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Best of Phoenix 2019: Milani Mangler of the Arizona Derby Dames

Milani Mangler says it bugs her a little that people sometimes think roller derby doesn’t involve competitive skills.
Milani Mangler says it bugs her a little that people sometimes think roller derby doesn’t involve competitive skills.
Jim Louvau
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In honor of the theme of our 2019 Best of Phoenix, "Create Your Phoenix," we are spotlighting people who are innovating in their respective fields, helping our community to evolve in ways that we can all appreciate.

Roller derby was never on Milani Mangler’s radar. “I’m surprised I even went for it,” she admits. “I wasn’t very athletic growing up. But a friend of my sister’s was in the Brutal Beauties, and she invited us out to a game. I was in awe of how strong and fast these women were.”

Mangler, who currently skates for five-time banked-track derby champions the Runaway Brides, wasn’t yet 18 at the time. After watching her sister get drafted onto one of the Arizona Derby Dames teams, she knew she wanted to compete, too. Shortly after her 18th birthday, she recalls, “I showed up for tryouts, shaking in my boots, and the rest is history.”

Eight years later, Mangler trains twice a week with the Brides, playing all positions during competitions. She’s also a team member with the Dames’ all-star travel team, the Hot Shots, and mentors the Minor Assaults, the league’s under-18 junior team. “We usually get our butts kicked,” she admits. “These girls are really good.”

Mangler says it bugs her a little that people sometimes think roller derby doesn’t involve competitive skills. “They assume it’s women just skating around throwing elbows, pushing, and fighting,” she gripes. “It may have been that back in the day, but roller derby is extremely competitive now. The way these skaters train on and off the track is the farthest thing from fake.”

Her commitment to the Dames includes time with AZDD Inspire, a nonprofit organization that mentors young female athletes. “We empower sportsmanship, mental toughness, flexibility, and healthy habits through the sport of banked-track roller derby,” she explains. “It’s amazing to see these young girls go from shy and reserved to confident, powerful young women.”

Roller derby certainly changed her, Mangler believes. “I played soccer when I was 5, and basketball when I was 10, but this — this is so different. When I got here, I was a shy 18-year-old kid sister. Roller derby helped me discover an outgoing, tough, athletic, and confident woman that wouldn’t exist had I not tried out. Now, if someone asks me if I’m any good, I say ‘Heck, yeah!’”

Five Things That Make a Great Roller Derby Team Player

By Milani Mangler

1. Be resilient — able to recover quickly from all things roller derby throws at you.

2.  Be dedicated to learning and growing within the sport.

3. Communicate. You need to be able to speak honestly to your teammates and to your league members.

4. Be supportive out on the track, at practice, or anywhere else your teammates may need you.

5. Have integrity. Always.

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