It’s hard to believe only three years ago, Val Kyrie and I were drinking beer together out of the Golden Skate during a Minnesota RollerGirls segment of my podcast. We became fast friends after that, and she’s been a regular here at the Skinny. We’ve had our socks judged, immobilized ourselves by eating too much pho, chugged Grain Belt tallboys on public streets, and caused trouble on the stage couch at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium.
Through all that, Val Kyrie was working toward earning a roster spot of her own in MNRG. This off-season, after almost three years after seeing her first roller derby bout, all the hard work paid off. Val Kyrie wasn’t just drafted by the Minnesota RollerGirls (MNRG). She was drafted to your humble author’s favorite team, the Dagger Dolls. It’s all come full-circle.
Val Kyrie’s first bout is next weekend at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium. I asked her to look back on her journey here, talk about how her day hustle helps her on the track, explain her fandom of Deadpool, and tell everyone what they’re in for now that she’s infiltrated the ranks.
I suspect you’d be doing something violent for fun even if you weren’t into roller derby, so why roller derby?
When I first discovered derby, I was in a pretty rough spot in my life. I was coming out of an extremely contentious divorce and in extreme debt. I had a full-time engineering position, but I had to move into my parents’ basement. To say I was angry at everything is an understatement, but I had to be a functional adult and you can’t let that anger out in “the real world.”
I considered a few different activities like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga. I went to a derby bout on November 21, 2015, and realized I could let out that aggression. I could be a completely different person, someone stronger and more confident than myself, someone who used that anger to drive a productive purpose. Adopting that persona allowed me to heal, but what I came to find out later is it was never a persona. It was a part of myself that was always there, a part that let me come to the surface. Two days after that bout, I was on skates for the very first time in my life. I haven’t looked back.
I knew you pre-MNRG so I followed along as you joined North Star Roller Derby, vied for a roster spot in MNRG, fell short, worked for another year, tried again, and got drafted this year. Sum up that experience.
It’s been a pretty crazy journey so far. I had ZERO athletic ability before derby, but anger is good motivation. I started going to the Roller Garden as often as I could. When the North Star Satellites and MNRG’s Debu-Taunts (the two leagues’ training programs, respectively) became available in Jan-Feb of 2016, I joined both. I soon started going to the gym on top of Roller Garden and the two training programs.
Of course, in early February I ended up spraining my ankle, about as badly as one can sprain an ankle. My whole leg, foot, and all my toes turned black from mid-calf on down. But, I taped my leg and did one-legged push ups, one-legged planks, and one-legged wall sits for entire practice sessions over the next month-and-a-half. This was a pretty low point for me. Skating was finally making me feel better, and suddenly it was taken away. Six weeks is a long time to be off skates when it’s the thing that makes you feel better.
In Spring 2016, I tried out for both leagues. I never expected to make it through either tryout. My expectation was to get more time on skates, and measure how I’d progressed, so I wasn’t at all disappointed when I didn’t make it through MNRG’s tryout process.
Somehow, I made it through North Star’s tryouts and into their summer bootcamp. I was glad for the increased challenge, but figured there was no way I would be drafted and was OK with that. I was surprised and overjoyed to be drafted by the Violent Femmes.
I love the Femmes and it gave me my first taste of gameplay in front of a crowd. That was really my confirmation that I could do this thing, that I love this thing. It was around this time that I also started coaching the kids in Twin Cities Junior Roller Derby and started as an instructor at Roller Garden, teaching basic derby skills during adult lessons. I tried out for North Star’s travel team in December of 2016 and made it. This allowed me to gain even more experience at an even higher level of play, and I couldn’t get enough.
After my second season with North Star I decided it was time to move on and try something new, so I showed up for MNRG’s tryouts. I made it through tryouts and into bootcamp. Unfortunately, I ended up fracturing the greater tuberosity of my humerus. It wasn’t even a good story – I took myself out, proving once again that no one can kick my ass like I kick my ass. That took me off skates for a bit again, but I was back to full contact within two months because I heal fast and I’m stubborn. Despite my fractured arm, I was drafted to the Dagger Dolls at the end of the summer. I couldn’t be happier.
It seems like a lot of skaters in MNRG are already familiar with you, fellow rookies and veterans alike. What do they know about you?
I’m pretty active and extroverted, so I tend to be everywhere. Sometimes from afar I don’t look very approachable, but I often approach others and force mandatory friendship upon them. Beyond that, I’m told I have kind of a big personality. I wear war paint on bout day and much of the time I am yelling – before the bout, during the bout, after the bout …
A lot of the familiarity, though, is probably because of the way I play. I like big hits. I’ve been described as “ride or die,” and been told I play in a way that makes it seem like I don’t give a damn about self-preservation. Those are probably pretty accurate statements.
Every once in a while, I see pictures in your Facebook feed of bullets on the toilet in the women’s restroom at work. What exactly do you do again?
So I am an engineer at an ammunition factory. The job is exactly like it sounds, there is lots of large ammunition production equipment around and rounds of ammo everywhere. It finds its way into weird places sometimes.
How does the technical expertise you bring to the job help you on the track?
What I don’t have in experience can be, to some extent, understood through the application of physics. My expertise is in design engineering. This beneficial because setting up my skates, modifying my skates, and even fabricating new parts for my skates have all been made possible through that expertise.
Your fandom of Deadpool is pretty well-known, and it goes back long before the movies came out. Why Deadpool?
I’d heard of Spider-Man, Superman, and all the well known superheroes growing up, but I wasn’t really interested in them. Deadpool was the first superhero (or antihero) who resonated with me. He’s got this goofy, flippant personality and has no sacred cows when it comes to his humor. As someone with ADHD that followed me into adulthood, it’s fun to see a character you can relate to.
One of the most interesting things about Deadpool, though, is his willingness to do the right thing – even at the expense of his reputation. I specifically remember one comic where the true villain killed a prominent figure to frame mutants, hoping humans would kill them off. Deadpool made it look like he killed the person (not even telling the X-Men so the secret wouldn’t come out) so everyone would come after him, rather than the mutants. The idea of letting the world think you are one way, even if it is not positive, in order to do the right thing is something I really respect.
You cosplayed at events this year as Marceline the Vampire Queen from “Adventure Time”. Part of that was a guitar ax thing, and it’s my understanding you could really play music with it! Tell me how you made the guitar ax thing.
One of the key pieces of Marceline’s aesthetic is this red bass guitar that looks like a large double-bit ax. I create maybe one cosplay per year, so I decided it would be fun to make it a learning experience and create a functional bass guitar that looked like Marceline’s from the show.
As a design engineer, I have access to CAD modeling software. I used that to measure screenshots from the show to scale it to the correct dimensions, then modeled what I was going to make in 3D. Figuring out how to paint and clear coat the guitar was definitely the most difficult, especially since I didn’t have access to a paint gun or spray booth. For simplicity, I purchased a used Yamaha RBX374 for the neck and electronics. I also purchased a large piece of alder from my local lumber supply which I shaped in a friend’s woodshop into the body of the ax.
I did all of my own finishing work on the body, assembled it with the neck, and soldered in the electronics to make a functional bass. I made something nice enough that I plan to mount it on my living room wall as a piece of art, and it has a pretty cool story behind it.
Why the name Val Kyrie, by the way?
I had been trying to come up with a name that had something to do with my Norse heritage. I met a friend for the first time at the Hard Times Cafe; upon meeting, she said “Wow, you’re kind of built like an Amazon. Well, more blonde and Scandanavian. Maybe more like a Valkyrie.” I had an “Ah ha!” moment and the name stuck.
Having been friends with you for so long and a Dagger Dolls fan for so long, your being drafted by the Dolls seemed cosmic.
I am ecstatic! The women on my team are complete badasses. More importantly, they are all really nice – so much so that I am constantly telling my girlfriend, “Geez, my teammates are just so freaking nice, I love it!” I also think the Dolls (aka Grrrl Gang) is a perfect fit for my personality.
What’s the opening statement you’re hoping to make next weekend?
I am just really excited to make my new home with the Minnesota RollerGirls and the Dagger Dolls, and I hope the fans are excited too. It’s going to be a great season. We’ve got a great team, and I can’t wait to get out on the track with them and kick some ass!