<
>

From baby to boomer, Stacie Wilhelm leads Denver into WFTDA championships

Stacie Wilhelm and Denver will take on Arch Rival Roller Derby in their opener at the WFTDA championships. Courtesy David Ortiz

When Stacie Wilhelm first tried out for roller derby in 2010 in Fort Collins, Colorado, she almost was turned away. But it wasn't a lack of skill that made the Choice City Rebels nudge her toward the exits.

"When I came to try out at first, the league didn't think I was old enough," said Wilhelm, who was actually 26 at the time but rolled with players much younger. "I skated with the juniors because I hadn't skated much on quad skates. But, I also had to assure them that I was well over the minimum age, which was 18."

Since then, the baby-faced assassin has developed into a prolific scorer and become one of the most versatile players in the game.

Wilhelm, now a jammer for Denver Roller Derby, returns to the Women's Flat Track Derby Association championships this weekend in Portland, Oregon. Hosted by the league's reigning world champion, the Rose City Rollers, the WFTDA's international competition starts Friday and features teams from four countries. The league champion will be crowned Sunday (9 p.m. ET, ESPNU).

Since making Denver's travel squad four years ago -- and playing alongside USA World Cup skaters Tracy Akers, Shaina Serelson and Jes Rivas -- Wilhelm noticed a need to elevate intensity, both in terms of skating and overall athleticism.

"Part of my draw to derby originally was that it was a contact sport," Wilhelm said. "My first league was all about the hitting, and [as a jammer] I had learned to hit and drive. Coming to Denver, I held onto that physical aspect, but had to deal with a much higher level of skating and fitness."

Wilhelm, now 32, turned to CrossFit-style workouts and saw immediate benefits. But she felt the need for more.

"Two years ago, I helped create what we call Agility/Strength/Stability, and that was intentionally for Mile High Club," said Wilhelm, who has customized her workout for each skater after consulting with trainers and strength coaches.

"The first part was to help our skaters build muscle, and then move more into plyometrics with the aim to build that strength we wanted, and full-body endurance too," Wilhelm said.

The Denver terrain has a lot to offer when it comes to fitness and endurance.

"I really enjoy road cycling and just being able to bike Colorado," said Wilhelm, who has completed the Copper Triangle, an annual 78-mile, two-day event that crosses three major mountain passes.

For the adventurous Wilhelm, that's just the tip of the iceberg. She's also accomplished in photography and film, and she has taken her lens and love of sport to Fiji and Africa. Wilhelm will soon be headed to Uganda for the fifth time.

"I went to school for film editing," said Wilhelm, who works professionally as a computer programmer. "I wanted to eventually work with non-profits abroad, although I wasn't exactly sure in what capacity."

She found her answer after talking with some friends who were stationed in Uganda. She is now producing videos on a volunteer basis to help a Ugandan orphanage called Bethesda International.

She eventually plans to publish a coffee table book of her work abroad, along with stories about travel and people she has met.

"I love travel and learning about people," she said. "It's also important to do whatever we can do, average people and non-profits, to help lift up people in other parts of the world."

For now, her focus is lifting Denver. She has stepped up both her minutes and output in order to succeed.

"She's one of the most positive influences on our team," Denver teammate Susy Pow said of Wilhelm, who won the WFTDA's playoff MVP award in September at the WFTDA's Columbia, South Carolina, divisional tournament.

Even opponents speak highly.

"She is a great teammate because she is a great person," says former Denver teammate Serelson, who now plays in Australia with Victoria. "She balances hard work with laughter, [and] drive with gratitude, making this roller derby world a better place."