Roller Derby Jammer Natasha Wirth ’12 Dominates On and Off the Track

By Susan Gettlin | July 16, 2015

Derby is as derby does…

That’s the idiom flashing right now on Natasha Wirth’s Gmail status message. By day, Wirth works as a medical case manager for the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia, a healthcare provider serving the LGBTQ community. Off the clock, however, she identifies as Mar’ge Equality.

Mar’ge is a jammer for The Block Party, one of four female skating teams in the Philly Roller Derby (PRD)—a league that has been ranked among the top 10 Women’s Flat Track Derby Association leagues in the world. “Yep…the world,” Wirth reiterates with the same enthusiasm that propelled her to her new and defining roles both on and off the skating track.

For the South Philly resident who grew up playing soccer and practiced yoga in college, it was not a lifelong pursuit realized. Her lust for derby did not begin until she came to Arcadia, where she majored in sociology. “In college, still thinking about derby, I developed a stronger understanding and development of my feminist and queer identities, which reinforced my desire to be a part of the roller derby community—a space that I knew was accepting of queer folks and was actively engaged with the community,” said Wirth, who credits Arcadia’s Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice Department chair and professor Dr. Ana Maria Garcia with supporting her throughout her personal and professional journey. “Her insight and unapologetic honesty has guided me through the many hurdles and challenges that post-graduate life has had in store for me.”

In fact, the two check in with each other monthly. Dr. Garcia still prompts Wirth to think critically and vice versa. “I feel like not a lot of people have that relationship post-graduation. She’s in the back of my head when I’m doing emotionally-draining, but also emotionally-rewarding, work.”

During her academic tenure in Glenside, Wirth was an active member and board member for PRIDE (People Respecting Individuality, Diversity, and Equality). She also worked as a resident advisor and participated in “V Day” and The Vagina Monologues. “It was a powerful and moving experience to collaborate with both peers, mentors, and educators from campus to speak out in solidarity about violence against vulnerable populations.”

Not long after graduation, she broke into the derby world with Penn Jersey Roller Derby, a “very old school” league. “It was a ton of fun and an incredible learning experience.” After a year and a half, however, she was more than ready for the big leagues and tried out for the PRD, whose maxim, as displayed on their website in bold lettering, reads: “As Hard and Cracked as the Liberty Bell.”

“As a jammer, I score the points and am one of the captains, which requires talking strategy. But I also block. Playing in both positions gives me a good perspective and I’m aware of how to cover my teammates and where I need to cover.” For Wirth, ultimately, it’s about being part of an organized sport that pushes its teammates to excel individually and collectively, a championing approach that she ardently brings back to the office.

Starting next week, Wirth will begin a new role at the Mazzoni Center. As the Ally Safe Schools Coordinator, she’ll work with LGBTQ student leaders in and around Philadelphia to create safe and supportive schools for all students. “I hope to be able to continue to grow the Ally Safe Schools Program and to get student leaders to be thinking like activists…to feel empowered to advocate for themselves and for others.”

Wirth’s advice to current and prospective students at Arcadia:

“Follow your heart! Don’t be afraid to talk to advisors and other professors about your goals and passions. You never know when they may be open to offering an independent study on queer theory….or, you know, whatever your interests are! Also, any opportunity within your financial reality to travel away or abroad…do it! I wouldn’t have been able to go on more than Preview if I didn’t receive the Vira I. Heinz Scholarship, but I give so much credit to that financial assistance and professional development for the trajectory my life and career is on.”

In Ten Years…

“I see myself with my master’s [degree] in public health, developing programs that address barriers to comprehensive healthcare for LGBTQ youth. I think there’s a huge gap in who among LGBTQ young folks are receiving holistic and comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health. I want to fill those gaps.

Now if we were talking TWENTY years from now, I’ll be in a breezy New England or [a] SoCal city running my own B&B.” 

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