Laura “Baller” Mahler is a blocker and jammer for Delta Delta Di, a North Star Roller Girls team in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
It is easy to be fooled by her big smile but the truth is that Laura is a fierce competitor out on the track and she will knock you out.
With a background in comedy, break-dancing and skateboarding, we talk about how those skills have helped her career as a roller girl.
In addition, Laura talks about how she prepares mentally and physically to compete in such an intense fast-paced sport.
MMG: Laura, thanks for sitting down with me here at Man Meets Goat. I’ve got to start our conversation right off the bat by learning how you got into roller derby. It’s a very unique sport to play. What’s the story?
LAURA: I used to skateboard around in the summertime. I thought it would be similar…. but it is NOT at all. The stride is very different.
I had a co-worker, Ida Kildher, who played roller derby, so I went to watch her and was hooked!
I signed up for the rec league and was drafted onto the league a few months later.
MMG: I love that name, Ida Kilder, and so many of the others that you and the other North Star Roller Girls have, like Kee Lime Die and Razor Cakes and Beth Defying. Yours is “Baller”. How did that name come about?
LAURA: My last name is Mahler. I was at a party once in college and a freshman approached me and said, “I bet you don’t even know what my name is.”
I did. Then I said, “I bet you don’t even know my name!” and he said, “Sure I do! It’s Laura Baller!” I laughed.
That is not my name, but people have been calling me Baller ever since.
MMG: Well the name works and I can see why it stuck. For those who have never been to a roller derby, it’s hard to articulate really well how charged the atmosphere can be. It is very high energy. How do you prepare for that?
LAURA: The more I go to practice, the more prepared I am for “the big day”. I like to practice with the men’s league right before a bout.
If I can scrimmage with people twice the size of me, I feel ready to bout against women my own size!
I need a real good warm up the day of a bout as well. Otherwise I am very sloppy and spend the whole game in the penalty box.
I really like the high energy atmosphere and would have it no other way. The adrenaline rush is the best part.
MMG: I have seen you and the rest of Delta Delta Di out on the track and it’s pretty amazing how brutal the matches can be. Are you naturally very competitive? Do you have to prepare yourself at all mentally for that type of intensity?
LAURA: I am naturally competitive. I grew up with three brothers and no sisters, so I always wanted to prove myself and fight for validity.
When on the track, my favorite way to prepare for “battle” is to skate with my teammates. I always need the reminder that I am never alone on the track and I have amazing teammates who are all working hard to get that win.
We help keep each other mentally in check.
MMG: Battling it out on the track, knocking elbows and helmets with your competitors while zooming around has to require a strong nerve and toughness. Any advice to others about how to get that mental grit?
LAURA: Once I fully understood “the game” and how it is played and all the various rules that is when I was finally able to dive in and commit myself fully to playing.
I think my mental grit comes from wanting to be the best player I can be on the track. I want to play the game the hardest.
MMG: What’s your biggest battle wound from one of your bouts?
LAURA: I scratched my cornea once at an after party from wearing too much glitter…that is embarrassing, but it was SO painful. I wore sunglasses inside for weeks.
MMG: Well besides the glitter and the tattoos, the roller derby has a lot of theatricality to it. There are big personalities and the announcers and judges all add a bit of extra drama to the proceedings. I learned that you have a background in theater and improv. How has that helped you out on the track?
LAURA: Studying theater has made me fearless. That is an important skill to bring to the track. Improv teaches you to be a good teammate and work together with others.
I’d like to think I bring that too. The theater world can be very tough at times, just like roller derby. No matter what, you must stay positive and never give up.
MMG: Is your persona on the track similar to what you are like in real life? Or is any of it a bit of a show for the crowd?
LAURA: I think i am naturally a bit of a “show for the crowd” but I am not at all playing a part or pretending to be someone I am not.
That is the coolest part of derby. I get to be myself. The super fierce version of myself.
MMG: Were you always into sports growing up? Did you play on any teams in high school or college?
LAURA: I dabbled in softball and baseball growing up, but I was mostly a theater geek.
As I got older, I began to focus on physical comedy, which requires a lot of strength and coordination. I also studied break dancing, which requires a lot of muscles!
MMG: What does your training involve? Outside of being comfortable on your skates, do you do anything in terms of lifting or cardio to help with your performance on the track?
LAURA: I train all the time. I go to TwinTown CrossFit about nine times per month. I also skate on a treadmill at a hockey training facility called Acceleration North once per week.
I need to run more to help with my endurance, but I don’t love to run. I would rather go to yoga class, though I always fall asleep during corpse pose.
MMG: Looking back at your experience so far, what has roller derby taught you about yourself or about life?
LAURA: I had no idea how strong I could be if I really put my mind to something. Roller Derby has taught me that hard work and commitment will always pay off.
Life is not about a quick reward. It is about being patient and persistent.
MMG: Finally, as it now has become a bit of a tradition with my athlete interviews, what is your “goat”?
LAURA: I have all the goats. I still have so much to learn. There is always someone stronger, faster and smarter than me that can kick my ass. So I can’t stop won’t stop working hard and playing harder.