The first of two parts.
The thrill hit her a few minutes into her first match when a woman's voice shrieked out of the white noise of the crowd: "MyK'll!!"
It was the hair-and-makeup woman who helped with Tacoma's Dockyard Derby Dames photo shoots. This was Myk'lls first fan shout-out. It felt cool. Tingly.
MyK'll debuted as a roller derby skater Saturday evening, Dec. 7, at the Pierce College gym against the Hellbound Homewreckers. Her team, Femme Fianna, has had two straight winless seasons, and thought it could break that streak in its first bout of this season.
MyKel Jess -- left, called "MyK'll" in roller derby -- tries to block an opponent, Mistress Von Trample, off the track during a practice. (Photos by John Stang.)
Her first few times on the track are a blur in the mind of MyKel Jess, college student, Navy vet and, now, an athlete in a demanding sport. Loud noise. Banging bodies. Trying to keep track of the two teams' "jammers," the skaters doing the scoring. Not much in specific details stuck in her head -- just a narrower and narrower focus on the other skaters.
"After a while, you kinda forget you're in front of an audience," she said.
MyK'll's derby mantra is written in magic marker on her forearm: "2 mins max!"
A round — a "jam" — lasts two minutes, unless the "lead jammer" calls off the bout earlier. When MyK'll gets slammed, banged up, knocked down, that's the battle cry going through her head — " Two minutes." Two minutes of going full throttle. Two minutes of ignoring pain and exhaustion. Two minutes to leave it all on the track until her next jam a few minutes later.
MyKel (pronounced: Michael) Jess' derby name is "U R My K'll" as in "You Are My Kill": She's out to leave her opponents behind or maybe sprawling on the roller derby track, a kind of road kill. The Maple Valley woman goes by "MyK'll" on the track.
Scrawled in magic marker on her right arm for referees to call her out is MyK'll's number "406" — the area code for all of Montana, where she grew up in the mountain town of Anaconda. A tattoo of a Popeye-sized anchor mostly hides beneath MyK'll's shorts on her upper right thigh. A "CVN-72" is tattooed on the anchor — the designation for the USS Abraham Lincoln, the aircraft carrier on which Petty Officer Second Class Jess served as an information technician.
Twenty-six years old; 5 feet, 6 inches; 160 pounds. Another number is MyKel's final 3.65 GPA from Tacoma Community College that got the quiet bookworm a bunch of scholarship money to go along with GI Bill benefits to enable her to begin going to Pacific Lutheran University this spring. She will major in biology and business.
MyKel and her mom, Lynn, both dabbled a bit in sports in high school; MyKel played a little softball. Neither stuck with organized sports after high school although MyKel took up snowboarding. MyKel's brothers — Andy, 31, and Dylan, 21 — also did high school sports.
Lynn, a Boeing mechanic who shares a place with MyKel, has been a longtime, casual derby fan. MyKel watched a few derby bouts as a kid, plus a Seattle-based Rat City Roller Girls match with a bunch of her fellow sailors in 2009. The Rat City collisions, including one where a skater got a bloody nose, stuck in MyKel's head — sort of cool and terrifying.
This video by Robert Mak takes a look at MyKel Jess and her new sport.
In late 2012, MyKel was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, an on-and-off inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract that can be somewhat controlled, but not cured. The ailment sapped her energy. Then in April 2013, Lynn and MyKel went to a Saturday night Dockyard Derby Dames bout. Lynn struck up a conversation with a skater, who invited MyKel to a tryout the next day. It was a type of peer pressure. A nervous MyKel agreed. Despite her mom's interest in the sport, MyKel had never roller-skated before.
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