When Eve Vernik, by chance, first strapped on her roller skates, adjusted the tilt on her helmet and slipped in a mouthguard she realised she was embarking more on a journey of self-discovery than worrying about whether she was going to pick up "rink rash" or unhinge her joints.

As "fresh meat" on the way to evolving into an "intern" with the Bay City Rollers in Napier in 2013, Vernik was comfortable in the knowledge she was suitably equipped to practise how to fall and hip check in becoming adept in adding safety measures to her repertoire.

"People keep on learning things about themselves as we grow older and move through life to learn different things," says the 41-year-old events co-ordinator from Hastings who will represent New Zealand after she was selected a fortnight ago under the code's banner of Aotearoa Roller Derby (Team NZ) to compete at the World Cup in Manchester, England, from February 1-4.

"This has been the most amazing learning curve for me - to be proud of the team around which there's a lot of mana," says Vernik who rolls by the name of "Evenger" (inspired by the film, Avenger) as a blocker.


A friend had offered her tickets to watch the Bay City Rollers play and she, in cavalier fashion, remarked she could do it, too. A challenge was issued and gamely received. The rest is history.

The initial trials were staged in Palmerston North last November where about 100 hopefuls were culled to 50 for the second selection in Auckland in February.

However, only 20 from a training squad of 32 were left rolling last month following a trip to Melbourne where they were exposed to the Victoria Roller Derby League, "the best in the world".

Jessie Broad, a jammer of Napier, was in the mix but missed the last cut of coach Melissa Mick "Swagger", a former Team USA member but based in Melbourne.

"We're representing a country that we absolutely love and hold close to our hearts," says Vernik, excited by the prospect of performing a haka they enacted in Melbourne last month.

A cousin of team member "Solid Sarge" wrote the haka specifically for them in November 2011 and the team performed it in their maiden entry of a world cup.

"Although we perform this with some aggression and mana, it is about embracing our team's preparation, acknowledging our hosts and opponents through aroha nui.

"People want to experience our cultural connection and our haka shows a part of that. It is important to our team to embrace the indigenous culture of Aotearoa and strength of wāhine in our sport. We feel our haka offers this," says Vernik who intends to fulfil her portfolio "as the best I can be in my team".


The Estonia born had no qualms about mobility, a skill she honed as a crosscountry and lake skier in the northern hemisphere.

"The motion in itself didn't come as a big surprise."

She "followed her heart" to Hastings in 2003 with her Kiwi partner from Estonia, which broke away from the western border of the former Soviet Union in 1991.

"It's the inner strength in regards to who you are and being proud of it. It's also finding these amazing people and fitting in."

She suspects that sense of appreciation takes a new meaning when it involves those who have arrived here as foreigners to find establishments such as Bay City Rollers whose members have assumed the mantle of surrogate family to help them integrate in society.

"So the Bay City Rollers have become part of my family."


That extended family is a global one where she finds roller derby enthusiasts can travel to any part of the world to find like-minded individuals not only pointing them to club to skate alongside but also billet them for a night or two.

Vernik chuckles when she reveals rumours are rife that she was a gymnast. She isn't, although she delved in it as a youngster.

"Technically I'm not but it's kind of a good story when I'm saying where I'm coming from because it kind of makes people laugh."

However, in a serious vein horseriding has been a passion for Vernik predominantly showjumping and a flirtatious time with eventing. It is something she has carried on in Bay shows and is an avid Horse of the Year Show follower.

"I can tell you right now. If I was born in New Zealand rugby would have been my game," she says. "That's the type of person I am. I love it, it's awesome."

For someone who flirted with volleyball and basketball, team sport was a rarity.


But she sees her transition from a "small team" of rider and horse to becoming a cog in the collective wheels, as it were, an exciting time.

Slipping on the silver fern and performing the haka "is quite unbelievable" for her.

For Vernik these sort of opportunities only surface once or twice in one's life and she isn't going to trade it in for anything else.

"It's exciting and it's terrifying in equal measures at the same time."

Age isn't an issue for someone who idolises retired Silver Ferns shooter Irene van Dyk. The South African-born netballer played until she was 42.

"She was so competitive and so amazing so definitely in our 40s we can comfortably perform in our chosen sport."


Roller derby has the beginnings of a provocative persona, something Vernik believes it is shedding in metamorphosing into a more serious discipline.

"I wouldn't call it straight sexy but alternative and a little rebellious," she says.

"This is a sport for grown-up women and that is one of the main appeals to me as well.

"Seriously, how many opportunities are we getting as grown-ups of doing something totally new and meeting so many new people."

Vernik says the code has women of all shapes and sizes and it has nothing to do with how they will perform on a track.

Roller derby raises a level of self-awareness and offers a sense of self-worth in a discipline that demands skills to come to terms with physicality.


"It requires a get-up-and-go attitude and also, I would say, getting your head in the game and making it happen."

Acquiring that stage of mental readiness for contact sport is something former Black Ferns captain Farah Palmer had instilled in them during a talk recently.

"If people say it's not a contact sport I'll say yes it is."

Nowadays the fishnet stockings and hot pants have given way to active sports gear, although in the social competitive arena sexy costumes are the norm.

"We look very professional and sporty."

Vernik's extended family "love her to bits" for playing the game of life well off the beaten track.


She is planning to pave a path to enable them to watch her in Manchester, after they have visited her in Hastings.

She sees roller derby as a mainstay in the "foreseeable future".

"Obviously the competitive level just really depends on how the body is holding up and other commitments and bits and pieces that need to happen in life but I can definitely see myself very committed to this path."