A fast-moving sisterhood in Whakatane is nurturing the dream of one of its own, and for Fiona Dominick, founding member of the Whakatane Roller Derby League, the dream has just come a step closer.
Falling in love with the sport when she was first introduced to it in Whakatane nearly six years ago, Fiona is now a highly competitive player for the local team, a coach, and an all-round ambassador for the sport. And she has long had a dream – to make it into the New Zealand representative Roller Derby team and play at the highest level.
Last week brought news that may bring that goal to fruition. Fiona, who’s known on the roller derby track as “McFeerce” was named as one of 32 women selected for the final trial, from which 20 women will be chosen to make up the New Zealand team.
Having made it through the first series of gruelling eliminations, Fiona is ecstatic. Feeling “optimistic” of making the final cut, it will be a long wait until the final team is announced in June.
“There’s a sense of pride in coming from a small-town league and getting this far,” says Fiona. The tight-knit bunch of women that make up the Whakatane League are “like a family,” and have supported her hugely, she says.
“They feel like my sisters. We spend so much time together, training, and travelling away to games, often long distances”.
Many of the 14 members that make up the team have children, so it’s a big commitment,” she says. “We need very supportive partners and husbands.”
Fiona definitely counts husband, Arthur, in that category. “He’s just amazing,” she says. The couple moved to New Zealand in 2006, coming from a “little seaside town on the West Coast of Scotland”. The initial idea of coming to New Zealand for a year, however, has long since passed.
“New Zealand is home now,” says Fiona. There is much they love about living here, but particularly, it’s the outdoor lifestyle. “It’s really hard to imagine going back now.”
The couple now has two sons, eight-year-old Arran, and six-year-old Flynn. It seems that Arran may share his mother’s sporting drive. He’s “hard into BMX,” says Fiona, and competing for the Rotorua club with ambitions of competing for New Zealand. Flynn enjoys BMX too, and loves running, but he is also our “artistic one,” she says.
The family share a range of interests between them. Arthur is an accomplished guitarist, writing and recording music, and mixing it in his home studio.
For Fiona, a long-standing interest in alternative therapies, and in yoga and tai chi, might get more of a look in if life wasn’t already “quite busy”. “And I love African drumming, too,” she adds.
Both Fiona and Arthur work at Whakatane Hospital, Arthur, as an IT trainer, and Fiona, a speech and language therapist, working both within the hospital and out in the community.
With family regularly visiting from Scotland, Fiona says her mother must be highly amused at the turn of events her life has taken.
“I loved swimming when I was young. I trained and trained and trained, and Mum would support all of that – the early mornings, the travel, the long hours.” But whenever it came to competitions, Fiona says she would be overtaken by her anxiety.
“I’m sure I nearly drowned with the amount of water I swallowed,” she says. “I just couldn’t do it. I hated it.”
Years later, it seems she is now making up for it. Having worked hard to overcome that anxiety, and crediting her team mates with giving her much more confidence, Fiona is now hungry for competition and has worked to develop the mental strength she says is vital for roller derby.
As the league’s “jammer” (the point scorer), Fiona agrees that it’s a rough game, but “it’s also very strategic and very much a mental game,” she says. Often likened to “rugby on skates” due to the high degree of contact, Fiona not only loves the play, but also her role as one of the coaches of both their own team, and of the new players coming through.
“I’d love to start a junior league for younger players too,” she says.
And the fact that the sport suits all shapes and sizes and age groups, is something Fiona relishes. “Roller derby is for anyone. It’s a very inclusive sport,’” she says.
“It’s empowering and builds confidence because it develops pride in the ability of your body, as opposed to judgement.”
Fiona is very clear about her goal. She wants to make the team. At her New Zealand citizenship ceremony last year, when new citizens are given an opportunity to speak, she stood and said she wanted to play roller derby for New Zealand, to the amusement of many, she says. Her personal mantra during arduous cross-training sessions, is, “Team NZ, team NZ.”
If determination was the only marker for selection, Fiona would be on the team already.
Her trajectory is fitting with the ethos of the Whakatane Roller Derby League. Ambition and commitment run high, and the motto within the small-town league is, “Little league, big dreams”. It could barely be more fitting.
New Zealand will send its representative roller derby league to the World Cup in Manchester next year. It will be the first World Cup to be held outside of the traditional home of roller derby, the United States.