Koa Hester knows all about jams – not the sweet kind that goes on toast, but rather those short matchups that are part of roller derby.
Hester joined the Pixies, a junior league roller derby team in Spokane, when she was 10. She fell in love with the sport when she was 8 and watched her mother participate. “I wanted to be just like her,” said the 18-year-old daughter of Clara Hester, a seamstress, and Kaleb Hester, a truck driver. The family lives in Spirit Lake, where she is about to graduate from Timberlake High School.
What drew her to roller derby as well, she said, is it’s a physically challenging, female-dominated, full-contact sport. And while she’s played flute in junior high school band, still plays piano outside of school, enjoys doing watercolor and charcoal drawing and attending school athletic events, nothing quite does it like roller derby.
Two years ago, Hester became sponsored in the sport by the roller derby equipment company Mota, founded by Julie Glass, a derby competitor who goes by the professional name Mota Matrix. “It takes about a year for them to decide if they’re going to sponsor you,” Hester said. “They narrowed the field to 10 or 15, and they finally picked me.”
She trains for a few hours four or five days a week, and the Pixies – which is rated fifth nationally among Junior Roller Derby Association teams, she said – are often on the road for tournaments.
As is true with her teammates, she has a competition name: Slim Reaper. “When I was little, I was really skinny, so I wanted to have a scary and tough name,” Hester said. And she has her own individualized uniform, complete with American flag-themed shorts. “It’s such a fast-moving sport, so people know us by what we wear, and this stands out. Besides, I like the patriotism of it.”
She is now working two jobs, at a grocery store and a restaurant, and will start classes at North Idaho College this fall with an eye toward a degree in nursing. And she hasn’t ruled out going professional in roller derby.
The dangers and injuries of the sport don’t concern her especially, she said, even though she has broken fingers and toes and her sternum once, and often sports a bruise or two. “If you worry about it, it just might happen,” she added, “and it will hold you back from what you want to do.”
She believes in taking advantage of opportunities and doesn’t like the idea of regretting things: “I don’t want to look back and feel bad about not having done something that I could have done.” As an example, she mentioned having the opportunity a few years back to play co-ed roller derby.
The 5-foot-2 Hester said members of the boys’ team were huge, taller than 6 feet and often outweighed the girls by 100 pounds. Her team was coming off injuries and had fewer players to rotate in. “That one sure blew up in our faces,” she said of the no-mercy game that followed. But still, no regrets.
Would she ever try that again? “You bet. We want redemption.”
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