Our featured skater for the month of March is none other than UniScorn of Fountain City Roller Derby!
Current Team(s): Shotgun Sheilas, Public Enemies, Zombie League (rotating rosters)
Position(s): inside, photographer, cheerleader
Seasons with FCRD: 2012 recruitment class
Q: How did you begin shooting for the roller derby leagues as Zaftig Unicorn Photography, and what made you decide to eventually transition to competing on the track?
“In 2012, I went to a then-Dead Girl Derby recruitment night after Breakdown had invited me to her rookie bouts (IIRC) as a Royal Pain. I actually joined the league wanting to be a Competitive Derby Skater™.
But I fractured a kneecap in 2012 and broke my right ankle in 2013 (I’d previously broken my left ankle in 2001), so I was like, Hmmmm, seems like my contribution to derby can best be as a volunteer. (In fact, I photographed the 2013 championship bout from a wheelchair just days after the break.) Photography just sort of fell into place as the thing I could do that helped the league.
Once I had opportunities to take pictures outside Fountain City Roller Derby, I wanted to ‘formalize’ the photography bit. At first, I wanted to be ‘Chubby Unicorn Photography’ because it flows, but there’s a Chubby Unicorn skateboard. I wanted to keep the energy of being a fat unicorn, so Zaftig Unicorn was born. (The extraordinarily talented Zombina designed my logo!)
Ironically, the first photo set posted on the Zaftig Unicorn Photography page? Team photos for 2014’s Black Plague, the team for my competitive roller derby debut this year. That team included current Royal Pain Freddie Cruel Girl and ref Jake From Skate Farm!
I still skated at practices over the years because I like skating and I loved the community, but I wasn’t focused on anything at practices really other than putting on skates and not falling. After all, I wasn’t going to be skating competitively, so why push myself? Also, falling hurts and it takes an embarrassingly long time to get up. Sure, falling is learning, but I don’t really need to learn anything that badly. I got better just because I was skating, but as for goals? **shrug city**
Then COVID happened, and I had a wee lil midlife crisis. So when FCRD came back for the 2022 season, I was rawr. FCRD had started its trainee program (skaters who weren’t roster-eligible were drafted to teams as trainees), so I got to skate at practices with the Shotgun Sheilas and the Public Enemies and get personal attention and support from coaches and captains like Wyatt, Racen Voorhees, Aneeda Hurtcha, CleoSmashYa, G.O., Cherry Violence, Loki Hustlin’, and Brittany Speared (and now Leroy Jenkins). Being a part of teams also meant I got to have all these fantastic in-house role models.
To me, it made a difference, having a team to work for, people I didn’t want to let down. I forced myself into situations I’d been avoiding at practices (like taking part in blocking, which is sort of a big part of derby) and Coach Voorhees made it clear he was sure I was ready for pack drills (which I’d also been avoiding, even though they, too, are sort of a big part of derby).
So my skills got better, and that’s when I really started thinking I might be able to skate in an actual competitive roller derby bout.
I’m so happy FCRD’s Zombie League is shambling back to infect the willing. It would be difficult for me to make the roster for a Sheilas or Pubs game—our talent pool is so deep, it triggers my thalassophobia—so Zombie League lets me play the sport I love, learn all the same strategies, and engage in the same gameplay as the house teams but with people around my skill level. It’s everything I could ever hope for, and a damn sight better than many get.”
Q: Tell us about the origin of your derby name.
“I didn’t want to have a name I’d regret or something I couldn’t relate to later. I’m terribly flighty, but I’ve always loved unicorns and always will. So: UniScorn. It doesn’t flow, but I’m not changing it this far into it.
I’m adding the story behind my number because it’s nerdy and I’m a dork. Back in the day, reporters would end their stories with -30- to mark the end of the story in case pages were shuffled. So my number is 30 because I will end you.“
Q: Roller derby changes every life it touches. How has it changed yours?
“Holy smokes. I know you said I could be as long-winded as I want to be (which, you know, challenge accepted), but there’s not enough space on Al Gore’s internet, now or ever, to mention all the ways roller derby has altered my existence for the better.
Roller derby has given me physicality I’d assumed wasn’t mine to have, like, on a cellular level. I don’t come from athletic or coordinated people, and I have zero sports background—no peewee leagues, no school teams (I threw discus maybe three times), nothing sports-related (unless marching and pep bands count). I cannot overstate how little physical activity of any sort I was interested or experienced in. I was an indoor kid. (I also don’t like to sweat.) But I love skating. It’s the closest thing to flying we get to do on the ground. That you sneak in exercise (which is apparently good for you or something) is just *chef’s kiss*. I’m pretty sure I can now do things on skates that would have had me tripping over shadows 10 years ago.
I’m a better photographer thanks to derby. Zaftig Unicorn Photography wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t wanted a space to post derby pictures. And as Zaftig Unicorn, I’ve gotten to take family pictures and artistic portraits for people I wouldn’t have known except for derby. Derby has helped me refine my vision as a photographer and given me experiences I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. Working with [KC Derby Digest] has been a big part of that, too—brainstorming the best ways to highlight the sport we both love!
And the people, ohmygoodness, the people. I’m an ‘anxiety pukes and [bodily function redacted]’ introvert, but there’s something special about the Kansas City derby (and skate) community. Before I started at FCRD, my anxiety was in a ‘research everything to death online before you do it’ phase, and a lot of what I read was about how roller derby leagues could be very toxic. But there was none of that. I found people willing to help me find new favorite versions of myself—athletically, mentally, and emotionally.
I’ve made friends through roller derby, but more than that, I’ve found teachers, guardians, muses, and soulmates.”
Q: Your journey in this sport is a story replete with perseverance and obstacles overcome. What keeps you going, and what advice do you have for anyone questioning if they have what it takes?
“That’s a super diplomatic way of saying I’m stubborn. LOL! But also, I’m stubborn.
Once I decided I wanted to get better at skating, I wanted to get better at skating, by God. And I don’t think I’m anywhere near the best skater I can be yet, so I’m going to keep showing up and working at it. I can’t wait to see where I am in three months. (I have to say here how lucky I am to have undying support from Lone Rager, who skates with the Capital City Crushers. She’s been convinced of my ability to do the thing since we met. The night I nailed transitions, she was the first person I sent the video to.)
But even when improving wasn’t my goal, I showed up because skating was fun, and I loved FCRD and the sport. Just getting to soak up the positive energy sometimes made it worth showing up.
And really, that’s the key: If you want to do it, find something about it that keeps you wanting to show up. There’s a place for practically anybody and any body in derby. Bring a good attitude and a willingness to participate, and you’re halfway there.
Not everyone will get out of roller derby (and the roller derby community) what the rest of us get out of it. Some people come, but for whatever reason, desperately do not want to be there. Roller derby just isn’t their hobby/security blanket/obsession—but I sure hope they get to find whatever their ‘roller derby’ is.
It can be frustrating, especially as someone new to athletics, to push myself as hard as I possibly can and not see immediate results. I’m very much into instant gratification. But I also remember that all those years I wasn’t trying? I really wasn’t getting any better.
Loki said something like: Derby is a bunch of little clicks and then there’s a big click. Then a bunch of little clicks, then a big click.
So you just gotta string together enough of those little clicks to get to that big click. Maybe you need more little clicks than your buddy. Maybe your buddy’s big click was just one of your little clicks. No matter what, though, your leaguemates are going to help you celebrate every one.
The strides I’ve made in the last 18 months make me wonder where I’d be if I’d taken skating more seriously when I came back after my broken leg in 2014. I’m currently 52 and I have arthritis in my hips, knees, and ankles. Realistically, it would’ve been better to do all of this nine years ago.
But this is the youngest I’m going to be from here on out, and this is the time and body I have to work with, so … FIVE SECONDS! *tweet*”