July Featured Skater: AnnihilApe

If you caught our season opener back on June 3rd, then you noticed a fresh new face out on the track with the Brawlers. We've grown our league considerably this season, and we're super stoked to have so many new skate sisters. One in particular brings an inspiring energy with her. According to DDG, this skater has tenacity, eagerness, and an insatiable thirst for roller derby. Who is it, you wonder? Her name is AnnihilApe and she's ready to skate! 

DDG chose AnnihilApe as Hard Knox's featured skater this month because she admired her contagious love for the sport. We couldn't agree more; AnnihilApe is in love with derby and we're in love with her ambitious nature. Where did she learn how to skate? What goals does she have for herself this season? What advice does she have to share with fellow newbies? Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more. Introducing July's featured skater...AnnihilApe! 

You’re another new face to the league this season. Are you a transfer skater or a fresh meat graduate of the School of Hard Knox?

I'm technically a transfer skater. I'm originally from Knoxville, but I began my roller derby journey in Kalkaska, MI with the Small Town Outlaws. I got to see them play last July and it sparked my interest once again. I used to watch HKRG back in the day when Bush had only been playing for a couple of years.

Did you already know how to roller-skate when you started playing derby?

Yes, I had been skating off and on (mostly in my kitchen) since August of last year. Before then I hadn't been on quads since I was 14. I could barely stand up back then. I met up with one of the Outlaws, Lil bit-o-fury, and she showed me some basics that I continued to work on until I joined their "Learn to Skate" clinic in January of this year.

Photo by: Keith Rideout

Photo by: Keith Rideout

You seem pretty athletic. Do you come from a background in sports?

Umm...No not at all. Actually, for most of my childhood, I was overweight. I was in baton twirling in elementary school though! I didn't start to do anything remotely athletic until I was about 13. My aunt and I decided to take a hike up to Mount Le Conte like our great Aunt Gracie had done years ago. There's a picture of her up at the lodge. In preparation for the hike, I walked laps around my parents property (read: hills upon hills) every day after school. Nowadays, I really enjoy working out, and I want to be totally ripped one day. I love roller derby and how it gives me that push inside to be a better athlete. I may even, dare I say it, like to run now!

How old were you when you learned how to swim? Were you one of those kids who could do back flips and weren’t scared of the high dive?

I don't remember how old I was when I learned how to swim. I'm sure I was really young. There were several years when I only wore bathing suits, and I got one every year on my birthday. I wasn't one of those kids who was fearless when it came to heights, but I did jump off a bridge once. I lost a pair of glasses that way.

What was growing up like in your household? Tell us a funny story you remember from your childhood.

I grew up as an only child. As far as I know, it was pretty average. When I was sixteen, I bought a 1986 Chevy Celebrity. That thing was a tank. One of its many flaws was that it needed to be warmed up for a while or else it would die. Well, one day I was taking my friends somewhere, and it died as we were going down the hill/road from my parents house. The brakes weren't working right so naturally, I attempted to bail. They wouldn't let me forget that for the longest time.

If you won the lottery, what would you do with all the money?

I would save a lot of it, but first I would buy some land. Then I would build my family a tiny house to live in. I would also love to travel. I don't like staying in one place for too long. The road trip itch gets me every six months or so.

You recently played in your first bout with Hard Knox. Tell us all about it. How did your day go leading up to the bout? Were you nervous? What did it feel like the 1st time you stepped foot on the track in front of an audience? Was adrenaline surging through your veins like a lightening storm, or were you cool as a cucumber with your mental focus and clarity? Were you intimidated by the other team at all, or did you even think about them?

June 3rd was my first bout ever! Ahhh! I'm still super happy I got to play. Well, the day started off with me trying to get ready for the bout. I immediately made a breakfast of fried eggs, tomato, avocado, and cream cheese on toast. Then I got showered and put on my jersey. Actually, the jersey was Killer Queen's, but I made an AnnihilApe patch to put on the back.  After I was ready, I packed some food and said, 'see ya soon!' to my son and the rest of my family. I tried to leave but was blocked in by my cousin who was still asleep! I was going to meet up with CarcinoJen to carpool to the Convention Center. I was mildly stressed at that point. Finally, I got on my way and to Jen's house. Once I met up with her, I mentally reset. It was bout day after all! Woo hoo! That's how my day went leading up to the bout. I was more excited than nervous! I had been practicing against our All Stars for about a month at that point. I was confident that I was going to get out there and kick some derby butt and have fun.

The first time I rolled onto the track in front of everyone felt invigorating. All of those people were there to watch us. Once we started to play, I didn't think about anything other than the game. I was definitely living for the moment. Nothing else mattered anymore. I was in the zone. I was only slightly intimidated by the other team because seven of their A-team skaters were playing against us Brawlers. Luckily, I got to NSO during the first bout so I got to see how they played. Man, I did look at them. At one point, I was the brace and the other team's jammer was making me laugh before the start. Next time I'm not looking at anyone's faces.

Photo by: David Triple D Lockett

Photo by: David Triple D Lockett

If you could take one thing from that bout and say it was a learning lesson for you, what would it be?

Don't be afraid to go all out during the first half of the bout! Before that day, I had only ever scrimmaged against my own teammates. I had to get more aggressive throughout the game. Sometimes taking a penalty is totally worth it. I may have gotten a "direction of play" penalty, but the opposing team's jammer also got a penalty. Yay, power jams! Another learning lesson is don't go into the box too hot. That'll get you in trouble.

Being a new skater is fun and intimidating and exciting and exhausting and thrilling and frustrating and emotional and so rewarding all at once. It’s easy to get really wrapped up in the wonderful world of derby when you’re a newbie. It’s also really easy to get down on yourself when you find yourself struggling with a new skill or strategy. What advice can you give to other newbies to help keep them motivated and to keep their spirits high during the frustrating times?

Don't give up! If you don't pick up on a new skill or strategy right away, it's not a big deal. Every time you practice you will get better at it. It may not be noticeable right off, but keep it up. You can do it! Don't be hard on yourself. Sometimes sucking at something is the first step at getting better at it.

Do you see yourself as more of a jammer or a blocker?

I see myself as more of a jammer type, but I also really, really love to play offense as a blocker! With jamming, it takes a lot of mental strength, as well as a lot of endurance. I love being able to see the holes and sneak around unsuspecting blockers.

On the blocker side of things, I enjoy slowing down the opposing jammer and creating holes for my jammer. Helping out my teammates is the best feeling!

What goals do you have for yourself this season?

I want to be a better jammer. I need to figure out what works best for me. Not every jammer has the same playing style. Recently, I've shown some improvements that gave me more confidence in my jamming abilities. Other goals I have are to build up my endurance and to hit harder.

Tell us the story behind your derby name.

My name is April Duke, and my nickname is Apey. I had been trying to come up with the perfect derby name for a few months before I moved down here, but none of them was the right one. I love puns and my friends know that. They were trying to come up with a good name for me, and one day and I get a text from Bush, "AnnihilApe, Annihil Ape?" I instantly loved it! I already go by Ape for the most part, plus my husband and Mom loved it too. It sounds pretty hard too so that's a bonus!

Photo by: Kisha Durst

Photo by: Kisha Durst

It’s been a pretty hot summer so far. What are some fun ways you like to stay cool in this muggy, East Tennessee heat?

I like to eat a lot of ice cream and other frozen treats to stay cool on the inside. I also don't like to wear real pants outside of going to work. Can I just live in workout clothes?

What is your favorite food?

I love all the food!

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

I would like to see Unsweet T as next month's featured skater. She's totally sweet! Every time she hits me she asks if I'm okay. Plus, she's 50 and a total badass!

Right on, Apey. Thanks for all the great little stories. We're glad to have you skating with us!

Until next month~

Space Riot