22-year-old Jenna McLean will be heading to France in July 2023 as part of Team Canada's Junior Roller Derby team. McLean is among three other individuals who were named as coaches last week. Previously, she had tried out for the Junior National Team but didn't make the roster and because she had tried out at a time when she was aging out of the junior age bracket, she assumed it would be her first and only time at a chance on the roster.
Although she said she was heartbroken at not making the team originally, she knew from that moment that she wanted to be involved with the national team in one capacity or another. She would try again for Junior Roller Derby World Cup that was to be held in Regina, but once again her hopes were dashed as the COVID-19 pandemic exploded. Alas, it seemed that the third time was the charm when McLean submitted her name for next year's World Cup. When she did hear the news of having been chosen, it made her speechless.
"I checked my email and I was like, 'Oh my god, I'm going to France!' I got out of bed and ran to tell my mom. I was just so excited," she said. "I told my close friends and my family that I'm a coach for Junior Team Canada; like that's insane!"
McLean, who started in the sport when she was 16, also has an impressive roller derby nickname: Ferris Bruiser.
"Season one of Stranger Things had just come out [when I started skating], and I was into the whole 80's thing and was watching a bunch of 80's movies all the time. So, I thought, I have to pull something from these movies and Ferris Bueller's Day Off was one of the best movies I was watching at the time."
Her nickname is aptly suited to the sport, as McLean said that roller derby is physical. She explained that roller derby is essentially melding rugby, football, and hockey, and taking away the balls, pucks and sticks, but introducing roller skates and a circular rink into the mix. She clarified that although players don't ram each other into the boards as they might in hockey, it is still a physical, fast-paced game. There are three different levels of gameplay which vary in physicality. A level one roller derby player will have no physical contact, while level two has a bit more physical contact.
"Once you get to level three, that is when you can do full contact, like shoulder check, tip check, and run into people at full speed. It is a very physical game and when I first started skating, I was a level two junior, and I could not wait to go up to level three and play full contact and not have to come to a complete stop before engaging with other skaters," McLean said. "I wanted to just keep going as fast as I could all the time. It definitely drew me in."
She explained that in roller derby there are two main positions, though sometimes that can split into three positions. A team is comprised of jammers, who tend to be what McLean describes as flashy skaters.
"You always notice them because they wear helmet covers, which normally have stars on them. Then there are blockers, but the exception to that is the pivot, which is the third position, but they are technically blockers. I primarily skate as a jammer, but I do occasionally block and depending on which team I'm skating with, I will occasionally pivot as well."
Apart from the rough and tumble aspect of the game, McLean said one needs to also have a great deal of stamina and balance to excel. But what about falling down?
"It does take a lot of time to kind of adapt to the fact that yes, you are going to fall down but you are going to be able to get back up at the end of the day."
But now as she will move into a coaching role, McLean also reflected on what a good coach does and how they interact with their players. McLean said a coach that has natural leadership ability, is approachable and kind-hearted will always bond with a team and that goes in any and all sports, in her view. She said that it is a rare quality to find a coach that not only cares for their athletes but also nurtures the team and the individuals.
"I love coaches that are able to have fun with their athletes, that are able to talk to their athletes. Also, coaches that are able to celebrate the little victories, even if they don't equate to a massive victory or a win at the end of the day [is important]," she said. " I love coaches that have levels of compassion for them that are just completely unmatched and they really genuinely care about everyone that they work within the sport that they coach."
McLean currently skates for the Calgary Roller Derby (CRD) All-Stars and she said she plans to skate for as long as she possibly can.
"Coaching has been an absolute dream [because] I have a job to do on the side as well as playing," McLean said. "Because it's such a loose sport, there's not a lot of very specific requirements that you need to have in order to be successful in this and that's something that I love to explore and look at. I love working with super short skaters because I'm super short and it's nice to just say, 'Hey, I know we're going up against blockers that are like eight times our size, but we can still make this work."
Alongside McLean, Caroline "Meow" Reimer, was named as Head Coach from Lethbridge Roller Derby Guild, while Christine "Freddie" Manders, Tri-City Junior Roller Derby, and Raina "Raina Terror" Owen, Saskatoon Junior Roller Derby League were also named as part of the announcement for the coaching position for Team Canada Junior Roller Derby.
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