GSMP 2015 Site Visits: Katie Bourner at NBA/WNBA

By Brian Canever October 08, 2015

The rain outside the large conference room windows of the National Basketball Association (NBA) doesn’t seem to affect Katie Bourner and her mentor Hilary Shaev, who both talk enthusiastically about their time together and the ways they’ve bridged the gap between basketball and roller derby.

During the tenth Site Visit of the 2015 U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program, Drs. Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman, co-directors of the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace, & Society, and I, sat down with Katie and Hilary to discuss how roller derby is uniquely bending stereotypes and getting adult women back into sport.

“When Katie arrived in our office, I had no idea how roller derby was played,” Hilary said. “But, I recognized from talking with Drs. Sarah and Ashleigh that our mentor-emerging leader match wasn’t necessarily about the sport, but about growing women’s participation and fanbase in any sport.”

Katie, who serves as president of Nantes Derby Girls and French liaison to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, considers herself a perfect example of how easy it is for women to give up playing sports when they hit adulthood. Before she became known throughout the French roller derby community as “Psychokat,” Katie was just trying to find a way to stay active.

“I really wanted to get into sports and put my skates on again,” Katie said. “I felt silly skating after going to university. But, roller derby has allowed me to put my skates back on and feel comfortable wearing them as an adult.”

During our time together, Katie spoke at length about the inclusive nature of roller derby, and how it doesn’t matter whether a player is tall or short, thick or thin, strong or quick — on the track there’s a role for everyone. Hilary agreed that the sport is helping to carve out a safe and creative space for women to get fit and healthy regardless of their age.

“We have stats that show the huge numbers of girls who drop out of sport before the age of 14,” Hilary said. “As Katie has mentioned, women get jobs, they get busy, and they don’t feel comfortable on skates or dribbling a basketball anymore. Roller derby is about engaging women who might not otherwise have access to the fitness and camaraderie that the sport brings.”

Together emerging leader and mentor are creating an Action Plan that will set the course for Katie’s future hopes and dreams. In particular, Katie is determined to purchase and open her own multi-purpose skate center to continue to expand roller derby for girls and women in Nantes and surrounding communities.

“Being here and being around so many people at the NBA and WNBA who can help me step by step in where I need to go and what I need to think of has really made me believe that this is possible; that I can really build this facility.”

Listen to the Center’s podcast conversation with Katie and Hilary at the link below