Zoe Holmes was stunned when she spotted her name on the final roster of the Team Indigenous Rising Roller Derby squad, an all-star team among many that will represent the United States at the 2019 International Women’s Flat Track Derby Association in Montreal from Nov. 15-17. The tournament is the equivalent to a World Cup.
“I was shocked I made the team,” said Holmes, 24, a utility player for Hellgate Roller Derby. “I had it in my head that Team Indigenous was this really amazing thing happening in roller derby. I didn’t think I had it in me.”
She is one of five alternatives and one of 40 applicants to make the 30-skater team. A Sitka, Alaska native with Athabascan heritage, Holmes said the try-out after-effects have blown her away.
“Everybody’s very positive and welcoming,” she said. “Roller derby has given me a huge self-confidence boost that I never knew I had before. I was super shy before.”
Team Indigenous Coach Jennifer Fox Bennett, whose player nickname is Windigo, said she’s thrilled to welcome Holmes.
“Given that we are from all over Turtle Island (present-day North America), we held video submissions for tryouts in early Spring 2019, as it’s cost prohibitive to have in-person tryouts for most of our skaters,” said Bennett. “We chose a roster of 30 skaters to compete in any available bouts or tournaments that we would be invited to.”
Before roller derby, the only sport Holmes played was Native Youth Olympics in Alaska. In middle school, she competed in the “one-foot-high kick,” a tricky event involving leaving the ground with both feet, kicking a ball suspended in the air and then landing on the same kicking foot – an obscure event, to say the least.
Her best competitive years were ahead of her on what’s often a make-shift concrete track in rough-and-tumble roller derby, which toughens anyone who sticks around and lands back on their feet. Roller derby is literally and figuratively a lesson in taking control.
“Taking up your space and empowering women, that confidence carries over into everyday life,” she said.
In her multi-level application to Team Indigenous, Holmes discussed her involvement with her family heritage and sent in a try-out video from the blocker position. Referrals from previous coaches helped as well.
She became aware of Team Indigenous when Hellgate played the Jackson Hole Juggernauts on the road. She spotted a few Juggernauts with red hand prints painted on their faces, symbolic of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls awareness campaign, then joined them and Hellgate teammates Laura Bird and Skye Summers in a spontaneous all-indigenous group photo.
“But I’m the only one who tried out for Team Indigenous,” added Holmes.
She was unable to attend due to work, but teammates and other Montana players attended the recent RollerCON in Las Vegas, where the newly christened Team Indigenous played exhibition bouts against the likes of Jewish Roller Derby and teams from Canada, Japan and the Philippines.
“I didn’t get to go, but it was the first time playing for the new Team Indigenous skaters,” she said.
When Zoe Holmes’ mother, Janice Calflooking, selected her roller derby nickname, right away her Port Scandalous teammates in Port Angeles, Washington, put their own characteristic spin on it.
“Jet Black” became “Jet Pack,” better fitting Holmes’ talent as a utility player and specialty as a jammer, the point-scorer. The nickname stuck when she moved to Missoula and joined Hellgate Roller Derby.
Sporting a unique moniker on the back of a jersey is the pride and joy of every roller derby queen. Often players don’t know the real names of their opponents, as camaraderie is a main tenant of the trending sport that has grown in recent years across Montana, the country and worldwide.
For Hellgate, she also plays the blocker and pivot, a key position that involves a lot of backward skating, great spotting skills and overall athleticism.
To see Hellgate in action, the team’s last bout of the season is set for Sept. 14 at the Missoula County Fairgrounds 4-H Pavilion, starting at 5:30 p.m. Cost is $10 per adult. Kids are welcome.
Holmes doesn’t expect Team Indigenous to call her up to play on the competitive roster. She said it’s expensive to travel, but she’s thrilled to represent her Athabascan heritage in a sport she’s come to love.
“I love roller derby because it’s given me a voice and a place,” said Jet Pack. “I feel very close to the roller derby community. Everyone is kind, competitive and badass.”