A Shock On The Rise: Jonathan R.

"Play roller derby, be the best, and do it with class!"

Jonathan R., the father and Captain of one of the best men's roller derby teams, New York Shock Exchange (NYSE), poses a serious threat to the Finnish model of a male athlete. This agile, hard-as-nails, strategic player combines artistic roller skating and American football to men's roller derby and is known as the ”Flying Squirrel”.

Finnish "merby" is coming together little by little. It took its first steps in December 2012 when The Sons Of Peaches (TSOP), a team of referees who wanted to try playing, took on a similar Scandinavian ref team The Peaches. The bout was such a mayhem that it can only be explained by the (over)excitement of the guys to be on the actual track instead of the outlines of it. After the dust had settled from this historical prologue to Finnish male derby, Tampere decided to go ahead and put together the first competitive men's roller derby team in the country and challenged TSOP to do the same. This finally led to founding a Team Finland for the World Championships of Men's Roller Derby, which will be held in the spring of 2014.

Like women's roller derby in Finland, the male version is also a bit behind from its American cousin. Men's Roller Derby Association (MRDA) was founded in the US in 2007 and today they have 31 member leagues, of which 28 are based in the States, one in Canada and two in the UK. MRDA hosts their own Championships for the fourth time this year. Jonathan R. was there to see the growth of merby behind the great water, namely in New York. Since its birth in 2007, NYSE has worked its way to the top of men's roller derby leagues in the world. 

Photo: Quick Draw Sports Photography

Jonathan, as the Primus Motor, you probably have the best angle to look at the league's development over the years. NYSE surely is bigger and better, but is it different from the early days?
- The New York Shock Exchange charges forward with the same goals it had on day one; play roller derby, be the best, and do it with class. We fostered a strong sense of brotherhood right from the get go. I am proud to say that as we have grown, we carry on that spirit. Practice is as fun as it ever was.

NYSE won the first MDC Championships in 2010, as well as the second edition (under MRDA) in 2011, but last year you were left outside of the final bout between Your Mom Men's Derby (Des Moines, IA) and St. Louis. How are the rates of the Shock Exchange going to look in the final tournament in Sioux City in October?
- Our goal is to win the championship; simple as that. The competition is super intense. Every team on its way to the MRDA Championship is a huge threat.

So how are you going to pave your way to get there?
- We always hold practice. We had it the day after the all-star team won the MRDA Championship. It is what we like to do; work to get better and play roller derby. We took our big trip to England so, instead of attending any invitational events in May, we are focused on our bouts against Your Mom  in June, St. Louis GateKeepers in July, Central Mass Maelstrom in August, and the Mohawk Valley Cup in August. It looks like we may get another high profile game in as well.

Let's talk about European derby… You came to play Southern Discomfort last year and your victory was crushing. How do you think Southern Discomfort will succeed this season in the big boys league? How do you see American roller derby in general, compared to European?
- I think Southern Discomfort will do well. They could very well be knocking on the door for an invitation to Sioux City in October. The big difference between the US and European roller derby is experience. Many of the teams remind me of where the Shock Exchange was about three years ago. They are learning fast, training to be competitors, and sharpening up their game instincts.

Artistic poise, tough attitude and 16 laps in two minutes

Jonathan is a jammer, but also the Captain of his team. Where do his game instincts and competitive spirit come from, and moreover; his incredible stamina and agility? Jonathan, I remember reading somewhere that you used to do artistic roller skating, do you still find time for that?
- No, I have not competed in artistic roller skating since the mid-90's. Freestyle figure roller skating gave me the ability to express myself on roller skates. My father also competed as an artistic roller skater in the 90's. He primarily competed in the dance discipline (i.e. waltz, tango, foxtrot, etc.). My father taught me persistence and self-discipline by example. That is at the core of my being.

Photo: Quick Draw Sports Photography

It still seems a bit far-fetched to move from an artistic disciple to a team and contact sport like roller derby. Where or who did that come from?
- Outside of my family, my biggest athletic influences are my skating coach and high school American football coaches. My skating coach, Donna Hynes, taught me all of the freestyle skating jumps and spins as well as how to skate with grace and poise. My high school football coaches recognized the toughness inside me and taught me how to play on a team, a critical part of roller derby. As for roller derby, Anne Phetamean, a Gotham Girl, asked to help out when she saw me skating after a season one GGRD bout.

After that night, the rest is history. Jonathan coached and refereed in New York's Gotham Girls Roller Derby until 2007, when felt the time was ripe for a men's team. You told earlier that you don't have time for freestyle skating anymore. Does roller derby eat all of your spare time now? - I enjoy being very active. I skate, dance, cycle, walk, lift weights, play roller hockey, and play roller derby as much as I can. Roller Derby is definitely "pro-am." Although not employed by our teams, we are training at the highest level we can. Unlike professional athletes, I do not take days off. It's not my job; it's my life.

Phew, Jonathan certainly lives for derby. Besides taking the trophy home from the Sioux City finals, does he have personal goals regarding derby? Is there always something more to achieve, Jonathan R.?
- My goals as a skater now are to skate every game clean, be ready to jam in every jam and, in training, lap the roller derby track 16 times in two minutes.

To put this in perspective, in the WFTDA minimum skills test a skater must skate around the track five times in one minute, and 27 times per five minutes… The "Flying Squirrel" is really flying on the track! Is that where the nickname comes from, your speed?
- Not quite… Have you ever seen the Rocky and Bullwinkle show?

No, I really can't say I have, but now I definitely have to.

Originally published in KARU 1/2013
Translation by Niisku Poppanen