After six years on the flat-track, lapping opposing blockers and serving as a spark plug for the Black-n-Bluegrass Rollergirls, Irish Iris will play her final bout this Saturday at the Bank of Kentucky Center, against the Circle City All-Stars. The timing of Irish’s retirement is not one that she would have chosen, but because of a series of concussions the decision to walk away she feels – is for the best.
Irish Iris grew up a stone’s throw from the Bank of Kentucky Center in Independence, Kentucky where she played softball for the Taylor Mill Boosters. I can envision her flashing the “hook ‘em horns” hand sign to the umpire before stepping up to the plate, just as she does to the fans before each jam begins. At that time in her life she didn't know what roller derby was, but it would turn out to be a great adventure later on in her life.
Irish’s roller derby journey began in 2007 when she attended a Cincinnati Rollergirls bout with a friend, and as-has happened to so many of us, the roller derby bug latched onto her and would not let go. Her good friend Petal to the Metal who is a Black-n-Bluegrass Rollergirl talked with Irish about trying out for BBRG, which she did and made the team on her first attempt. In just a snap she went from being a fan to flying around the track to the cheers of raucous fans yelling her name.
“BBRG taught me everything about roller derby, I had problems with cross-overs in the beginning, but they were there to teach me and bring me along as a Rollergirl,” said Irish.
Irish began playing on the “B” team (Shiners), like most roller derby newbies do. The “B” team serves as the in-house farm system for skaters to hone their skills and prove their mettle to make it on the “A” (Blackouts) squad. Irish played on the Shiners team as a blocker, and then moved onto the Blackouts as a jammer. Irish plays on both the “B” and the “A” teams.
During her time with BBRG, Irish has won two awards: The Super-Trooper award in 2009 as a blocker, and Jammer MVP in 2012. Both of these voted on by her teammates, which make them particularly special.
“There is nothing better than your team - your peers recognizing you for your work and effort on the track,” Irish says.
Those awards come because of performance on the track which all begins with the hours spent practicing: practicing skating fundamentals, strategy, speed drills, endurance training and all of ingredients which go into creating a well rounded rollergirl. The training along with league events, fundraisers, traveling for away bouts all add to quite a bit of time absent from home. But Irish lucked out and hit the “derby widow” jackpot; the support system she has from her husband, friends and even co-workers is quite remarkable and a structure that anyone would be green-eyed of.
“Roller derby is very hard on spouses, when life revolves around all of the time spent with your team working on everything that needs done it is a lot. But, my husband knows how much I love it, and he supports me completely. He even has rearranged his schedule to take care of our daughter when I am away for roller derby,” said Irish.
Her aunts and cousins also come to the games to be supportive, and after each game Irish calls her dad and they talk about what happened, and how she did.
“My dad is always so excited to talk with me about my games, he is especially proud when I win the MVP award, of course he may be a little biased.”
The love doesn’t end there, each year her boss pays for her office and their families to come to a Black-n-Bluegrass bout. It’s possible her co-workers hold an impromptu meeting during halftime, so her boss can write the bout off as a business expense, but they are still there and they still cheer for BBRG and Irish.
“Derby has given me a lot of confidence in my everyday life, I get hit and hit people as a hobby, which gives me confidence in areas I may have not had before.”
Over six years of playing and traveling, a lot of unique events happen, but Irish tells me that one of her favorite derby memories is playing against the Cincinnati Battering Rams (men’s team) earlier this year.
“If I can hit, and be hit by a 200-plus pound man I feel like I can do almost anything, she said.”
Unfortunately, all of this comes to a premature end this Saturday when Irish plays her last derby bout; three concussions are more than enough.
“I have really have only had one injury from derby, it just happens to have happened three times and all been concussions. In 2009 before my pregnancy I played two games in a weekend, on a Saturday and then a Sunday - in both games I suffered mild concussions.”
Before halftime of BBRG’s home game on August 17, Irish took a blow to the head, and as she skated away felt groggy, and was noticeably unstable skating around the track; she was sent to the EMT for evaluation and learned she had accomplished the undesirable hat-trick of concussions.
This last one, was a bit different from the prior two, and the seed was planted in Irish’s mind that she may need to step away from the game.
“This last one took a little longer to recover from, I love derby, it is what I want to do, but I have a family and I have to think of them,” said Irish.
She made the decision that it was time to leave roller derby, but the hardest part of that decision would be telling the team she had played with for the last 6 years, that this next game, the last game of their 2013 season would be her last hurrah.
“Prior to practice a couple of weeks ago, I pulled Petal to the side (the same Petal who got her involved in derby) and told her that the 21st was going to be my last game, she got Heavy Chevy and Tank to come over and I told them what was going on, and the decision I had come to. During practice I took some time to talk to my teammates, and explain to them what was happening, and the decision that I had made. It was hard to get through, it was a tough few minutes emotionally, but everyone was completely supportive, and that’s all I could have asked for.”
It is great that we get to see Irish on the track one last time, but there is the 800-pound gorilla in the room, that she is taking a chance by playing again. Playing smart, she is taking an important precaution this Saturday, borrowing her teammate Sinobite’s hockey helmet. The use of hockey helmets in roller derby comes at the recommendation of Bionka of WFTDA Risk Management, a letter from Bionka below outlines the grounds for the recommendation.
Dear WFTDA leagues,
The Risk Management crew followed up on the Windy City helmet summary and found additional support for their recommendation of helmets tested using the ASTM F1045-07 standards for ice hockey helmets (ie. HECC certified helmets). We believe that these standards are significantly better and more realistically replicate situations that can occur in roller derby than the alternate ASTM F1492-08 for skateboarding and trick rollerskating. Namely, HECC certified hockey helmets are:
-Required to cover more of the head, particularly in back
-Tested with a higher velocity drop (ie. similar to a free-fall drop from 4'11" instead of 3'6")
-Tested with impacts in more places on the helmet (8 spots vs. 4)
-Tested for multiple impacts in all areas of the head tested (instead of a multiple impact test conducted on only one spot for skateboarding.)
The only area in which skateboarding helmet standards may be better is that the helmets are tested for impacts against different shapes, ie. due to falling onto a curb. Following WFTDA sanctioning guidelines, such an impact should be extremely unlikely.
Note that even many of the new "multi-impact" or "dual-certified" helmets that are on the market are still only being tested against the lesser skateboarding standards. We recommend that skaters look for the ASTM F1045-07 or HECC certification before purchasing a helmet (the helmets will have the sticker right on them!)
Sincerely, Bionika WFTDA Risk Management
Originally posted on the WFTDA message board, this was posted on Reddit. http://www.reddit.com/r/rollerderby/comments/r5uxu/wftda_recommends_hockey_helmets/
Teammate Sinobite is one of many who will miss Irish on the team, and as a part of the BBRG family.
“Irish brings an infectious love for the game to the track. She is an amazing skater, and is so much fun to skate with. Her smile can turn the worst day into the best practice, and the fans love her spirit. She is definitely going to be missed on the track!”
Silverose, also a teammate of Irish’s finds her to be an inspiration to the team, and the fans.
“Irish Iris is more than a great athlete and one woman wreckin' ball she encompasses the spirit of derby, it does not matter if you are a new spectator to the sport or have played for many years watching Irish Iris compete is magical and exciting. The sheer joy and excitement is truly apparent to everyone who has ever had the honor of watching her skate. The energy, charisma and heart she puts on the track and in everything she does has always been inspirational to myself. As she retires and the realization sets in that this is our last bout together it feels like a piece of myself will go with her. I will always keep the spirit of derby and Irish Iris in my heart!”
For us who have seen Irish play we recognize her bright spirit where every game is summer vacation, and every jam a trip to the ice cream parlor. We should all strive to be as upbeat and positive as Irish Iris, even when fate has dealt out a less-than-stellar hand.
“I’ve always been a happy person, every day I am smiling, and when it comes to roller derby, bout day is the best day ever,” Irish says.
Here is to Irish, and her next great adventure.