Regardless of what sport you play, any athlete can say it’s an honour to represent Canada on an international stage.
Now, imagine finding out your best friend, whom you’ve grown up with in the sport for a long time, is also hopping on the plane with you to compete as well?
That dream became a reality this month for two young Prince George women as they’ve been selected to play for Canada’s national junior roller derby team at the 2020 World Cup.
Dael King-Smith and Taylor Robinson, also known as ‘Tundra’ and ‘Lightning’ on the track respectively, both agreed hearing their country calling them was overwhelming at first.
“I cried because I was very happy. I just thought it was really amazing and I felt very accomplished,’ said Tundra, an eight-year veteran of the sport.
“I woke up and I checked my email, because I was waiting for that email, but I was too asleep to not quite comprehend what was going on until my walk to school at 7 a.m. in the morning,” Lightning described when asked the question, and said they had to stay quiet for about a week before sharing the news.
“But that’s when it really hit me because I had finally woken up and I was trying so hard not to cry in front of everybody because we had to keep it a secret for a while.”
The teenage skaters roll with Prince George’s resident junior club, the Spruce City Roller Brats, but have been welcomed in the past year by the city’s older players to practice and prep for what is now the biggest moment of their young careers.
“They really helped with building your skill-set because they are at a high-level and they’re really accommodating towards Lightning and I’s level,” said Tundra, and those tips and tricks she and her best friend learned set them up for success when they went to a national try-out in Chilliwack two months ago.
“It’s a really accepting sport,” adds Lightning. “All the people you meet are just really awesome and accepting and I’ve made so many friends. It’s just a wonderful community of people and it’s just a really fun sport just to be able to skate around and hit people.”
In a nutshell, the objective of roller derby to get a teammate through a wall of the opposing team’s players as you skate around the track and hip-checking them to score points, with the team with more points winning the contest.
While there is the physical component, both Prince George athletes believe it was their play-calling abilities that got them as two of the 40 shortlisted juniors.
“I have a pretty good jamming skill set, but they were also looking for good vocals on the track,” said Tundra. “I really tried to make sure that I would communicate with my teammates I was playing with that day. I think they really saw that and appreciated it, so that really helped a lot.”
“At the tryout, I was very vocal, which was very good,” Lightning echoed, “and I took a lot of the leadership roles that I think got me ahead of some of the other people. I just tried my best and I think they saw that I tried my best and they thought it was good enough for them.”
Tundra and Lightning each credit their mothers for having a role in getting them involved with roller derby in the first place, both making an instant connection with the oval.
They’re also thankful for their junior coach Jamie Mault, also known as ‘Nandicorn’ on the track, who gave them the chance to wipe the floor with the Roller Brats the last few years.
“They came over, told me the news and gave me this cool shirt,” said Mault while sporting a red shirt with a maple leaf with the words ‘Tundra and Lightning.’
“I opened it up and I cried because I was very very proud of them. They’re both very incredible talented skaters and are very deserving of this. [...] Both of them are extremely coachable. They always have great attitudes, they’re some of the first skaters that are going to help a newer skater or a skater that’s struggling with something; they’re really incredible.”
Lightning has been skating for seven years and isn’t afraid to get physical as a jammer, the athlete that tries to get through the blockers.
Ultimately, she feels grateful to share the honour with Tundra and is looking forward to creating lasting memories.
“She’s [Tundra] my best friend, so it’s just so amazing to just be able to go on this journey with her because it’s been dreams of ours for years. To do this with someone I’m so close with just makes it a whole lot better.”
The Junior Roller Derby World Cup will be Aug. 15-16, 2020 in Regina, Sask., and will pin host-Canada against the United States, Australia, and various countries from Europe.
Tundra has been placed on the open division roster (co-ed), while Lightning will suit up with the all-female division team.