Interview by Shannon Hames | Photos by Shena Lee
Growing up playing ice hockey in Gunnison, Colorado, nobody guessed that little Hillary Buscovick would grow up to be one of the most revered roller derby players in the world. But that’s exactly what happened. After graduating from Western State College, Buscovick began to want to see what metropolitan life was like. In 2010, she packed her gear and landed in Portland, Oregon where she began to look for a competitive ice hockey league that she could play in and make new friends. Little did she know that her life was about to take a hard left.
How did your desire to play ice hockey lead to roller derby?
It turns out there’s like, zero ice hockey culture in Portland. I was kind of left high and dry, not sure what I was going to do for fun. About a week later, the movie “Whip It” arrived in my Netflix account. I watched it and was like, “I would be good at that game! Too bad it’s Hollywood, there’s no such thing as roller derby.” But the movie stayed with me and I googled “roller derby” and of course, Rose City Rollers shot right up. I watched all the different things on YouTube, I had gear within three days, and tried out for the team a month later. It was a pretty quick process like that. And once you get in, it’s pretty all-consuming. It’s definitely a lifestyle choice rather than a hobby.
So you basically knew nothing about roller derby, saw a movie that inspired you, and you taught yourself the rules and how to do it and then tried out for the league and made it all within the time frame of a month?
Yes. I played ice hockey, and I have an extensive athletic background in general. I played softball—(surprise!) and ice hockey, so I had a really solid muscle base before I got into it. Here in Portland, we have the largest league in the world, so it’s very competitive, even at the lower levels, to make cuts. Most people start within the recreational program, and then they try out for Fresh Meat. But I didn’t know about that at the time. I kind of just did the Whip It thing, and was doing things out on the street at night.
And how long from the time you made the Fresh Meat team did you get a home team?
It was about six months. I pick things up pretty quickly, and made the draft for a home team, and then I made our A-Travel Team. That is the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). It’s like the NFL or NBA for roller derby. Each league is allowed to have one charter team, and our charter team is known as “The Wheels of Justice.” And it’s basically our Rose City Rollers all-star team.
In Portland, you’re somewhat of a rock star. You have a nice following.
I would say I have more of a national/international following, rather than a Portland following, per se. The derby community at large is massive, and it’s the fastest-growing sport in the world. It’s gaining more fans nationally and internationally. Last year, our team basically won the equivalent of the Super Bowl. Which was a big end-of-the-season tournament and we managed to take out the five-time reigning champs, the Gotham Roller Girls from New York. And we won it in a tight finish, and it was a big deal. And as a result of that, we’re gaining more and more coverage from that. And those games were hosted on ESPN. We’re getting more and more national coverage that way. And the video quality of what’s being streamed has improved so much. I think that the fan base is growing.
We heard you have a sister that is also a derby girl?
Yes, her name is Brawn Swanson, and she’s also a fun, fun person to watch out on the track. I’m a jammer, she’s a blocker, and she’s kicked ass too. It’s really fun to play derby with a sibling. She and I always played hockey together, so to have her on the track with me is super fun.
So she lives in Portland also?
Yep. And you’ll see her; she’s on the roster too. I have one younger sister—they’re both younger sisters, Brawn is my middle sister, and then I have another younger sister Kate, who does downtown mountain bike racing. And my parents are very supportive of all the things we do.
Left to right: Brawn Swanson, Scald Eagle, Jessica Chestnut, Sarah Gaither
You said your parents are supportive of you all being athletes. I guess they’d have to, since they would have to trek you around to all of these games and stuff like that. Were they supportive of your sexuality?
A hundred percent. Funny thing is, Erica came out before me, so she kind of laid all the groundwork, did all the crying and the worrying about how they were gonna take it. And when they took it really well, I came through the system like “Oh, by the way, me too!” (laughs) It went really, really smoothly. I think we were all a little worried about my dad, but we kind of eased him into it.
We had been watching “The L Word” and “Queer As Folk” at home. It was one of those things where we’re all sitting in the front room watching “Queer As Folk”, and he started by standing in the passageway like “What are you watching?” And so we’re watching it, and next thing you know, he’s sitting on the edge of the couch, and then he’s sitting in the chair, and the next day he’s like “You guys ready to watch the next episode?” And pretty soon he’d finished the whole series before we did. And he brought us all in after the fact and was like, “I have a family announcement to make: I’ve changed my mind about gay marriage, I think it’s okay.” And this was about two or three years before Erica actually came out, so yeah, it was a big deal and he took it well. And he’s conservative, but it was an interesting thing to watch that show turn him around.
Were you always a tomboy?
A hundred percent, oh yeah. Being in sports the whole time, definitely challenged those feminine/masculine boundaries all the time.
Are there other tomboys that you admire? Who would be at the top of your list?
Abby Wombach. Awesome chick, she’s an easy one for me to emulate, and I really like her style both on the field and off the field. So she’s a cool one. And Megan Rapinoe. They both obviously play women’s soccer, and they’re awesome.
How can your fans keep up with that’s going on with you?
If people ever have any questions about roller derby, go on to WFTDA.com or the Rose City Rollers, which is my league. Or my Scald Eagle Facebook page.