Mar 11, 2011

‘Big Nasty’ Dishes on Women’s Roller Derby

By Cait Taylor
For Reporting Texas

Jen Wireman is a 28-year-old bartender from Waco, Texas, who came to Austin eight years ago to eventually get hooked on Texas Women’s Roller Derby. In her rookie season with the Heart Breakers, a popular local team, Wireman, aka “Big Nasty” when she laces up, said she can’t imagine life without the derby.

Photo by Caryn Werner

Jen Wireman goes by "Big Nasty" on the roller derby rink. Photo by Caryn Werner

Q. What led you to the roller derby?
A. [A] couple of years ago, someone had an extra ticket to the championship game.  It was when the Hot Rods played the Hell Marys. It was my first time ever and it was craziness!  I loved it, had a great time, never thought it was something that I would do. I was like, “Those girls are crazy and tough and mean!” I [later] met Babe Ruthless… captain of the Hustlers. She said, “You’re perfect for it!” [S]he’s like a lot bigger than me, and I was like, “You’re crazy. Just, no way.” She’s like, “Well, they have a rec. league. It’s less competitive, they teach you how to play safely.”

Q. What did your family think?
A. My mom… bought me health insurance, she was so worried about me playing roller derby. Which is good, because I could use health insurance anyway. I can get my wisdom teeth pulled now. But she’s come to all my games. And even in rec league, she came to all my scrimmages… [I]t’s funny because I could hear her if someone hit me and I fell down, she’s like, “No!  No!” and I’m like, “Mom, it’s okay!  I’ll be alright.”

Q. What got you on your team?
A. Well, this is my rookie season, so you go through the tryouts and then they have a pool – they call it the “Fresh Meat Pool.” We have three months of crazy, intense training. Then, after that, they hold the draft… I got really lucky – I wanted to be a Heart Breaker.

Q. Your derby nickname is Big Nasty?  Who gives out these names?
Different people pick them. Mine was actually a name that I had gotten from a friend a few years ago.  I was making fun of some other people…. and somehow they started calling me that. People would be like, “She’s five-foot-two, that doesn’t even make sense. And when I started playing in roller derby, it was perfect.
Q. What reaction do you get from people when you tell them you’re in roller derby?
It’s fun because I’m a bartender… and I have a lot of regular customers and people that I talk to. When I started playing roller derby, they were all like, “You’re so little!” They were genuinely concerned about my health and well-being. Then most of them that actually knew me a little bit better were like, “Yea, you’re tough. You got this.”

Q. How much time does the derby take?
A. We do league practices twice a week, Monday and Wednesday. And during the fresh meat part of it, we… run laps and do push-ups and jumping jacks… Then after the draft… you have a team practice. So that’s three days a week. [T]hey encourage you to do speed skating practice – so that’s another day a week. And then the All-Star Team practices two more days a week. [O]n top of that, you have a league job – mine is sponsorship. It definitely takes over you life… They call people’s husbands, girlfriends, or boyfriends Derby Widows because you’re like, “I’m sorry honey, I love you, but I love Derby too.”

What kind of day jobs to Derby Girls?
A. Anything, everything.  I’ve actually had more trouble because I’m a bartender and I work nights and all our practices are at night… [T]here is a high school principal, a doctor, lawyers, real estate women, business owners, I mean, these girls do everything.  It’s so cool to have such a diverse group of women all coming together for this.  It’s also beneficial to the league.

What’s it like to fall?

A. You get used to it. You have your padding on though – knee pads, wrist guards, elbow pads, and you got your helmet and mouth guard… I always like to take a couple of good falls before the game starts, so you’re first one isn’t like, “Oh my God.” You learn to trust that your safety equipment has you. Falling actually feels kind of good sometimes – it’s a release.

Q. Do you have any tattoos specific to roller derby?
A. I don’t have a roller derby tattoo just yet.  I do have my idea for my roller derby tattoo, though.  On the tops of both of my feet, I want ballet shoes on one and roller skates on the other.  I have to wait till the off-season though, I can’t be tattooing my feet right now.

Q. What’s your role on the team?
A. As a rookie, I’m not going to jam [play offense] a whole lot right yet because I’m really getting beat up still. I’ll find my footing. Right now, I’m working a lot on jamming in practice. I jammed twice at the game on Sunday, got beat up.  It was awesome

Q. Are there plays, like basketball?
A. It’s not exactly the same, because the game of basketball you can slow down a lot easier, and you can get to your side of the court and stand there for a second while everyone gets into position. You can’t really do that in roller derby. There’s a few things my team has been working on, but it’s more situational things.

Anything you want people to know about roller derby?
A. It is a legitimate sport. A lot of people think that it is choreographed because it was in the ‘70s.  They did these big, fake, over-the-top fights… and they flipped people over the rails… People always tell me, “Get out there and throw some elbows.” And I’m like, “We don’t throw elbows, that’s totally illegal.” People still have these preconceived notions, which is fine. When they come and see it, they realize it’s totally different.