Captain, Assistant Coach, Head Coach, All-stars Captain, Skating Coach and now President.  I try to run away from responsibility but it keeps finding me. 

My favorite role has been Head Coach.  When I found myself unable skate due to back injury in 2012, I wanted to be involved and contribute as much as possible to this wonderful league I love.  When there was a vacancy in the Coach's seat, I went for it.  I was Assistant Coach under Matta tat tat for a year and a half.  We eventually switched roles for the last half of 2013 and I tried my hand at Head Coach.  It has been the most rewarding role to date.  I got to apply my years of knowledge and experience as a skater and my education in Psychology with my passion for the sport of roller derby.  It was, mostly, a great experience.  I loved it so much, I coached 2 more years after returning to skating. 

President has been the most challenging.  Hard Knox is both a non-profit organization and a business.  I had no experience running either of those.  It seems like everyday there are new lessons to learn and issues to sort out.  I feel like I'm in charge of everything and nothing at the same time.  There's a lot of pressure to make sure everything goes smoothly but also freedom to try new things or accomplish things I've always wanted for our league. It is very cool to see the inner workings of an organization like Hard Knox. 

Our 2016 home season is officially underway in our new venue at The Cooper Athletic Center on the Maryville College campus in Maryville, TN. Many fans are wondering…why the move to Maryville College? And for those fans that have never seen or heard of it, what the heck is “sport court” anyway? 

The move to Maryville College was an attempt at establishing new relationships in our community, reaching new fans, providing a better fan experience and becoming more self sufficient as a league. The Coliseum is a wonderful venue but it felt like our crowd was sparsely scattered in the stands. Also, the future of the Coliseum is uncertain, as the building structure is being assessed by the city.  Our goal for this season was to find a venue that fits our crowd size better and gives us an option in case the Coliseum is no longer available.  By moving our bouting location to Maryville, we thought we might pick up some new fans and sponsors.  The fans are closer to the action at Maryville College as well. And it is opening up more advertising options for Hard Knox.

Sport court is a polypropylene court that is portable and quite durable. We couldn't play at Maryville College without it because no one wants to ruin their awesome gym floor.  It allows us to always have something to skate on.  With the sport court comes a lot of work and we are always looking for volunteers to help with the floor and various other tasks.  So if any of you out there are interested in volunteering, let us know.

As mentioned in Brooke’s interview last month, this is the 10th anniversary of the Hard Knox Roller Girls. Since you have also been around the entire time, can you tell us how you’ve seen the sport of roller derby change over the last 10 years?

EVERYTHING has changed over the years.  The biggest change I have seen is how the sport is played.  In the beginning it was all about skating fast and hitting hard.  We still love those aspects of derby, but the strategy has become much more complex.  There are more plays and many different defenses and offenses used today than there were 10 years ago. This is a blessing and a curse.  The sport is evolving almost at a rate to where some of the fans are having a hard time keeping up with the game play.  Another big change is the athleticism.  In the beginning it was more about clever names and cute boutfits.  Now it's all about skills, endurance and strategy.

How does Hard Knox plan to celebrate their 10th anniversary?

We are organizing something big this year!  July 30th we are having a carnival to celebrate Hard Knox's 10th year.  We are going to have live music, vendors, food, games, performers and activities.  Some of our vendors will be selling spray paint art, metal and leather jewelry, hula hoops, chain mail and handcrafted preserves.  There will be tarot card readings and palm readings. You may see a juggling unicyclist or a fire spinner.  We'll have doggie kissing booths and face painting.  The daytime will be family friendly and at night we are turning it to a more mature level and ending with a burlesque show.  Stay tuned to our website and Facebook page for more details as we get closer to the date.  Welcome to double digits Hard Knox!

If you could quit your day job and run away with the circus, what type of performer would you like to be? Do you already possess any unusual talents that no one knows about? 

I would probably do something with the animals, like lion tamer or elephant rider.  I also think trapeze would be really fun! I can juggle a little bit and I can also wiggle my ears.  Does that count?

I heard from a little birdie that Hard Knox recently started their very own junior derby team. Care to elaborate on the details?

Our Junior Derby team, Hard Knox Hooligans, is still in the start-up phase.  It is a co-ed team for kids ages 7-17.  We practice Thursday evenings and some Saturday mornings.  There are 3 sessions per year, with our next one running from August through October.  Stay tuned for the details of our next Hooligans recruitment on July 23rd.  For more info you can email: Information@HardKnoxRollerGirls.com

Tell us an adorable story about one of your kitty cats.

Mario was found in a hotel dumpster in Chattanooga and brought to us by Drop Dead...Gorgeous, former HKRG. He was a tiny little kitten, only 4 weeks old.  One of his first nights with us, we put him on the bed to sleep near us. I woke up in a near panic because I couldn't find him anywhere and I was sure my husband, Throb Zombie, or I had squished him.  Nope, he was just cuddled up sleeping away in Throb's underwear.  So the first time we left Mario at home, we were going to practice, we swaddled him in a pair of underwear and put him in a box.  When we came home, he was exactly where we left him.  The boy loves his furdaddy's underwear.

What does being a roller girl mean to you?

It means being part of something greater than myself.  Belonging to an exceptional family that has spread worldwide. Knowing that anywhere I travel, I already have friends. It means putting in effort to make something successful because I care about it.  Wanting to be the best Bushwhacker for my team. It means finding my alter ego and being aggressive. Taking on roles I'm not enthused about because my team needs me. Finding a place I truly feel like I am meant to be. Feeling rewarded for our effort when we look around and know we helped build this world of roller derby. It means taking pride in making it work when it doesn’t always seem like it's going to. 

Do you and your zebra hubby, Throb Zombie, ever get into super technical, geeky and lengthy debates over the WFTDA rule set?

Um, yes. When we watch bout video together, we will often debate referee calls and skater legality.  It's really nice to have ref insight.  We sometimes discuss how certain rules should be changed and how referees interpret rules. And sometimes it starts arguments when we disagree on how a penalty is called or not called.

Photo credit: Jason R. Scott 

Photo credit: Jason R. Scott 

Do you have any plans of joining Team Zebra yourself when you decide to finally retire from the battlefield?

I can't imagine that happening.  I plan to play until my body falls apart.  At that point, I see myself coaching.  I really love figuring out strategies, planning drills and building progressive practices.  Reffing is quite hard and refs get little respect and appreciation.  Also, if I coach, I can yell at refs and that's more fun than being yelled at.  I feel I have more to offer as a coach than as a ref.  If I can't play or coach, I might consider reffing. 

Looking back through all the years, what is your most memorable roller derby experience?

Competing in Regionals in 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  It was a huge accomplishment for our team to get there.  We worked hard that season.  It was also the first time many of us had seen high level game play in person. With teams like Texas Rollergirls and Tampa Roller Derby competing, we were completely out of our element.  At times, we weren't even sure we were playing the same sport as the other teams.  We learned a lot about roller derby that weekend.  We went into the tournament in 9th place and beat Memphis Roller Derby, our long time rivals and friends, to remain in 9th place.  We were also pleasantly surprised at how receptive the people of Lincoln were to our sport. There were tournament banners lining the streets of downtown.  Everywhere we went, locals asked what team we played on and were genuinely interested in our stories.  It was an overall incredible experience for our team.

How have you kept your passion for derby alive after all these years?

I just love it and feel like it's what I'm supposed to be doing.  I can't imagine life without it and I believe in the future of my league and the sport.  If I start losing my passion, I remember my ultimate goal, to help pave the way for people to get paid to play roller derby again.  If I could make this my full time job, I absolutely would.

You do a lot of hiking. Would you mind sharing with us your favorite trail, or is it a super secret chill spot?

My favorite trail is Rainbow Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains.  It's just challenging enough at 2.7 miles up a mountain.  The trail is beautiful and follows a stream for a good portion.  The trees provide an excellent shade canopy and there are a couple of waterfalls on the trail, which is one of my favorite trail features.  We also have a secret chill spot on the same trail.  There is a cool rock you can climb on top of and hang out.  It has a pretty sweet view, especially in the fall. You can hear people on the trail below but are not visible to them.  It requires a bit of scrambling to get to the top, but the view is absolutely worth it.

Who would you like to see as next month’s featured skater, and why?

I would love to hear from CarcinoJen, one of the newest additions to Hard Knox and a skater with an abundance of talent.  I want to know what it's like to come from other leagues to Hard Knox and also how she's such a beast at the skate park.

Photo credit: John M. Blood 

Photo credit: John M. Blood 

Thanks for sharing with us, Bushy. Great article! Until next time…

~Space Riot