Down and derby: skating with Jess Daniels



While most freshmen at Augustana would shy away from the term, Jess Daniels is proud to be called “fresh meat” — when she’s on wheels, at least.

Last February, Daniels took on a new extracurricular activity. After watching her aunt and uncle in roller derby bouts in the Twin Cities, Daniels said she fell in love with the sport and began training with a local team, the Sioux Falls Roller Dollz.

“[I joined] right when I turned 18 in February,” she said. “I was so excited. I’d been waiting since probably last November.”

Since joining the team, Daniels has been devoted to practicing with the Roller Dollz once or twice each week. However, she has yet to compete in a bout, so she still has to endure the title given to the team’s newcomers.

“[Fresh meat] just means we have certain skills tests that we have to pass,” Daniels said. “Our coaches … emphasize making sure we’re ready for bouts, so a lot of teams don’t have as difficult of tests to pass. They want us to make sure that we’re 100 percent ready, that we’re not going to injure ourselves or other people.”

In preparation for her Roller Dollz debut, Daniels, a pre-med, biology and psychology major, has already chosen her roller derby nickname.

“We technically don’t get them until we graduate from fresh meat, but I plan on being Cardismack Arrest, as I wish to become a heart surgeon someday,” she said.

Like her future nickname, Daniels has spunk.

“Jess is kind of sassy, which I think fits really well with a stereotypical view of what you think you’d have to be to be in roller derby,” said junior Miriam Hanson, one of Daniels’ Welcome Week Viking Guides. “You have to be kind of tough, and she definitely is, but it’s great. She’s just got a lot of energy.”

Freshman Emma Ward, Daniels’ friend from church, agreed.

“We’re kind of opposite,” she said. “[Daniels] is very outgoing, very friendly. [She] gets along with everyone.”

Hanson also said that Daniels has a “competitive edge” that is evident even outside the skating rink. She explained that during New Student Orientation (NSO), Daniels was enthusiastic about encouraging her peers to earn attendance points for their NSO groups.

“She was very much like, ‘Hey, show up to these things. Even if you leave after you swipe your card, show up to get us the points,’” Hanson said.

Daniels’ determination to achieve success is evident in other areas of her life as well. In addition to training with the Roller Dollz, she balances a hefty course load, holds a part-time job off campus and still finds time for her other hobbies—playing violin, riding horses and practicing photography.

According to Daniels, her practice sessions with the Roller Dollz fuel her as she goes through busy weeks.

“I find that [Roller Dollz practices are] pretty late, but it’s not a whole lot of time, so I still have time to do my homework,” she said. “Actually, it’s a really, really nice break. It’s an awesome stress reliever to just get out there. And it keeps you healthy, that’s for sure.”

Roller derby is a sport that, according to Daniels, “looks a lot easier than it is,” but it requires a good deal of athleticism.

She noted that “it’s really easy to hurt yourself if you’re not doing the right things,” so tests include drills like the “25-in-5,” in which the skater must skate 25 laps in five minutes.

Daniels also arms herself with plenty of protective gear, including wrist guards, elbow pads, kneepads, a mouth guard and a hockey helmet, before hitting the rink.

“It’s a full contact sport,” she said. “We always make sure to do a warm-up—we call it ‘pep’—before practice, where we stretch and run around.”

Though she acknowledges the health benefits of roller derby, for Daniels, the best part of skating with the Roller Dollz is the camaraderie.

“It’s a family,” she said. “Nobody’s judgmental of anybody. Nobody compares you to anybody, which is what I love … everyone wants to learn and get better, and we work together to do that.”

Daniels is eager to share her passion with others. She encourages women interested in roller derby to either visit or to come to a Roller Dollz practice to “check it out.”

“It is the most fun thing, especially for college students, just to get a nice study break in and have a new family,” she said. “And if you’re having a bad day, just hit people.”