Featured Skater: Thimbleberry Slam

Photo by Kayensee

Our most recent featured skater is the fabulous, fearless, and fun Katie Jo Wright aka Thimbleberry Slam.  Her creativity and drive, both on and off the track, have helped to shape the Keweenaw Roller Girls into a true force to be reckoned with.  On skates, she moves with finesse; switching between jamming and blocking with dexterity.  Off skates, she is a driving force on the league’s board of directors, and a wonderfully skilled artist of renown.  This month, we honor our featured skater, T. Slam with a rejuvenating session with Elisabeth Ross, acupuncturist and generous sponsor of the Keweenaw Roller Girls.

Name:  Thimbleberry Slam – Slam – T. Slam – Slammalammadingdong

Number: 11

Team History: Been with Keweenaw Roller Girls since the beginnings. We taught ourselves to skate; lots of YouTube. I’ve also been fortunate to play on our state’s all-star team in 2017.

Year you started roller derby: 2013

Where are you from originally? Born in Fontana, California, aka the Inland Empire, and grew up in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Name a fun little known fact about you: I sold underwear to “Shooter McGavin” more than once.

How did you get involved with roller derby? The sequence of events went like this: 1 – a friend says would you join a roller derby if we had one here? 2 – several months later I meet some purple-haired gals at a local saloon who just formed a league and were glowing like firecrackers about this sport. 3 – I crash a neighboring league’s practice with some strangers I just met. 4 – the rest is history.

How did you pick your name? I had a giant list of names that I brainstormed. At the time I figured I’d mostly play this sport in or around my town, so my list of names were based on icons from around where I live. Some ideas I had were: Thimbleberry Slam, Ahmeek Cheeks, Get the Hell Allouez, Pannu-klock-kuu, Fannie Hooe… I shared these with my teammates and they cooed the most at T. Slam.

What is your pre-derby sports/skating background? Just about none. This is my first sport really. I played softball one season as a pubescent teenager, but always was more of an art nerd type. I learned how to skate and build strength and prowess with roller derby.

Please tell us about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby? Rookie year for me was fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. I was building myself as a skater and player, while KRG was simultaneously building itself. Like I said earlier, a lot of YouTube. I passed my minimums the night before my first game. I fouled out of that first game. I also was mystified and terrified  by the “point of no return,” like what the hell was that? Oddly enough it doesn’t exist anymore. I skated a lot. I went to boot camps both in and out of state. I was part of the “training committee” which was essentially those of us who had been around the longest (a matter of months). I just tried to learn as much as I could so we could continue to teach each other.

Do you have a pre-game ritual? My gameday ritual all happens at “home” and starts the night before. I do the proper good night’s rest, but before I lay my head to rest, I visualize myself playing a flawless jam, both with and without the star, after that I remind myself it’s time for rest and not thinking about all the bout day logistics. I drink a weird concoction of salt, turmeric, cinnamon, and chlorophyll before the game. Day of I’m most concerned about my teammates and where their heads are at. I like the idea of headphones with pump up jams just doing my thing, but it’s just not how my brain works.

Do you have a favorite motivational quote?  “Slow and steady wins the race.”  I don’t know who to credit for that, but it’s a mantra I repeat to myself and I think of the turtle and the hare Aesop’s fable often. It probably seems counter-intuitive because derby is known for speeding around the track for quick points, but I promise “slow-thinking” is where it’s at.

What is your position of choice? Not in the box.

How would you describe your derby playing style? Smart, slow, headspace. I work to unify with my teammates as a blocker. I love the big take-outs at the top of the pack, but there’s really nothing like watching/feeling a jammer’s body language change from energetic wildcat to physical defeat because you and your blockers are owning the track. As a jammer I don’t want to work hard so I look to my blockers for queues and attempt to out-finesse the other blockers.

What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track? I’ve been recognized for great gameplay,  but I think what defines a roller derby accomplishment is not just how you play as an individual, but how a person works to nurture others on the track.  It’s cheesy I’m sure, but if I can have an positive impact on a newer skaters confidence, that’s the accomplishments I’m talking about, and I try to have those every chance I get.

(editor’s note: she’s being extremely humble here.  T. Slam was awarded the D2 Tournament MVP at the 2016 Mitten Kitten Tournament in Mackinaw City)

Have you held any leadership positions in leagues? How have those positively impacted your personal roller derby career?   Many leadership roles, being a part of roller derby’s organization, skater development, community outreach, it all has an impact on not only how successful you are within the roller derby world, but also how it affects you outside of roller derby culture. Teaching helps you learn, being a leader helps build confidence, communicating helps you find your voice. I am faster, better, stronger because of roller derby leadership.

What is your job outside of roller derby? And how, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby? I was a waitress for many years at an inn and restaurant. The physical nature of waitressing lends to maneuvering through the pack, the mental nature of waitressing lends to thinking and doing many things at once. Knowing how to take care of people is important in being a good host to visiting teams. Anticipating needs, all of it applies. I work in the ski industry and the art & design industry as well.  All of these certainly apply, too. Active lifestyles, artistic expression… blah blah blah. It all applies, we can all draw from our everyday lives, lessons and tools that contribute to roller derby.

What advice do you have for people who want to play roller derby? Show up with a lot of humility. It’s also going to take a hold of a substantial part of you, perhaps even become you, so expect to include your friends and family somewhere, or else you’ll have to make new ones. 🙂 Also, do it. It’ll change your life for the better.

And lastly, favorite places in the Keweenaw? Big Traverse, at night, to watch the moon rise out of Lake Superior.