Olympic speed skater of Woodhaven turned derby girl

Jilieanne Rookard becomes a roller derby girl


WOODHAVEN, Mich. – Jilleanne Rookard is a two-time Olympic long-track speed skater and is still on skates, but participating in a very different sport.

The 32-year-old of Woodhaven is practicing to be a roller derby girl.

"I feel, just much happier," said Rookard. "I feel a sense of freedom now, you know, going after something for so long and then maybe the Olympics wasn't the end result that I wanted. But in the end, it's the experience."

Rookard began roller skating when she was six years old. She didn't take up speed skating on ice until 2006. Now, she is lacing the roller skates up again.

"I think I fell once or twice during derby practice in the first 20 minutes," said Rookard. "A lot of bruises, but you don't even know you're getting them because you're so in the moment and it's so much fun."

After skating in three events last year in Sochi's winter Olympics, Rookard is settling into a life not revolved around constant training.

"It took me several months to just train myself to just sit on the couch, or relax and watch a movie," said Rookard. "It's a lot harder than people think."

Rookard was known as  "The Comeback Kid" in the speed skating world, but now she's known as "Skater-Gator" among fellow Derby girls.  The nickname comes from the costume she used to wear at her family's roller rink.

Rookard is in the Downriver Roller Dollz league and her team is called "The Blue Collar Betties." Their season begins in May.