No, West Hartford will not have a representative in Sochi for this year’s Olympics.
But the town will have a Hall High graduate taking part in a world-class competition in 2014.
Twenty-five-year-old Kassandra Sundt, who graduated from Hall High in 2007, will take part in the Roller Derby World Cup for Team Canada, the country of her birth, in Dallas in December.
It’s been quite a ride for Sundt, whose nom de guerre is Maya Mangleyou (every roller derby skater has a pseudonym).
Indeed, she only took up skating four years ago to fill the void left when she stopped playing competitive sports in high school.
“When I was at Hall, I played sports in the fall and spring - field hockey, soccer and softball,” she said in a telephone interview last week. “I was always really active. Then I went to Emerson College [in Boston], which is not very sporty. The joke is that working for the college radio station is a varsity sport there.”
Emerson had intramural sports, but nothing really sparked Sundt’s competitive fire.
One day she was sitting on the couch with her boyfriend at the time watching a dinner show on the Food Network, which featured several roller derby skaters.
Sundt looked up the area’s roller derby league - the Boston Derby Dames - and found out it was having tryouts five months later.
“I said, ‘I am doing this,’” she said.
Sundt wasn’t exactly a prodigy when she first started skating. Actually, she was admittedly pretty bad at it when she first laced up.
“I had never played a skating sport,” she said. “It wasn’t something I was good at. I am infamous for being super terrible when I tried out, but I put in hours and hours of work. The thing is, I didn’t know how terrible I was. I was just confident that I was going to make it through the process.”
The Derby Dames have four home teams and two travel teams. Sundt was assigned to the Nutcrackers her first year in the league, and she skated with them until recently.
In 2011, her second season, she joined the Boston Massacre, the travel A team. But it was a tough experience for Sundt, who sat the bench for most of the year.
“I’m one of the competitive people that a coach can rely on, and that didn’t happen [in the second year],” Sundt said.
The next season, something clicked after hours of skating and she hasn’t looked back.
Sundt said that she credits her development to her coaches: Lil' Paine, Britknee Breaker, and Justin Dreschler. She also credits her parents - John and Allayne - for being unyieldingly supportive, driving from West Hartford to Boston for every match.
A note on roller derby rules: two teams with five people each - four blockers and a jammer - start on the track. The goal of the sport is for one team to have its jammer pass as many blockers on the other team as possible during a set jam. Points are scored based on the number of blockers a jammer passes in a lap. The blockers serve to not only block the other team’s jammer, but to clear the way for their team’s jammer - effectively making them play offense and defense at the same time.
It’s an intensely physical sport that requires strength and skill.
Sundt is a jammer - something she didn’t anticipate becoming as she was used to playing defense in other sports. Jammers also take their lumps.
“You have to be a lot more brave and Zen,” Sundt said.
The cartoonish pseudonyms that the players adopt for themselves belie the seriousness with which the skaters approach the sport.
People break bones and wind up with hockey noses from ill-timed elbows to the face.
Roller derby also attracts people from all walks of life. Sundt, for example, works for WBUR, Boston’s NPR station. She skates with women who are professionals, mothers and PhDs.
Sundt said that she expected to be skating with people her own age when she first started. Instead, she found herself for several years to be the youngest person in the league.
Anyway, her participation on the travel team led her to compete against a team from Montreal, and a Montreal team member suggested that Sundt try out for Team Canada for the upcoming World Cup.
Ever game for a new challenge, Sundt tried out and was named to the team recently, something that she’s having a hard time grasping.
“It’s weird to think of - it’s not even a dream I had,” Sundt said. “I played sports, but I never thought of the next level. It became possible for me. It’s something that became attainable.”
The first-ever Roller Derby World Cup was held three years ago, with 12 teams from Australia, Argentina, Brazil and England, among others, participating.
This year figures to have even more.
To prepare for the tournament, which takes place Dec. 4 - 7, Sundt said Team Canada will take part in mini-tournaments, including a trip to France next month.
“I’m very psyched,” she said. “I get to be around skaters I’ve admired for so long. I get know my teammates better. I’m really excited for Dallas in December.”
For more information on Team Canada, visit its website here or its Facebook page - Team Canada B & T World Cup - here. Follow Team Canada on Twitter at @TeamCanadaRDFacebook page here and the Boston Derby Dames have a Facebook page here.
Corrections: the original story said that the Boston Massacre is the B travel team. It is the A travel team. In addition, the Boston Derby Dames had three teams in the league when Sundt joined the league. It currently has four teams. Sundt also decided to try out for Team Canada when she played Montreal in Boston, not in Canada. West Hartford Patch regrets the errors.