For Boston native Melissa Berglund, aka Ghetto Fabu-Lez, moving to Los Angeles was both a dream come true and a challenging change, as she was far from everything familiar. Fortunately, the athlete discovered her passion for roller derby and with it came new friends who became family.
Chief Gladiator: We must ask you about your ghetto fab derby name, Ghetto Fabu-Lez.
MB: The nickname “Ghetto” was given to me by my teammates freshman year at Vermont. I was in the locker room one day and the song “Ghetto Superstar” came over our stereo system. I started getting DOWN in the middle of everyone. I like to dance and am kind of a clown. It stuck like superglue (against my wishes). Since that day all my friends back east have only referred to me as Ghetto. When I moved to LA, I did not anticipate that name following me. Eventually, however, my derby friends found out and it was all over and became my skate name. I decided to doctor it up a little for derby. My number, 617, is the Boston area code because no matter what, Boston will always be my home.
CG: We’ve heard you were a star ice hockey player from a young age. Tell us more.
MB: I am from Boston and was an ice hockey player for my entire life. I was only two when I started skating and eventually played at University of Vermont. After college, though, I stopped playing and skating and became a gym rat for several years.
CG: So you’d been off of skates for some time when you found derby. How did you find it and what was it like to get back on skates?
MB: A friend of mine in Boston had a flyer for the Derby Dames, so she and I went to a game and I fell in love with it. They only had one tryout a year for the team, so I waited until I moved to LA in 2008 to play. In LA, I found the Angel City Derby Girls league in its developmental phase and joined immediately. It felt great to get back on skates, although ice skates and roller skates are really different—roller skates are a lot heavier and less agile. When I put them on, they felt like boats on my feet in comparison to my hockey skates (which are extremely light).
CG: In addition to learning to roller skate, you had to learn the rules of roller derby. Was it difficult to learn a new sport when you had been so accustomed to playing hockey?
MB: It was actually really bizarre to learn a new sport when I was almost 30. All my life I had been so familiar with ice hockey, as well as with other sports because I had played them or watched them so often. With roller derby, though, I had to start from scratch and learn a whole new concept, which was challenging and fun.
CG: Do you think it was easier for you to pick up on the game because you’ve always been an athlete?
MB: I do think that it may have been a bit easier, but what I love about roller derby is that it really runs the gamut as far as types of women who play and, what their backgrounds are. Some people have really athletic backgrounds and others don’t. Some are 19 and some are 45 with kids. What’s great is that anyone can play, they just have to like the physical contact part of it and not be afraid to get their hands a little dirty.
CG: What was the league like when you joined? Has it changed?
MB: Angel City was in a transitional phase in 2010 when I joined. They had just lost a lot of skaters, so there was a lot of room for new skaters to advance quickly. After fresh meat training, I was on the B team and was soon put on the all-star team because they needed more bodies. It was literally sink or swim, but it gave me the chance to prove myself early on. I now play for the all-star team, the Hollywood Scarlets. Since I started, the league has grown and matured immensely in every possible way (number of skaters, level of competition etc). It has basically reinvented itself.
CG: You’re the first derby girl we’ve interviewed from LA. Because you’re not from there originally, was it a shock to move there? How has roller derby affected your experience?
MB: I had always wanted to move here to get involved in production, but the social scene here can live up to the stereotype and is not really up my alley. I like to have fun, but am so glad that I have roller derby because the girls I’ve met are down to earth and share the same values. We do almost everything together and some of us even live together. Even though we range greatly in age, we’re all like sisters and share the same interests. It’s really refreshing to have a tight-knit group like this in a city like LA.
CG: Wow! With that being said, do you think you’ll stay in LA long term?
MB: In November, it will be five years since I’ve moved here. I told myself that I’d stay for five years, but I’m definitely not ready to leave. I’m not sure if it’s a direct result of roller derby, but it’s possible that without my teammates, I’d be ready to move back to Boston. My roller derby experience here has literally changed my life and gave me a built-in family.