How Disappointment Fired Up Dana Noss And Made Her A Roller Derby Star

Courtesy of Danforth Johnson

Dana Noss helped lead the United States to its second straight World Cup title in December. Now she's hoping to help the Minnesota RollerGirls topple the powerhouse Gotham Girls.

Dana Noss remembers trying out four summers ago for Team USA Roller Derby, just ahead of the sport's first ever World Cup in 2011. Things didn't exactly go her way.

"I traveled to Tampa, Florida, to try out, and didn't make it or come close," Noss said. "I didn't even make the cut for the first scrimmage."

But it wasn't all for naught. While rubbing shoulders with some of the best roller derby players in the world, Noss said she was exposed to a wide array of skating styles, and figured out what she could improve. She also discovered her will and perseverance.

"Failure can go either way," Noss said. "Either you decide that that's not going to happen to you again, or you can make excuses as to why you didn't get what you want."

By the time Noss had returned home to Minneapolis and her league, the Minnesota RollerGirls, she had made a vow.

"I decided I was going to do everything I could to be one of the best skaters in my league, and in the game."

Courtesy Danforth Johnson

After disappointment and injury, Dana Noss stepped up her training and has become one of the sport's rising stars.

Today Noss, known more affectionately among fans by her derby name, Second Hand Smoke, is considered one of the most versatile players in the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. Better yet, her last stint with Team USA was more successful, to say the least. Noss not only made USA's original cut of 32 players in the fall of 2013, but also was chosen as a member of the United States' 20-player roster for the 2014 Roller Derby World Cup. Noss and Team USA won their second straight World Cup title in Dallas last December, beating England 219-105 in the final.

Now, six months after winning the World Cup, the 31-year-old Noss is at it again. This time, she's hoping to help unsettle roller derby's longstanding dynasty.

On Friday, Noss and the Minnesota All-Stars, ranked No. 6 by the WFTDA, will take on the five-time world champion Gotham Girls Roller Derby at the Midwest BrewHaha in Milwaukee. Hosted by Milwaukee's Brewcity Bruisers, BrewHaha is one of several summer tournaments in which teams play sanctioned bouts. Wins and losses ultimately make or break each team's chance at the playoffs and potentially the WFTDA Championships, come fall.

In challenging Gotham, MNRG faces a behemoth. Gotham, based in New York City, has won four straight world titles and has not lost a sanctioned flat-track bout since November 2010. But Minnesota has gained its own reputation as a rising force, posting triple-digit wins over Baltimore's Charm City and its Midwest rival, the Windy City Rollers from Chicago, to kick off the season.

Becoming one of the best players in the game today, for Noss, hasn't exactly been a skate in the park.

"Not making Team USA hurt. It stung deep," Noss said, "but that kind of thing can be good for you."

Even worse, soon after failing to make Team USA, Noss broke a leg in early 2012. While recovering, she also suffered a staph infection, prompting doctors to remove screws and metal fixtures in her leg earlier than planned. Noss used the time to reflect and regained her enthusiasm for the game.

"Before coming back [from injury], I realized derby was this really amazing thing," Noss said. "So I decided I really needed to bring the best me as possible to the track. That's when I decided to focus on skating every single day and cross-training."

Everyone around her noticed, especially her teammates.

"She's an incredibly competitive and driven person," said Lynn Klas, a former Minnesota teammate who now skates for London under the derby name Juke Boxx. "Dana knows how much work you have to do when you want it that bad. Being her teammate also inspires you, and makes you want to work that much harder alongside her."

Justin Campoy, Teams USA's manager, agrees. "We were very pleased that Dana tried out for Team USA," Campoy said. "Dana fit in with [Team USA's] mold excellently. She's athletic, dynamic and fluid as a player."

Failure can go either way. Either you decide that that's not going to happen to you again, or you can make excuses as to why you didn't get what you want.
Dana Noss

Noss, who plays both as a jammer and a blocker and works as a financial planner, adds that athleticism goes hand in hand with skate skills at derby's elite level.

"Strength and fitness is something that I believe makes or breaks teams in roller derby," Noss said. "Increasing my strength was something I knew I could always take personal responsibility to improve upon."

As with most top derby players, Noss' week involves four or more two-hour skate practices. Her off-skates fitness regimen includes yoga and aerial silks to help strengthen her upper body.

Noss, who says she grew up "on a farm in small-town Iowa," started skating with Minnesota in 2009. Before roller derby, she played almost every sport imaginable but focused on track in high school, competing in the state championships in long jump and hurdles.

Another former Minnesota teammate, Rebecca Fisher, knows Noss' intensity and strengths, and says she's an especially dangerous opponent.

"She's relentless," said Fisher, who now skates for Gotham as both a jammer and blocker. "Once she has a jammer caught up, it's really hard to get away from her.

"In terms of playing against her at BrewHaha, I think it will be a tough bout."

Just the same, Noss knows that taking on Fisher and a roster of outstanding players who haven't lost a game in more than four years won't be easy. But Noss and her teammates have one another's backs.

"Minnesota is a great team to play for," Noss said. "Every day I learn something from my teammates. And being part of such a great organization makes it easier to work harder to get the win."

Related Content