Derby girl proves being Deaf won’t slow her down

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Hannah Rivas, also known by her derby name “Menstrual Psycho,” skating at practice.

Story and photos by CASSANDRA ROSENKRANTZ 

Crowds are cheering the skaters on. The referee blows his whistle. The coach is yelling to change lanes. The buzzer signifies a penalty. The clock — Tick. Tock. 

The rink is filled with so much noise, but, for one person, it’s a quiet place.

Meet 19-year-old Hannah Rivas, a talented roller derby girl who was born Deaf. 

EARLY YEARS
Growing up in Salt Lake City, Rivas was told by her parents to have fun and play sports. Having four older brothers involved in football, Rivas knew she needed to find something athletic that she could succeed in.

However, she went through many struggles with playing sports in her early years because of her inability to hear. 

As a teenager, Rivas was able to get a cochlear implant which has improved her hearing. The external implant helps by detecting sounds and sending them to the internal implant that is placed underneath the skin behind the ear.

As she got older, things in her life started to improve. Rivas started high school at the Jean Massieus School of the Deaf in Salt Lake City (JMS) where she could be together with other students who were just like her.

At JMS, Rivas only had two options for sports: volleyball and basketball. The school did not have enough kids to have full participation in all high school sports, so it offered only the two most popular activities. 

Being able to play volleyball opened Rivas’ eyes. She realized how much more potential she has and how much stronger she could become by playing sports.

After graduating from high school, she realized she had to find a different activity. Rivas looked for places near her house and stumbled across the Wasatch Roller Depot, also known as the Derby Depot, located at 1415 S. 700 West in Salt Lake City

The Wasatch Roller Derby team began in 2008. It is a sister league to Red Rockettes, a recreational league for women, and Uinta Madness Roller Derby, a co-ed league.

Previous health conditions prevented Rivas from practicing at the rink. She spent hours every day training to become stronger. Initially, she couldn’t even lift a milk jug above her head. Conditioning at home and watching videos of professional derby helped her improve even when she wasn’t at the arena.

With the help of her family, Rivas was able to grow stronger day by day in order to succeed in derby. 

Rivas preparing to stop after taking three laps.

GETTING STARTED
After a month of trying derby, she was hooked. From that moment on, she was known by her derby name — Menstrual Psycho, or Psycho for short.

The Wasatch Roller Derby has a home team that competes locally as well as a travel team that goes around the United States to compete against other leagues. 

After proving her commitment to derby, Psycho was chosen to be on the travel team and fitted with her gear.

Psycho said that not being able to wear her cochlear implant while skating was a significant obstacle. She didn’t want to risk breaking the expensive device. But it also won’t fit under her required safety helmet, which makes her unable to use the device while in action. This means that she cannot hear while skating — a huge issue when competing with her team because sound is a big part of the sport.

Psycho and her teammates discussed what to do. They knew that not having communication wouldn’t lead to success for their team.

The derby girls decided to learn some simple sign language terms that were developed in New Zealand specifically for derby. 

For example, the team holds up numbers on their hands to signify which of the four lanes they need to be in. They also have signals for laps and times. Having her team know these cues has greatly improved how Psycho responds to the team during a match, she said.

Most of the players do not know American Sign Language. So, Psycho always has an interpreter on standby at her practices and competitions.

This isn’t an easy job for interpreters. They have to be in Psycho’s line of vision. This means staying in the middle of the track and guiding her in whatever way she needs. 

“These people aren’t just my teammates, they are like my family,” said Psycho about her teammates and interpreters. “They think it is just one small word in sign language. But to me, that’s everything.”

Shelley Wooley, Psycho’s mother, wishes that there was some technology available to Psycho that could help her understand what is happening on the track without the help of an interpreter.

Most of the penalty signs and other signals in roller derby are implemented by a sound, which makes it difficult for Psycho. She could be skating and not even know that she has a penalty. 

Not getting off the track after one receives a penalty could result in being kicked out of the game. This has caused Psycho a few penalties, solely because she couldn’t hear what was going on around the track.

Wooley has begun to think of ways to fix this issue. For example, colored lights could be used to signify each signal and send a visual message to Psycho. Wooley is looking into developing some sort of face mask or goggles that would implement the light signals.

“It’s amazing how well these girls work together even with some setbacks,” Wooley said. “All of the women are so different and they happened to all find a safe spot in derby.”

The Wasatch Roller Derby team practicing the derby technique of guarding.

GAME TIME
Psycho has become an outstanding player after three years of roller derby.

 “She is an amazing competitor,” said Wasatch Roller Derby’s Coach Ricky Khaaan. “She hasn’t slowed down the team at all. If anything, she made it better — stronger.” 

Psycho, being the youngest out of her nine teammates, provides the inner drive and fire the team needs. She has celebrated every achievement along the way of her success. 

“There are so many people that are Deaf that think they can’t do anything,” Psycho said. “I would like to tell them to never quit. Anything is possible if you put your mind and heart to it.”

The team is just getting started with the 2020 season. The Wasatch Roller Derby has competitions every month and visitors are welcome to watch or to join in on the fun of skating.