Twice in her childhood, Gracie Cole’s parents piled their family of six into a VW bus and traveled throughout the United States for six weeks, taking in the sights and sounds everywhere from Mt. Rushmore to Florida’s Gulf Coast. After she established herself as one of the top young field hockey players in the country, she found herself traveling even more frequently with junior national teams. Her world expanded rapidly and now continues to expand as she embarks upon a cross-country roller skating trip for States on Skates.
This is the second of a two-part series. To view the first entry, visit here.
When did you first become involved with roller derby? What initially interested you in the sport?
I first became interested in roller derby when I lived in Eugene, Oregon. My friend had attended a few practice sessions and once I heard about the sport, I knew I had to try it. After moving around and working out of the country for a couple of years before finally landing a “home” league in Salida, Colorado with the Ark Valley High Rollers.
People asked me when I learned to skate. For as long as I have a memory of existing, I have known how to skate. My sister and I would create all sorts of “moves” to try—competing with each other to see who could skate the longest without picking up our feet, who could jump higher over the crack in the sidewalk or who could do crossovers more gracefully. As it turns out, we were learning all sorts of moves that we have to pass in order to compete in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. Who knew?
Do you have a derby name?
Yep! Grace Riot, or “Riot” for short.
How did you become involved with States on Skates?
After joining the Ark Valley High Rollers league in 2013, it occurred to me that it would be really neat to organize a long-distance skate—around the country. My mind works on “Why not?” When I mentioned it at a derby potluck, every set of ears perked up. In an interest meeting later on, we quickly realized that we wanted to use a journey of this magnitude to make a bigger impact and to be a part of a bigger social cause. Roller derby is a sport that truly meets women where they are to empower them towards strength in life, thus we all share a common passion toward empowering people to be strong and healthy.
Is this the first year for the event?
States on Skates is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime event. It is something we plan to do only once, and we plan to make the most impact possible. We launch March 5 from Cocoa Beach, Florida and skate 2,800 miles over 78 days across the eight Southern states before finishing in Santa Monica, California.
How many women will complete the whole route?
Four women will skate the full distance and six additional skaters will join us for partial distances that vary from a few days to a full month. We are also aiming to connect with at least the 30 roller derby leagues that are on or near our anticipated cross-country route.
Which charity did you choose to support with your trip?
We are skating to benefit the Joyful Heart Foundation, a cause that is near and dear to our hearts, to end domestic violence and sexual assault. As a group, we aim to raise $50,000 for the foundation. Just as importantly, we want our message “NO MORE” to go global. This isn’t just our message. The message was communicated during commercials during the Super Bowl and we want to perpetuate and strengthen that message in the way that we know how. If our journey inspires just one person to make a change—either in how they treat other or in how they are treated—then we will have accomplished what we set out to do.
What do you hope completing this challenge will say to others?
Already we receive many messages daily from women who are finding empowerment and encouragement by hearing about our journey. Abuse has no class system, no exclusions of age, race or gender. Perpetrators and victims are not found in just one category. The important thing is to communicate that perpetrators cannot and will not be tolerated. There is a strong and emboldened alliance awaiting anyone who is ready to say “NO MORE.”
What are you most excited about seeing or doing along the trip?
I am excited to learn from the women with whom I will be skating. I treasure each of them for so many different reasons and I think being on a journey with them is both so metaphorical and literal. I am most excited about the connections we will make—both online and in person—with people who have been—or currently are—in abusive relationships, and find empowerment through hearing our message and learning about our journey.
It sounds like an amazing trip for an incredible cause. How can people donate to the trip and foundation?