With the Roller Derby World Cup drawing near, North Coast Nightmares jammer Sasheen Wesley is nervous but excited.
“I get really bad butterflies, like, as if you’re just about to jump off a building,” she said. “And I’m afraid of heights.”
The trip to England alone is big for Wesley, who’s never been outside of Canada, but playing in a global championship is absolutely momentous.
Nicknamed Bash-full and with Tsimshian heritage, Wesley was selected for Team Indigenous in August last year after local Nightmares coach Chris Thomas prompted her to apply.
“I didn’t know how big of a thing it would be at the time,” said Wesley, saying she scanned the site and didn’t realize the scope of the tournament when she applied. “I was just like, ‘oh this is neat,’ and figured I’d read through it and send in my application, just so I can say I tried.”
She sent video footage in for what was a digital tryout, and made the team, which includes 20 indigenous players from Canada, the United States, Argentina, New Zealand and Samoa, an island near Fiji.
Team Indigenous is the first team in the championship to unite under the banner of heritage rather than conventional nationality, like the other 37 teams such as Team England and Team Australia.
Team Indigenous will face Italy and Iceland on day one of the world cup, which is in Manchester, England Feb. 1-4.
For Wesley, the jump of going from only playing with the local team to competing in the top international championship is a bit overwhelming, but she’s bolstered by support from team mates and family.
Besides offering encouragement, the Nightmares have done fundraisers, including a send-off in November and a polar swim. Wesley’s partner John Erickson and her eight children have also been a huge support: Erickson helps keep her head in the game, and her children inspire pride and excitement when they see Wesley’s story and family photos in the media.
“They see their pictures, and they see their names, and they’re like ‘that’s us! That’s my mom!'” she said. “Seeing them so proud, it means the world to me.”
People in the community have also stopped her in town to say she’s an inspiration, Wesley said, adding that it fuels her to know she’s inspiring others.
“I don’t mind sharing. I always thought that if you can help inspire other people, empower women, I don’t mind,” she said. “The things that I’ve been through and where I am today, I’m very grateful for that and I don’t mind sharing (to help others).”
For Wesley, roller derby played a key role in helping pull her out of alcohol addiction and a depression which followed the loss of her baby son to meningitis in 2009.
“I just kind of lost focus, lost track,” said Welsey. “I was in and out of alcohol addiction for 3-5 years. It wasn’t until I switched positions and took roller derby seriously, that I decided I was going to make changes in my life.”
“Then with alcohol, I didn’t have time for it,” she said. “I didn’t want it, didn’t need it. I’d rather do my workouts than drink. I would rather go to practice clear-minded instead of hung over.”
Leaving that behind, Wesley stepped up her involvement in roller derby in 2015, but her development into a fast-skating, hard-hitting jammer took some time.
Wesley was nicknamed Bashful in high school because of her shy, soft-spoken character, but when she joined roller derby, she decided to own and revamp the name.
“No, not the shy kind,” said Wesley, explaining that she changed Bashful to Bash-Full to reflect all the hitting and bashing that dominates roller derby.
But little did Wesley know that the name shift would be prophetic, because what started as a name became an attitude that Wesley chose to embrace.
“There comes a point when you get so tired of getting hit,” Wesley said, recalling the moment from early 2017 when the Nightmares were playing against the aggressive Fort St. John Killabies.
“I remember, I just had enough,” said Wesley. “I was like, ‘you know what? This is it! I’m tired of getting hit! I’m going to hit back!”
Now that aggression and resilience fuels her game, and marks her point-scoring as a jammer, a position she earned in 2016 and wanted from the start.
Jammers skate laps to score points, while blockers play the dual role of opposing the opponent jammer and assisting their own jammer.
Coach Chris Thomas said that although Wesley wanted that key position from day one, her shy character and hesitation to hit showed she wasn’t ready.
“It’s harder to put people into jamming right at the start… you play it a little more alone and you’re the target,” said Thomas. “It’s a tough place to be in, and she’s a smaller lady.”
It wasn’t until early-2017, when Wesley returned after a pregnancy a year-long break from roller derby, that Thomas saw she was ready for the position.
“She came back from her break with a lot more determination and eagerness, and it was noticeable,” he said. “She was ready to play and ready to push.”
Wesley remembers that moment too.
“I told my team I was going to kind of take it easy,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t take it easy. I just jumped back in.”
“It just felt so good to be back on skates,” she said, “I missed it.”
Now as Wesley prepares for her trip to England, she says the key will be to enjoy the experience and embrace the fun of the game she loves.
Team Indigenous has gotten familiar with each other via skype and has one practice Jan. 31 in England.
The next day, it’s game on.