How the flat track helped Kwynn Perry achieve a well-rounded life

Kwynn Perry, center, appreciates the camaraderie and diversity she has found with the Angel City Derby Girls. Courtesy Donna Carrigan Olmstead

When Kwynn Perry landed in Los Angeles a decade ago to start a master's program at USC's film school, she was itching for more than just a director's chair. What she was craving more than anything, it turns out, was an extra.

As in extracurricular.

"When I got to grad school I knew I really missed playing," Perry said. "I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted, but I looked around L.A. for sports to get back into."

Her search started with the sports with which she was familiar. There was soccer, which she enjoyed as a kid playing goalkeeper. And basketball, her family's sport. And volleyball, which she played at the club level at Vanderbilt.

But it was a different sport that caught her eye.

"It wasn't until I started roller derby that I knew what I had been missing," she said. "And what it was I needed."

One of the things she missed, she said, was the thrill of competition. Roller skating just might have been in her genes, too.

"My mother always tells stories about skating with me until she was nine months pregnant," Perry said. "And of us skating in crowded roller rinks together when I was a toddler."

After seeing her first derby game in Ventura, California, Perry joined a local outfit called the L.A. Derby Dolls. Perry said that she was drawn to the speed and danger she perceived in LADD's style, played on a tilted surface called a banked track.

"Banked-track roller derby called up my inner thrill-seeker," Perry said, adding that roller derby got her reacquainted with the camaraderie of being part of a close-knit team that she cherished in high school.

Seven years on, Perry is a 36-year-old Ph.D. candidate and married mother of a kindergartner. She has switched to flat-track derby and plays for the Angel City Derby Girls.

She is recognized as one of the best defensive players on one of flat-track's best teams.

This weekend, the skater who plays under the name "Hunnie Brasco" will try to help Angel City, ranked fifth in the world, advance to the Women's Flat Track Derby Association championship when it plays in the Division 1 playoffs in Vancouver, British Columbia. As the No. 2 seed in the WFTDA's third of four playoff tournaments, Perry and her teammates need to win their first two games to book a ticket to Champs, which takes place in Portland, Oregon, Nov. 4-6.

Perry's switch from LADD to Angel City had less to do with playing on a different surface than what she calls her "need for more personal athletic challenges." She also wanted to play a wider variety of teams across the world, something offered by the WFTDA's several hundred leagues, spanning Seattle to Sydney, Australia.

"The opportunity to travel across the country and really bond and get to know your team intimately was very part and parcel with what I wanted out of a sport," she said.

After Perry's switch in 2014, Angel City crept up the rankings. Now Angel City is a formidable rival to other world-class roller derby teams such as reigning world champion Rose City of Portland, five-time world champion Gotham from NYC, and perennial powerhouse Texas based in Austin.

Angel City has made a name for itself with its top-notch athleticism.

"We have athletes from a diverse set of backgrounds -- everything from hockey to gymnastics, CrossFitters too," Perry said. "I love [derby] players who have played other sports, and watch other sports, because you can always learn from other disciplines."

Known informally as the "Sequoias," many of Angel City's key players, including Tui Lyon and Rachel Johnston, are 5 feet 10 or taller. Perry, known for her hard hits (and sense of humor), is 5-11.

"Hunnie is cripplingly funny. She brings a kind of levity every team needs," Johnston said. "Her mile-long legs carry her at terrifying speeds -- she's a jammer's worst nightmare."

"She hits walls with such incredible force and tenacity. She's like a Tasmanian devil." Tui Lyon on Kwynn Perry

Lyon, a key acquisition from No. 2-ranked Victoria (Australia), says Perry's athleticism matches her cool head and competitive temperament.

"She hits walls with such incredible force and tenacity," Lyon said. "She's like a Tasmanian devil."

As important as the friendship and the competition, Perry says her league is extremely supportive of her as a mother.

"I feel very fortunate at ACDG that I have support from my league. For some leagues it might be a contentious point," Perry said, noting the time commitment and fitness level demanded of derby athletes. "We have eight mothers on our all-star team alone.

"My son always wants to go to practice with me, because it's just like a big gymnasium for him."

But that's not all that is good about Angel City, and the league she lives to compete for.

"Our team is also very ethnically diverse, and that for me is wonderful," Perry said. "It's not something that I can put into words, but playing here just feels so welcoming."