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Friday, November 26, 2010

Diehard Derby Dudes: T-Rex & Ansel Adamsmasher

This is Weston and his Dad Eric. Aren’t they cute?

They’re hardcore derby fans. Eric was introduced to Roller Derby in 2004. (Well actually, he was first introduced to the sport in the 70’s, but re-found it like the rest of us in it’s second coming).  He really is a committed fan. I say this because he didn’t know a skater or go to a local game; he read an article about a league far, far away- and was so moved by their story that he contacted them. Eric lives in New Mexico, and found out about the renowned Rat City Roller Girls of Seattle, Washington, and inspired by their non-profit, for women by women, grassroots start-up style, wrote them and purchased a t-shirt to support their efforts. I have to say, not too many modern day derby fans become involved in the sport in this way, where they just find out about it going on in a completely different state and then start actively pursuing it. Most fans have some derby right there, in their local community, to get them involved. Or they know someone. Eric really just found out about it. Not that we should be surprised, what with roller derby being the fastest growing women’s sport in the nation, combined with the sheer awesomeness of the Rat City Roller Girls. Nonetheless, Eric discovered Rat City in their first season, before their claim to fame via Starbucks lawsuit and their own documentary movie Blood on the Flat Track, so it’s necessary to give credit where credit is due.

Weston sportin’ an SVRG shirt and showing
off his skate case’s many derby stickers

I guess it is not that out of the ordinary for Eric though, who grew up with lots of pen pals and collected autographs, (he has over 800!). Remember when that was a thing? When I was a kid my friends and I wrote fan letters to the New Kids on the Block and JTT, (if you don’t get the reference, that’s better for me). I remember in second grade my whole class wrote letters to different players on the Giants and it was so exciting when someone in our class got a response.  Do kids still do this?
Weston does. Eric’s son Weston became interested in Roller Derby too about a year and a half ago, and the two of them decided together to contact all the WFTDA leagues in the nation. So far they’ve heard from over 80 and counting. I think it’s neat that Eric is passing this tradition down to Weston, and that they do it together, as a father/son activity. I just think it is totally far out though that I am now comparing me contacting the Giants baseball team when I was a kid to Weston contacting Roller Derby teams now.

What I love about these two and what they do, is they represent a whole new budding generation of kids who will one day be able to say they grew up watching roller derby with their family. You see, as a skater in the present day resurgence, (and being born mid-80’s) the concept of sitting around the tube on Saturday nights with your family to watch a roller derby game is completely foreign to me. The roller derby I know is underground and rough around the edges, with no professional theatrics or entertainment staff. It’s certainly not televised. So the idea of roller derby as a piece of Americana, with families huddled around a television cheering on Joanie Weston or Charlie O’Connell- is so intriguing to me, such a mystery- it’s almost as if it never happened. I often run into older folk who upon discovering I play roller derby say in surprise, “Really? Did you know I used to watch roller derby, back in the day? Every Saturday night was roller derby night in my house”. It’s weird to think about, and well- humbling. I know the history of roller derby. I know there was a before. It’s just when you study roller derby’s history you study the skating and the skaters and the evolution of the sport. You don’t read anything about the fans who spent every Saturday watching with their family. I like running into those people.  Now, it’s starting all over again.

Weston’s sign for Pia Mess

Weston (or “T-Rex”, #75 scoops) just got his first pair of real quad skates for his sixth birthday, (along with some cones and a referee whistle). When asked if he had any plans for derby in the future he said he wouldn’t mind being a ref because he “liked to blow the whistle.” While Weston’s skating career is still undecided, Eric is pretty satisfied supporting the newest incarnation of Roller Derby from a sturdy pair of shoes. Though he does enjoy skating recreationally with Weston, he has no interest in skating the derby. He’d rather try his hand at announcing, or perhaps coaching. (Is junior derby for boys a thing yet? Hey Eric, you could coach it!) 

Father Son Derby Duo!
I was surprised to find out that Weston has actually never been to a live roller derby game. As Eric explained, “he really has only seen about 20 minutes of roller derby in his life, online on DNN.com.  He got to watch Pia and SVRG (his favorite skater and team) skate.”  It was Pia Mess by the way, who alerted me to Eric and Weston, after shooting me an e-mail insisting that if I didn’t have anything to blog about, these two derby dudes should get a feature. It is only natural that Pia Mess is one of their favorite derby stars. She not only kicks major butt on the track, she’s incredibly sweet and approachable, and helped the two out by posting a plea for stickers on the rollergirl yahoo groups page for them. And how could she resist helping these two guys out?

Since he has started, T-Rex has heard back from over 80 WFTDA leagues- and they’re not just sending him stickers for his skate case, (which was the request). He’s getting personal letters, signed pictures, pins, pens, magnets and even shirts. He’s received 7 shirts so far. Check out this one SVRG sent him with his derby name and number on it!

“He loves to wear it when we go roller skating” -Dad

Pia Mess and SVRG aren’t the only ones who give these guys preferential treatment. After sending Eric and Weston matching t-shirts, Weston decided to send the Oly Rollers a picture depicting them beating Texas for the National Championship in 2009 as a thank you.

They were so thrilled by Weston’s artwork that they had shirts printed for the entire league, (including a pair for Eric and Weston -that's the shirts they are wearing in the picture at the top). Eric goes on, “They wore them during their warm up at Western Regionals this year and also wore them in the team picture that appeared in the program for Championships.  It was a very proud moment for both of us.” I’ll bet! Are you kidding me? I would have loved to have MY artwork scooting around the rink at Championships! What a lucky kid!

Here’s the artwork up close!

Also, check out this one he did 
for Pia Mess’s birthday. (Age 4)

That’s her in the blue about to break through the pack and score!

Like I said, there is a whole generation gap of kids who missed out getting to grew up with derby and watch it with their families, (mine) and now I’m intrigued to see kids like Weston who well, basically, have what I couldn’t: roller derby through a child’s eyes. I don’t know why I was so in awe when I saw his pictures… I guess the fact that he drew the oval of the track and the skaters going around it was so telling to me. –Such a clear glimpse into how he already saw the sport. I guess I would have figured that what would have stood out would have been simpler things, that he would just draw a roller girl, or a skate or something. But he drew the track, the whole thing, and lots of girls on it. His concept of it as a sport is already so much greater than I could have imagined. You always think you’re going to be intuitive and give kids credit for how smart they are, because you think you remember what being a kid was like, -but you really need a kid to remind you. The pictures made me think about his level of comprehension and what he takes away from the game, even at his young age. Maybe that’s why the Oly Rollers thought his picture was so neat too. No doubt he probably gets such a high response rate because he’s a child, but is that so wrong? It is fascinating, at least to people like me who couldn’t have it, to see a child enamored with roller derby, and I just want to nurture and foster that interest. I wish I had some merch to send him

In addition to roller derby and drawing, Weston loves reading and math, and is interested in aliens, space and dinosaurs. (Who isn’t?!) He is also a talented violin player, loves to learn and perform magic tricks and help dad cook.

As for Dad Eric, he goes by Ansel Adamsmasher #f/64. In addition to supporting derby to the max, he also likes photography and music. Despite the fact that Eric has been involved in photography as his professional career for more than twenty years, (first a commercial photographer and now a photography dealer) when asked what he spends his free time doing he said, “I enjoy photography, but I LOVE music.  I have almost 10,000 songs on my I-Pod and have music playing all the time. I am convinced that if I couldn’t listen to music every day I would shrivel up and die.” Well I know how that feels, except about skating. Now skating to music? Pure heaven. Eric owns a fine art dealership called Soulcatcher Studio in Santa Fe, which emphasizes landscape and social documentary artworks and represents about two dozen photographers.  Check out his studio here: www.soulcatcherstudio.com.

After reading all of Eric’s answers and discovering just how much roller derby is a part of his and his son’s life, I have to admit I felt a little guilty for the way I phrased one of my interview questions to him. I had asked, “Are you a skater/ref, or just a fan?” I hadn’t meant to discredit the value of fans, I just meant to ask about his knowledge of the sport, was he a fan rather than someone with the experience and know-how of a skater? But I was undervaluing the fans. After all, I am never one to push anyone into roller derby, (because after all, I want skaters, not posers). So if someone I pitch a recruitment spiel to politely declines, I bounce back and say enthusiastically, “That’s cool, we need ticket paying fans too!” But my thinking stopped at that. It is now clear that the fans are just as much a part of roller derby as the players. It almost makes me want to write an account of modern day fans of the sport, seeing as how it has come to my attention there doesn’t seem to be one for me to read of the past. As this present resurgence of roller derby doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, neither does it’s counter culture cult like following. Eric and Weston certainly don’t plan on quitting their preoccupation with the sport any time soon.

Eric sitting front row at WFTDA Championships

“I will always be a big fan, supporter and advocate for women’s roller derby. I plan to go to Championships every year if I can” Eric says. In my opinion, that’s a tall order for someone who has no real ties to the sport himself. Heck, I’ve been playing the sport since 2005 and I’ve never even been to a WFTDA Regionals competition as a fan. He already has met and seen skate more of my personal derby heroes than I can probably count. When asked if there was anyone in the derby world that he would still like to meet he recounted his trips to WFTDA Western Regionals in Sacramento and Championships in Chicago this past year. “I got to see and meet a lot of my favorite skaters in person for the first time. Got to see Primp Daddy’s (RCRG) record-breaking 39 point jam. Got to see Suzy Hotrod’s last bout as a Gotham Girl. Got to see Bonnie Thunders score 108 points in a single bout. Got to cheer all my favorite teams on from the front row at Championships. Was sad to see Oly lose to Rocky Mountain by one point, but it was an incredible bout to watch in person. So many great memories and fun times had with the best skaters in the country!” Needless to say, he did not mention anyone or thing he is looking forward to seeing, (other than more Championship games in the future, “I plan to attend Championships every year now”). From the sound of it, he can pretty much die happy now.

Even though Eric has already met many of his derby icons, he still has Weston’s future in derby to watch unfold. After all, Weston still hasn’t experienced the thrill of seeing his first bout yet!  For now, they are going to keep skating together and contacting leagues. After all, it has worked out pretty well for them so far, (they have one skate case completely filled inside and out with stickers and have had to move on to a second!). While still uncertain what their derby future holds, they are content having fun just being a couple of diehard derby dudes with lots of pen pals. If you or your league would like to help these guys out, send Weston some promotional merch, or invite them to a game e-mail me at EastBayRollerderby@gmail.com and I’ll get you in touch. Though “just a fan” as I initially put it, I feel it is stories of fans like Eric and his son that make the most recent resurgence of roller derby so appealing. They seem almost as invested in the sport’s progress and continued success and I am as a skater. He reflects, “I look forward to seeing how the sport grows and where it goes from here. I have made some wonderful friends that I never would have met outside of roller derby. The derby community is amazing, supportive, positive, empowering and wonderful to be a small part of”. But that is where you are wrong my friend. Thanks Eric for helping show me just how BIG a part of derby the fans can be!

Good luck to you guys, I want updates!


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