by LeBron Shames

Talk about setting derby on fire in one season! Our friend Josie Simonis, also known as Doc Josie, heads to Nashville this week with her team the Windy City All-Stars, to play in the annual WFTDA Championship tournament. We caught up with her before she hits the road to hear more about her very, very busy roller derby year.

This year you won a League Championship, played at USARS nationals, made Team Illinois, and now you’re off to Champs with the Windy City Rollers. Enlighten us on your fantastic season.  This has definitely been a whirlwind season for me. At the beginning of the year, I didn’t really know what 2014 was going to have in store, and in many ways I still feel like I’m dreaming. Don’t pinch me!!

I don’t know if I can necessarily attribute my growth to anything personal other than an inability to say “no” (hence being on four teams…) and a stubborn persistence to get good at things I pick up (I don’t really half-ass stuff). Rather, my ability to grow as a skater this year is the result of having fantastic opportunities and ridiculously good coaches and teammates around me. Whether it’s WCR, the Red Hots, or Team Illinois, I’ve been really lucky to be a part of some amazing teams that have helped me grow immensely as a skater and a teammate this season, and I hope to continue building on that in the future (wherever it takes me).

You’re from Chicagoland but got your start in roller derby up in Ithaca, NY. What was it like to start with a smaller league that dive head first into so much derby here?   I really cherish the time I spent with ILWR (the Ithaca League of Women Rollers…which I still contest is the best league name in derby). I found derby at a time in my life when I really needed to get back into competitive sports (but thought it was impossible), and they took me on, despite my complete inability to roller skate. I spent a little over 6 months working my way through ILWR’s fantastic training program, just in time for me to finish grad school and move away. I am still really bummed that I never got to bout with ILWR, but I am eternally grateful for everything they taught me and the home that they gave me. I hope I’m doing them proud and paying it forward (as I was instructed to do by Ovarian Cyster, one of the A-team skaters for ILWR).

When I was looking for jobs after grad school, I wasn’t sure where I was going to go with derby yet, but I thought it might be an important thing for me personally, so I wanted to have skating opportunities when I moved. I was well aware of WCR’s presence in WFTDA and level of gameplay, but I really didn’t understand the amount of derby (and skating in general, really) that would be available to me when I moved to Chicago. It was definitely a bit of a culture shock to be one of over 100 skaters in WCR (and to start over again at the bottom rung), but everyone has been really welcoming and I definitely felt at home from the start. It’s been pretty amazing to immerse myself in the Chicago derbyverse and every day I think of how great the decision to move to Chicago really was for me.



Doc Josie, dressed for success.

You’re fairly new to derby, but people see you as a leader. Any plans for Doc Josie to add coaching to the rap sheet? Oh whoa, people think of me as a leader? That’s pretty awesome. I don’t take that lightly. I would definitely love to get into coaching sometime in the future. Being an athlete for most of my younger life, I had always wanted to give back and coach sports when I got older. However, I stepped away from competitive sports at the end of high school because I wasn’t sure that I could reconcile being openly queer with being an athlete, and the same goes for being a coach. Especially when I was identifying as a guy, the thought of trying to navigate being an openly queer coach was incredibly frightening, to say the least.

And in the same way that derby has been great for me being able to be openly queer while being an athlete (for the first time ever), it has now re-opened the idea of coaching for me. I did temporarily step into a coaching role with the Red Hots last year when I was hurt, and it was incredibly rewarding and engaging, but also very challenging. I enjoy competing much more than coaching and it sucked to be on the sidelines when I wanted to be skating. So yes, I would love to get into coaching. Right now, though, I am primarily focusing on improving myself and my understanding of derby and skating.

Who is one player, teammate or coach that you’ve learned from in improving your own game?  To be honest, I try to learn from everyone around me. As a scientist by trade, I’m kind of a professional learner and I enjoy picking up new things from folks and trying them out. Especially with being new to skating and derby, I’m all ears and am constantly trying to figure out what will work best for me.