With the MRDA 2019 Champs ahead this upcoming weekend we thought it was a good time to chat with STEAKS Crew members Mrs Testosterone of Vancouver Murder (Canada) and Sally Broyeur and GG Hardy of Manneken Beasts (Brussels, Belgium), whose teams both had a stellar 2019 season and qualified for the MRDA 2019 Champs.

Vancouver Murder is currently ranked #3 in the world – a spot they have spent the last two years inching up to and that has earned them their spot on this year’s Champs. The Manneken Beasts were ranked #28 in the world this time last year and have since managed to climb to #12 by going on an extended summer US Tour, playing both the Mohawk Valley Cup and Midwest Brewhaha and securing their spot for Champs after playing the MRDA European Qualifier in August. However, the team chose to opt out of attending Champs.

Mrs T, Sally and GG had skated in WFTDA-aligned gender teams before they made a conscious decision to switch to their current all gender teams. So we chatted about what motivated their switch and how their training regiment looks now compared to before.

How has your roller derby career developed up until now? Where did you start and how did you end up in the teams you are skating in today?

Mrs T: I jammed for a small-town women’s team then got a chance to play an un-sanctioned game with The Murder. I was immediately enamoured by how crazy-fast and physical it was. I loved fighting against these bodies that were more top-heavy, aggressive and skilled. Right before my first game, MRDA CHAMPS 2017 in Wales, I switched to blocking and began to re-learn everything! I still love jamming though so when I can I take that Pivot cover.

Sally: I started playing with Paris Roller Girls in May 2010. I also started my Team France‘s adventure in 2013, and I’m still in. I joined Manneken Beasts in 2018 because I was looking for new challenges and I knew the team members for years as friends. I didn’t know that I would enjoy playing with them so much and how much it would increase my skills and confidence. My skating position within the roster has not really changed. I’ve always been a blocker and leader (communication) during games.

GG: I started roller derby in 2013 at Charm City Roller Derby, which will forever be my roller derby home as this league taught me everything! I was lucky to go to the WFTDA D1 playoffs for three consecutive years! I used to attend practices and occasionally coached Harm City, the MRDA team in Baltimore. In 2018 my partner convinced me to try out for Team England and I was fortunate to make it onto the training squad. You could say I am a roller derby nomad now as I try to practice anywhere, but my wonderful team is Manneken Beasts. I was a pivot at Charm City and switched to MRDA as I was looking for another challenge and doable attendance requirements when I moved back to Europe. I also coach both a men’s and women’s national team where the approach is also a bit different depending on the team.

Sally Broyeur skating for Manneken Beasts ©Roller Derby on Film

How does playing in an open gender team differ from playing in a WFTDA-aligned gender team?

Sally: I think playing in a mixed team helped me when I was looking for motivation, fun and challenges. I was not far away from retirement but with the mixed team, I have found support, respect and encouragement through hard work. There is no pressure, no bad competition between skaters, no negative behaviour and gender doesn’t matter. We have a lot to learn from each other in so many ways and it’s a really great motivation to keep on skating in a roller derby team. I love this sport so much more since I’ve been with the Beasts.

GG: I would say the main difference is the type of hits and blocking one can do. In a mixed team, I tend to block skaters who are taller than me, which I feel gives me some advantage of blocking their quads and my legal target zones being less accessible. However, I would say that I have received more powerful (not necessarily more painful) hits in or against a mixed team. One of the most painful hits I received was from a WFTDA player (got me right in the sternum), but some powerful hits from MRDA teams have sent me flying with no way to regain my position! I think all teams can foster inclusivity but mixed teams do tend to embrace this from the start.

Mrs T: This one is hard to answer in anything shorter than a novel. The culture of men’s roller derby has been, for me, one of support, encouragement, and delight in each other’s success. The Murder is a positive and loving bunch of athletes but I’ve built so many empowering relationships across teams that I believe it’s bigger than just our lil’ old Canadian team.

This team is clearly having some fun! The Manneken Beast “(…) enjoying their last moments on earth before facing GateKeepers Roller Derby… “ during Midwest BrewHaHa in June. photo by Trick or Threat

It seems like you were looking for a physical challenge but have found more than that: a fun and supportive environment. Do you think you simply lucked out by ending up in your teams or do you see this kind of comradery and positive vibes in all MRDA teams you have met?

GG: I definitely lucked out, all leagues are different. I am privileged and have felt supported by all the teams I have played for and against. I think all teams should take a look at what they maybe could do differently to ensure diversity alongside gender, social and ethnic inclusivity in their leagues and making it a safe space for all.

Sally: Every team is different. So are the level of affinities people have. Some people evolve and feel best in a team with a competitive spirit, others need to share more than the experience of skating and playing roller derby. I think we can find and learn more from a mix of both of these spirits. Being curious and open-minded may be the key and the Manneken Beasts are a good example of that.

Have you started to train differently – physically but also mentally – since you have been playing with your current team?

GG: Playing for an MRDA team I have definitely had to increase my strength (especially upper body and core), although this was also something I was lacking when training with Team England back in 2018. I wish I had trained this hard when playing WFTDA, I would have been a better player then! I must say that playing for a team with stronger players has motivated me to work on my own strength goals to fulfil my role within the team. My mental training tends to be focused on reminding myself I am stronger than I think I am but also sometimes it’s about playing smarter not harder.

Mrs T: Yes. I’ve added a greater focus on upper body strength and increased my conditioning. I wanted to feel confident that I’d done everything I could to support my body in doing the most with my particular setup. Also, a thick neck keeps your brains safer. My mental training has been an equal focus. I needed to get comfortable with taking up space, being big, and quieting the interior monologue.

Sally: Yes. I’ve had to focus on increasing my body strength during the first part of the 2019 season, then for my “US tour prep”, I did change it up a bit and lost fat to be faster on skates. My goals were to become stronger to boost my security and confidence on the track and be faster because guys are so f***ing fast. I also do mental training to stop the interior monologue when things I’m doing on track are not perfect.

Wow, that sounds like a lot of training. What does your weekly (personal and team) training schedule look like?

Sally: When I was playing for Paris Roller Girls, I skated 3 times a week and went to the gym 3 times a week as well. Last season, I had to slow down my roller derby training because of my job and the team transfer (I still live in Paris while playing for Brussels in Belgium). I had to rethink my training methods and my weekly routine then consisted of going to the gym 3 times a week for some powerlifting and weightlifting and skating with the Manneken Beasts twice a month. This new season is a bit different as I will be preparing for Team France. I have added one additional roller derby practice a week with Paris Roller Girls to my scheduled practices with Manneken Beasts* and I’m still on my 3 gym sessions per week.
*I’m very thankful and lucky that I can practice with both teams even though I am only competing with the Manneken Beasts.

GG: My weekly training involves CrossFit training 3 times a week, weightlifting twice a week, yoga and stretching twice a week and roller derby team practice once a week. It has taken me years to make my training schedule a priority.

Mrs Testostosterone in her Vancouver Murder team jersey

You all have mentioned a focus on the increase of body strength and conditioning. It seems that a lot of roller derby skaters competing in high-level WFTDA teams have been focusing on this in the last few years as well. Do you think it you would be training similar if you would be skating on very high-level WFTDA teams?

GG: Yes, strength training is key no matter where you play. I had already started strength training when I was playing WFTDA, however, this experience has shown me that the sky is the limit! Partly, my current training schedule is also driven by my long term goal to try out for Team England again in the future. While we are on the subject I will add something else. WFTDA teams tend to have larger leagues, which means more strict attendance requirements, more games, more hours of training and less time to focus on strength training (some leagues have a better program, of course). Playing for an MRDA team has given me more time to work on a strength and conditioning program as on-skates practice time is quite limited.

Sally: I was already training my body strength when I was skating with Paris Roller Girls. What I changed when I joined Manneken Beasts is that I optimized my programs for long terms goals with more strategy based on our season schedule. Preparing your body will help you to skate better and to protect yourself not only for roller derby.

GG Hardy blocking for Manneken Beasts ©NSP189

You have also mentioned mental training targeting the interior monologue. Do you see this as something that womxn athletes struggle with more? And if yes, why do you think so? Is there a conversation about this happening within the team?

Sally: I know some men and non-binary people that have the same struggle. It depends on your personality and how people grew up or how they feel in life or work. I know that I visualize and analyze all situations before, during and after… and try to see every possible end and the probability of success or failure. On the other hand, I have discovered many supportive people in roller derby who trust and push me, which for me has been a first. I have learnt a lot about myself and what I’m capable of thanks to them.

GG: No, I think this depends on personality. I need to remind myself I am strong because I have always been on the lighter end and never lifted weights before roller derby. Some skaters on my team are smaller than I am and have more confidence in their body strength due to other sports they have done in the past, others are bigger and maybe have more fear of falling than I do. Also, jammers and blockers need different types of mental strength. We do talk about this between teammates and encourage each other as we are a team and nothing on the track is just one player’s doing. My partner tends to tell me before a game, “I’m so ready to hit the brace” I guess, generally, women may not think of giving themselves positive reinforcement, “I’m ready to destroy that wall, I can’t wait to hold that jammer, those blockers aren’t going to see me coming!!” just because of our experiences growing up, but it works, so let’s all do it more! As a coach, I tell skaters to visualise themselves being strong, pushing a difficult wall or hitting a jammer out because we all have our own mental barriers.

We are looking forward to what the future will bring for both of these teams and what the weekend will hold in store for Vancouver Murder. Two additional STEAKS® Crw members are part of Vancouver Murder: Mr Testosterone and André Morson… so we know, who we will be rooting for! KaKaaAA!

The MRDA 2019 Champs will take place Oct 11-13 in Denver Colorado and are hosted by Denver Ground Control. Find out more about the competing teams and the event itself on mrda.org or check out the Facebook event and watch live this weekend at mrda.org/live.