If you’ve heard the derby stories of fighting through broken bones, torn ligaments, and separated shoulders, or battling to balance life on the track against life off it, it’s clear that roller derby skaters are pretty tough. In fact, when it comes to tough, maybe the only other set of athletes as qualified to talk about it are those who have sweated and competed on the mats of wrestling rooms.
Enter Lady Fingers of the Brooklyn Bombshells and the Wall Street Traitors, one of the few athletes who can say that she has done both sports, immediately earning a plaque of respect for bringing a new meaning to “bad ass” — and that’s not even mentioning her stint in college rugby.
But for a moment, let’s raise the level of ‘tough’ difficulty and point out that not only did Ms. Fingers compete as a wrestler for Curtis High School in Staten Island, but she also did so as the only female on the team.
Game. Set. Match.
“It was such a trip,” she said of her high school wrestling career. “At first I joined for the wrong reason, to be quite honest. I said ‘anything boys can do, girls can do it too.’ (Laughs) Then I joined, and I loved my coaches so much, but at first they weren’t too keen on me being there, and they didn’t take it easy on me. Anything the boys had to do, I had to do the same exact thing. It was really hard, but I was so stubborn. They didn’t want me there? I was gonna try that much harder.”
As a quick primer for those unfamiliar with wrestling on the amateur level, it’s a sport that doesn’t nearly get the respect or attention it deserves (hence the dropping of wrestling programs at an alarming rate throughout the collegiate ranks). It’s grueling, unglamorous, and will test the conditioning, heart, and mind of its competitors on a regular basis. If you can survive a wrestling practice, you’re pretty damn tough. Survive a year, or two, or in Lady Fingers’ case, four years, you will likely be able to do anything you set your mind to.
It’s not easy though, and when you take away the actual mat work, there’s still the constant struggle to make weight regularly. And unlike boxing or mixed martial arts, where you get a day to rehydrate between weight day and fight night, for wrestling you weigh in on the day of your match, and sometimes even right before. It’s not something anyone would ever want to do, but Lady Fingers can laugh about it now.
“I was so miserable,” she said. “When you don’t eat and you work out so much, you are really cranky. I’d be sitting at the kitchen table drinking Slim Fasts for two days, and I’d be crying because I’d just be so irritable. My parents would say, ‘You know, you’re doing this to yourself, are you sure this is what you want to do?’ I’d say ‘You don’t understand,’ and I’d run off to my room and slam my door. (Laughs) It was a lot of dedication, and everybody has to make weight. You can’t even be an ounce over. You’re 112.0, and that’s it.”
Eventually finding a home in the 112 pound weight class, Lady Fingers recalled the days of being covered in sweatsuits (yes, plural), sprinting down the hallways of Curtis, and spitting in a cup to get every last ounce of water out. That was before she got on the mat. And in those early days of her grand experiment, it wasn’t easy there either.
“The first year, I didn’t wrestle, I just helped manage the team, but I went to every practice and I practiced with them, took everything in and got my ass kicked,” she said. “My sophomore year I wrestled in a tournament and I did all right but got my ass kicked a little, and it wasn’t until halfway through my second year where I dropped to a lower weight class, and then I had to beat out the person in my weight class to get into the lineup, and it didn’t happen that year. So then I came back my junior year and said ‘I’ve been wrestling for two years now, I have to do it.’ I went down to 112, beat out the kid at 112, and I did pretty well the whole season and I started making a name for myself.”
In 2004, she became the first female to start for a Staten Island wrestling team, and even more importantly, she was named captain her senior year. It was the ultimate show of respect for a teammate and a wrestler.
Unfortunately, the downstate New York area is not a hotbed for wrestling, female or male, so any thoughts of continuing on her mat journey ended after graduation. She started training as a wrestling referee, but that didn’t pan out, and when it came down to it…
“I really enjoyed eating, to be honest,” she laughs. “I think maybe I just wanted to take a break. It (wrestling) took such a toll mentally and physically for all those years that once I had the time to relax, I kinda enjoyed it.”
She wouldn’t stay idle long, eventually earning a spot on the women’s rugby team at Fordham University, but while she enjoyed getting the chance to shoot double leg takedowns on unsuspecting opponents on the rugby pitch, it wasn’t the same feeling she got on the mat.
“It felt very different for me at first,” she admits. “You’re so closely knit (in wrestling) when you work that hard every day. When I played rugby we didn’t practice as much, and it was a club sport so it wasn’t that intense or extreme. I didn’t feel the same family or familiar kind of thing with those girls.”
Lady Fingers would get that feeling again though, thanks to a suggestion from her resident director at school – Queens of Pain alumna Dinah Party – that she go and check out a roller derby bout. She did so a year later, and once she made it to the bleachers to see a doubleheader featuring the Gotham Girls Roller Derby All-Stars and the Wall Street Traitors, it was as if she’d taken the red pill in “The Matrix” – a whole new world opened up to her.
“I just watched them and I was so wildly impressed with the athletic ability and sheer competitive drive of these women,” she said. “I was itching to play something; I was getting so lazy. (Laughs) And I was determined after watching that first game. I said I don’t know what I have to do or how I have to do it, but I really need to play this.”
There was some initial trepidation, knowing that when it comes to competitive sports, things can get a little testy. And while she wanted to play, and play hard, she didn’t necessarily go in for the whole ‘kill or die’ mentality. She had seen that before.
“I’ve already been there and done it and it doesn’t foster a good environment for sports or for getting along with people,” she said. “When I joined derby, I came with the mindset of if this is anything where people have real bias against each other, or they’re just into their teams and they want nothing to do with each other, I don’t think I would really be able to flourish in an environment like that. Personally, I’m a really easygoing, laid back kind of person and I get along with everyone. If it turned into something where you hold grudges and hate other teams, I didn’t think I could do it.”
Needless to say, she’s stuck around, flourishing in her second season with the Bombshells while still managing to fit in a social life on top of her day job as a mechanical engineer. It’s a maddening schedule, but she – like her peers – manages to make it work.
“I don’t sleep,” she smiles. “I just wait. I’m like Chuck Norris.”
“Thank God I have so much energy, or else I would not be able to do half the stuff I do,” she continues. “I think I’ve always been a crazy overachiever, and if I’m not doing a million and one things every day, I feel like I’m not doing my job or I’m missing out on something. This might sound super cheesy, but I’m only on this Earth once, so if I don’t experience all the things that I want to do, then I’m really gonna regret it.”
Lady Fingers also has some significant moral support from her GGRD league mates, including her ‘derby wife’ from the Queens of Pain, fellow second year skater Puss ‘n Glutes.
“We both like to give it our all, and we both have that rugby experience, so we came into this ready to hit hard and fight for the top,” said Puss of Fingers. “Part of our derby relationship is that we love beating the crap out of each other, and she’s stepped up and gotten so good this year. I know when I’m jamming I’ll be looking out and planning my move around her. It’s exciting because Brooklyn is my favorite team other than Queens, so we get to push each other, and this year we get to really battle it out for something really important.”
That ‘something really important’ is a berth in the 2011 GGRD Championship bout, and on September 10th, Brooklyn and Queens will face each other, with the winner moving on to a showdown with the two-time defending champion Bronx Gridlock. Getting to the title game would be a dream for the Brooklyn skaters, and perhaps even more so for Lady Fingers, who feels like her game has evolved by leaps and bounds since her rookie season.
“I couldn’t even stand on two feet last year,” she said. “I feel now that I understand worlds more about derby than I did then. My awareness and the things that I’ve been taught in the last year are just mind blowing. With the strategy and the skills that they’ve taught me, I feel like a totally different person.”
Other folks are noticing as well.
“At a scrimmage, I heard someone from the other team turn around and say ‘get on Fingers!’” she laughs. “I guess I was just messing things up in the pack. I’m thinking in my head, ‘Now they’re worrying about me and actually thinking about me when I’m out there.’”
You know the old saying “steady wins the race”? That’s Lady Fingers. She made the measured climb in wrestling, and she’s doing it again in derby. So don’t think for a minute that she’s not applying the lessons she learned on the mat to what she’s doing on the track, because she is.
“(In wrestling) I learned so much about myself and I learned a lot about perseverance and determination and how when you really set your mind to things, you can make them happen,” she said. “Sometimes it takes a year or two years, three years, but that’s when all the hard work you put in really shows. When the odds are against you and maybe people don’t believe in you, or you don’t think you can do it, or you keep losing and getting knocked down, you don’t give up. You just keep trying and eventually you persevere and if you really have the strength and the passion for something, it will happen for you.”
Lady Fingers’ and the Brooklyn Bombshells’ match against the D.C. All Stars airs on NYC life starting on July 29th. Fingers and the Wall Street Traitors take on Suburbia on August 13th at Brooklyn’s Aviator Sports and Events Center.