Here's an awesome US hero for the Olympics!
The Roller Derby Star Chasing Speedskating Gold
Team USA’s Erin Jackson is a medal contender in the 500 meters. Her teammates from the ‘New Jax City Rollers’ will be watching.
Erin Jackson spent a few seasons playing with New Jax City Rollers. TRISTAN KING
By Jason Gay, WSJ
Feb. 10, 2022 7:02 am ET
Erin Jackson is one of the best speedskaters in the world, a medal favorite at these Olympics, and a thrilling athlete to watch whenever she puts on a pair of skates.
Turns out Jackson can also withstand a body-bending hit. Or deliver one.
Don’t take my word for it. Listen to a couple of Jackson’s former teammates:
Shady Godiva and Fancy Schmancy.
“She’s just tough,” Shady Godiva says.
“Super strong,” says Fancy Schmancy.
Shady and Fancy know. Before Jackson made her case as the fastest woman on ice, before she became one of Team USA’s best hopes for gold, she was a star in the rollicking world of roller derby, trading collisions and bruises with teammates who maintained aliases like Meow Mix, Atomic Mel-Down, Jamsterella and Noam Bombsky.
“It’s an amazing sport,” Jackson tells me.
Jackson spent a few seasons last decade playing with New Jax City Rollers, a selective outfit in Jacksonville, Fla. She joined the club after a brief run with her hometown team–the Ocala Cannibals.
Jackson was a “jammer,” a key position in which she and the opposing team’s “jammer” simultaneously try to skate through a tangle of players called “blockers,” and score points by lapping opponents around the track.
If the blockers were Jackson’s teammates, they’d try and help her through. If the blockers were opponents…no such luck.
“I was the person everyone was trying to beat up,” Jackson says. The role required her to wear a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards and a mouth piece.
“Rolled an ankle, jammed my thumb, hurt my shoulder a little bit,” she recalls. “Just random little things, nothing major.”
The 29-year-old Jackson is one of the most compelling stories at the 2022 Games. The University of Florida engineering grad was a world-class in-line skater–that’s the land-borne stuff, not on ice–who managed to qualify for the 2018 U.S. Olympic long track speedskating team in Pyeongchang, despite limited training on ice.
Erin Jackson skates during a practice session in Beijing.
PHOTO: GERALD HERBERT/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Since then, Jackson’s become dominant in the 500 meters, a race that lasts a sliver more than a lap, and is effectively a sprint. Late last year, Jackson reeled off a string of World Cup wins, becoming the first Black American woman to win a speedskating World Cup race, and announcing herself as a serious favorite for China.
Then Jackson slipped in a qualifying race for the U.S. team, a mishap which nearly caused her to miss the Games altogether. That’s when Ocala friend Brittany Bowe yielded her own spot in the 500 to Jackson. Team USA wound up getting an extra skater in the 500 anyway, but Bowe’s offer was widely praised for its unselfishness.
“It was really awesome of her to do that,” Jackson says of Bowe.
For Shady Godiva and Fancy Schmancy, it’s been mildly mind-blowing, seeing their former roller derby pal front and center in the build-up to Beijing.
“Oh my gosh, I tell everybody I know about her,” says Shady Godiva, whose real name is Josie Ramsey. “Just the other day, I had friends over, and an Xfinity commercial or something came on, and I’m like ‘There’s Erin! I actually know her!’”
“I’m not shocked, because she’s such an awesome athlete,” says Fancy Schmancy, aka Keri Lewis, one of New Jax City’s captains. “It’s just shocking, knowing that somebody you’re friends with is there.”
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Both Lewis and Ramsey rave about Jackson’s roller derby talent–even on an experienced team, she stood out. Jackson won tournament MVPs, got selected to All-Star teams and, in 2018, was named to the U.S. Roller Derby World Cup team.
“I would just watch her skate,” says Ramsey. “Going from the inside line to the outside line, left to right, right to left, changing her speed, quick acceleration, quick stops–it was beautiful to watch.”
Even with Jackson fully committed to speedskating and living in Utah–and New Jax City on hiatus during the pandemic–Jackson stays in touch with her teammates. Her roller derby memories are fond ones.
“It was a lot of fun, and really hard,” she says. “It was definitely a challenging sport.”
Jackson says she loved being part of a team she compared to a “family.”
“I hadn’t done many team sports, so being part of that dynamic was really cool,” she says. Alas, Jackson passed on a roller derby nickname: “I skated under my real name.”
That’s fine with Shady Godiva and Fancy Schmancy. Ramsey, who is Black, says she is especially proud of how Jackson has been a trailblazer in sports that traditionally have had few Black athletes. “Roller derby is very similar to speed skating–there’s not a lot of people of color,” she says. “For Erin to be so successful in roller derby and be such a positive mentor–I don’t know if there are words for how important that is.”
Now Jackson will attempt to make more skating history. The women’s 500-meter final is Sunday at 8 a.m. ET. Lewis says some of the New Jax City Rollers are planning to gather for a watch party, which makes Fancy Schmancy a little bit nervous.
“When she won last year, I cried for 10 minutes straight,” she says.