The Whole-Person Workplace Column: Sense of Belonging Through Sports

Laurie Van Egeren: Roller Derby

Interim Associate Provost for University Outreach and Engagement

How long have you been engaged in roller derby?

8 years. My child had seen the movie “Whip It” and joined junior roller derby. Although – and because - I really dislike roller skating, I loved the sport itself. I started learning with the Lansing Derby Vixens the day after my 50th birthday. My derby name is Bibbity Bobbity Boom (“Boom” for short).

After discovering I’m quite breakable, I turned to officiating, ultimately focusing on refereeing. Before COVID, I traveled most weekends, sometimes nationally, to referee, and even had the opportunity to be a crew head referee for one of the international playoff tournaments – the championship game was an Argentinian team vs Detroit Roller Derby! (Argentina won)

What types of lessons have you learned or skills you have gained or strengthened through roller derby?

Perseverance, facing your fears, and because I’m often the head referee (which is a position without fast skating – I’m slow), conflict negotiation and being a team leader.

Do you use those skills or lessons at work? How?

All of those skills are valuable in the academic world. I get to meet all kinds of people and have been able to connect deeply with the community, which is important in my in outreach and engagement. In addition, refereeing has traditionally been mostly a male endeavor because women are the primary roller derby players (there is “roller derby” and “men’s roller derby”) and their partners become refs, so developing the ability to negotiate a male-dominated culture is often very relevant in academia.

What value does roller derby have in your life outside of work?

It has given me a very close group of friends and a large local, national, and even international community of colleagues. People who play roller derby are perfectly normal, kind people from all walks of life who happen to enjoy a fast-paced, full-contact sport. It’s a great place for those who have both been sporty their whole lives and those who have never been in a sport. Moreover, it’s the most body-affirming sport I’m aware of; every shape and size has critical roles. And it’s one of the most LGBTQ-friendly sports, with strong trans representation, and while it's not very racially or ethnically diverse, leadership is aware and working on it.

What is the most rewarding thing about roller derby?

The community, absolutely. It’s challenging to make new friends as an adult, and when you join roller derby, you immediately have dozens of new friends. I’d also say that the feeling of being on a seamlessly functioning officiating crew – 7 skating referees, up to 13 non-skating officials – is enormously gratifying.

How do you prepare for roller derby?

Reviewing the rules, gaming out scenarios in my head. Strength training and cardio. And on the way to a game, to warm up, I call penalties on passing cars’ license plates (“Blue BQN425, Back Block!”).

How does roller derby compare to other goals you have set?

It’s actually probably the most challenging goal in my life. Every time I get on my skates is an accomplishment, because I’m always afraid. I’ve had a number of fractures and tears, simply because I’m a klutzy, unstretchy person and when I fall poorly, there’s no give. So I’m actually very proud of myself whenever I officiate – even if I make bad calls, because bad calls are learning opportunities.

How does roller derby affect your relationships inside or outside of work?

It has enriched my life outside of derby immeasurably. During COVID, my derby friends, some of whom are in Michigan but are also as far away New York, stayed connected though frequent Zoom gatherings. We became our own bubble, getting together at cabins on the Great Lakes and even recently traveling to Puerto Rico, and developing new hobbies together. My kids think I’m a cool mom. It’s always a conversation starter at work, and I discover surprising connections where people have friends or relatives in derby. My new assistant turns out to have a sister in Wisconsin with whom I’ve officiated!

What advice do you have for others to get started or to learn more if they are interested in roller derby?

COVID was tough on derby, but it’s coming back! The local league is Lansing Roller Derby (a recent merger of the Lansing Derby Vixens and East Lansing Roller Derby), and you can go to to find out when the next boot camp begins. And/or Like their Facebook page. They also have juniors for kids 7 to 17. And you can always ask me!

Do you have other hobbies/activities that you want to mention?

During COVID, I ripped up my lawn and planted a perennial garden, and took up sea kayaking, hiking/backpacking, intricate cross-stitch projects, and started learning Spanish. I’m looking forward to a kayak/camping trip at Isle Royale National Park this summer and kayaking in Antarctica in January!

Charlie Root: Highland Games

Operations Manager, Student Life & Engagement Strategic Communications 


How long have you been engaged in Highland Games?  

My first highland games competition was in 2016 at the Sparta Celtic Festival. So, this summer will be my 6th year. 

What types of lessons have you learned or skills you have gained or strengthened through Highland Games?  

I have learned the importance of listening to those more experienced than me. At my first competition I had only practiced some of the events, some I had never even attempted before. But everyone I was competing with was happy to give me pointers on how I could improve and helped me make sure I was being safe. When 56 lb weights and 20-foot tree trunks start flying, safety is a big deal. 

Do you use those skills or lessons at work? How? 

Absolutely. With only being here 4 years, I work with plenty of people that have been here longer than me. I am always happy to learn from my more experienced teammates. 

What value do the Highland Games have in your life outside of work? 

In my life outside of work the highland games have become a focal point of every summer for me and my family. The thrill of competing is fantastic, but the time spent on the field with my fellow competitors and the folks running the games is some of the best of my life.  

What is the most rewarding thing about Highland Games? 

Easily it is the people I have met, who over the years they have become extended family to me. I cannot say enough good things about this community. Even though we are competing against one another, we also support one another. There may be some friendly ribbing as part of the competition, but ultimately everyone on that field is excited for the success of the others as well as their own.  

How do you prepare for Highland Games? 

I usually will have my first practice throws each year in early spring. Often with other highland athletes, or sometimes on my own in the backyard. This is also the time I will check the status of all my gear from last season. A standard day at the highland games can take all of 8 hours from start to finish, so you need to pack a fair amount of stuff to take along. I have a toolbox on wheels that holds all my gear like athletic tape, gloves, a towel, snacks, water, first aid kit, and shoes. 

How do the Highland Games affect your relationships inside or outside of work? 

Mostly the only affect is that I become that guy somebody knows that throws trees for fun. The games make for great stories to share, and I always have an interesting fact about myself to share for ice breaker games and when meeting new friends. 

Is there anything else you would like to share about Highland Games? 

The highland games are rooted in Scottish history, but they are open to all. There are men’s and women’s classes, lightweight classes, and masters (folks over 40) classes. If you are interested, I highly encourage you to check it out. 

What advice do you have for others to get started or to learn more if they are interested in Highland Games? 

Find somebody experienced to help you learn the ropes. I found folks around the Lansing area by searching Facebook and Google, but if anybody reading this is interested, you can contact me. I’d be delighted to invite you to a practice and help you learn the basics and tell you more about getting signed up to compete. 

Do you have other hobbies/activities that you want to mention? 

I am also a home brewer, gamer and reader. 

Sarynna Lopez Meza: Dragon Boat Racing

Research Coordinator, Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center


How long have you been engaged in dragon boat racing? 

I joined my Dragon Boat Club late in 2018, after I had finished training for a marathon. I had never heard of Dragon Boating before, and I just stumbled upon it on the local Healthy & Fit Magazine. They were looking for members to join and called for people of all “athletic abilities”. It seemed intriguing, and I’m so happy I took the chance!  

What types of lessons have you learned or skills you have gained or strengthened through dragon boat racing? 

The main thing I’ve learned is to embrace living life as is, and to not let age get in the way of being active. I say this because we have several amazing women in our Club who are breast cancer survivors and they continue to amaze me with their dedication and stamina. The cool thing about being a team on a boat means that we all have different purposes depending on where on the boat we sit, so we can’t compare ourselves to other people within our team but we have to remember to give our best individual effort while at the same time staying in synch with the rest of the group for the boat to move forward in a strong and efficient way. I have also learned the importance of taking a breather during the week; while our practice can be hard, the recovery moments when we glide in the water are great for the mind and soul. 

Do you use those skills or lessons at work? How? 

Definitely – at work, it is important to remember that even though we all have different responsibilities, our Center is at its best when we all know what our individual responsibilities are, do our best work, and communicate with each other to make progress as a Center. Basically, understanding how different positions in a work place have different responsibilities but at the end, communication and working together is what shows as progress in our workplace. 

What value does/do dragon boat racing have in your life outside of work? 

I find it is inspiring to be surrounded by a group of strong women, and I personally value the time we spend in the boat gliding on water, working hard but also just enjoying being in the moment. Going to races is also fun – you work hard on the race and you get to see other teams work together as well. 

What is the most rewarding thing about dragon boat racing? 

The ability to know that your input matters in a team, and the chance to do a water sport that is fun. 

How do you prepare for dragon boat racing? 

We practice typically twice a week. Our practice includes warm-up on land, then we get on the boat. Our team is typically 20 people, so we have to work on balancing the boat front to back and side to side, then we do drills on the water. Practice is about 1-1.5 hours.  

How do dragon boat racing compare to other goals you have set? 

It’s very different.  My fitness goals are usually centered around running, and in the past years, Tae Kwon Do. But all those are individual sports, where you can basically set a goal for yourself and it’s all on you. With Dragon Boat you are part of a team, so you need to make sure the whole team is on synch for training and then racing. There’s a very different level of reward in knowing that you worked together toward a goal as a team.  

How do dragon boat racing affect your relationships inside or outside of work? 

I think it has made me appreciate team work and various athletic abilities in a way I had never really thought about much before. 

What advice do you have for others to get started or to learn more if they are interested in dragon boat racing? 

Come to the September Lansing race to see the various teams and races (and the cool paddles!). It’s a great environment! 

Do you have other hobbies/activities that you want to mention? 

I love running! I’m part of the Mid-Michigan Running Club and also enjoy pacing half marathons (have paced half marathons in Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Ann Arbor). Trying to run half marathons all across the state to see different areas of Michigan (Charlevoix, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Traverse City, Grand Rapids). I also have enjoyed volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club via Playmakers to encourage kids to run!