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Lesbian roller-derby player talks love, sports and family
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2012-07-03

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Jackie Daniels is in her eighth season as a roller derby standout, but, with the experience comes a bit of light-hearted ribbing.

"I am getting to be a granny of the sport," she said with a smile. "I have to do all I can to keep up with these young, healthy bodies on the track. I was joking with our youngest All-Star member the other day, calling her 'Young Tender,' and telling her to drop 'Granny,' referring to myself."

Rachel Bockheim, the real-life Jackie Daniels, is 33 and lives in the Wicker Park/Bucktown area. She has been in Chicago for a little more than two years and works as a project manager for a rendering and animation company. She claims she is now "single-ish, though I recently met someone. She stuns me every second with her vivid capacity for life. I'm not known for commitments, but this one—she's got it if she wants it."

Daniels is in her third season with the Windy City Rollers, a member of the Fury and co-captain for the WCR All-Stars.

She previously skated, and lived, in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she built her on-track style: friendly, yet fierce. She's a pivot, which is a front-of-the-pack, typically defensive position. She also has been a jammer, the point-scoring player.

"People say about love, you know when you know," Daniels said. "Well, I was never so certain about anything in my life until I heard about roller derby. Even though I knew next to nothing about the sport [when I started], I still knew I was going to play it; it was never a question. It's truly my first love. If I was meant to do anything, it was this.

"Roller derby is hard work that is very challenging—and a little healthy competition. I love the derby community, a fun-loving and supportive one. There is a ton of opportunity for growth in derby."

Daniels tried several sports while growing up and was very active in gymnastics until the age of 14. "I wasn't much for sports with balls. While I've tried [them], it's with little success," she said. "Basically, if it requires legs and strapping things on your body, I can do it, [such as] water/snow skiing, roller/ice skating [and] wake/skate boarding; they all come pretty naturally to me."

Roller derby, too, as she launched her career with the Grand Raggidy Roller Girls (GRRG)—memories that, still today, are very special to her.

"It's a little bit painful to think about all the memories I have and to still not be with them," Daniels said. "Going to watch my first game not as a GRRG skater was one of the hardest things I've done, which was really unexpected. I was nearly an original member and was a leader on and off the track. I was part of so many amazing things, like picking team names, developing the first uniforms, planning crazy parties, printing the T-shirts and the gritty work. I was involved in all aspects of the business development.

"I saw many of the skaters [on] the first day they strapped on skates, made teams, or skated in a Regional tournament. I met some of the most influential people and challenges in my life during those years; I cherish them. I skated for the Blue Collar Broads home team, and was captain of the [GRRG] All Stars each of my seasons there. There is a lot of heart, hard work and laughter in GRRG—they are a fantastic league and I am so proud to have been part of it."

Chicago's WCR are among the elite nationally, currently ranked No. 10 overall and No. 1 in the North Central Region.

"When I started derby seven years ago, all I had to do was sign a waiver," Daniels recalls. "These women are now training for months just to try out for our farm team to hopefully make a team sometime after. Our travel team, particularly All Star tryouts, are cut-throat. We have skaters training for spots on our Second Wind team that could be starters on 'A' teams in smaller cites. WCR is deep, and that says a lot for the longevity of our sport and how Chicago can remain a top competitor.

"The biggest misconception about derby is that people stereotype players all the time. It's a shame. We are all too pretty/big/small to play roller derby and all lesbians throw elbows—didn't you know?"

Daniels' derby goal is a WFTDA championship tourney win for the All Stars, "and I have some crazy ideas about what I can do to remain involved [in the sport] when my body wears out," she said.

Daniels said her career highlight came last October when her parents and aunt attended the North Central Regional playoffs. "They have always been so supportive of derby, but they had never witnessed the competition and community of a multi-game tourney like that," Daniels said. "WCR made out with a couple close wins late in the weekend to remain in first-place and secure a first-round bye at Championships. There were truly little miracle moments in these games by the All Stars.

"My parents were so energized and ultimately, so proud. My mom was spotted at brunch and talked to some random roller girls; I guess they fanned out on her because she was Jackie Daniels' mom. She felt like a rock star.

"I took the hardest hit I've had in derby [during those playoffs] by running into my own teammate at top speed. I got up really slowly to finish that jam, but I was not in good shape. My dad came running to the bench after to see if I was OK; he was so worried. It was really amazing for me to see them so engaged. I think it brought a whole new perspective of derby to them, and seeing them really, really understand what I have poured my heart and soul into for the last seven years was incredible."

Daniels said derby has led to multiple annoying, nagging injuries. She's endured broken fingers, hip pointers, sprained knees, vocal-cord nodules, and more. "I have added a strong cross-training regimen [through] On Your Mark Training; that is helping me stay strong and, hopefully, injury-free for a long while."


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