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MFA student rolls into inspiration

BY JOHN ENGER
engerjo@mnstate.edu

Most people don’t ever get the privilege of having an alter ego. Sammi Jones is a rare exception.

By day, Jones is a master of fine arts major at MSUM. She loves Dickens, writes non-fiction and hangs out in Weld. By night, she dons pads and roller skates and goes by the name of Toni Crush. By night, Jones is a derby girl.

“It’s like football on wheels for women … It’s full contact, so … it can be brutal. You get some really nice bruises,” Jones said, pointing to a saucer-sized deep green mark above her knee. “I fell over somebody at practice. She fell down and I tried to jump over her and I think I hit — I don’t know what I hit on her — if it was her helmet or what, but it turned out to be a really nice bruise.”

When imagining a writing student, it’s safe to say, full contact isn’t exactly what springs to mind. But Jones’s close friends weren’t too surprised when she joined derby.

“She’s pretty laid back,” said John Powers, friend of Jones and fellow MFA major, “unless you get a few beers in her, then she starts getting physical. Those of us who are Jones’s friends have gone home with sore arms on many a night from sitting next to her.”

Since joining the F-M Derby Girls in July 2010, Jones has immersed herself in the sport.
“It seems like it has become a way of life for her. It seems like it might be her career,”
Powers said. “I don’t know. She’s really in to it. I mean it seems like as soon as she tried out for it and made the team she seems to have really taken it on as a way of life.”

She goes to derby practices for 2 hours 4 to 5 times a week. Derby has even found its way into her writing.

“I was going to try and graduate this spring,” Jones said, “and the stuff I had been writing about for the last couple of years had nothing to do with derby. All of a sudden derby started sneaking into it. So I’m putting the kibosh on the stuff I already had and taking an extra semester to finish this one off. There are so many great characters. I don’t even have to invent them. They’re all real people.”

There is a cost to all the derbying. Besides all the bumps and bruises, Jones suffered a concussion in February.

“We were bouting on February 19 … I was jamming,” Jones said. “When you jam you are the one who tries to score points — so you try and dodge everybody in the pack to get around. And somehow, I’m still not sure what really happened. But I fell backwards, and I don’t fall backwards much anymore, but I smoked my head. Then it was kind of in and out. The thing is, when there is a big pile up, you can’t really tell who started it or what happened.”

Jones recovered quickly from the concussion and got back on the rink. Though the experience did aluminate the possible dangers involved in derbying, it did not waver Jones’s love for the sport.

“You have so much support from these awesome people,” Jones said, “and you can be whoever you want to be and it’s okay. There are all sorts. Some are stay-at-home moms, some own their own businesses, some are students. It’s like a support group where you hit people and it’s legal.”

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