Column by Brian Ledford
Photos by Bob Dunnell, Lynn Terry, Jim Koclanes, Amy Whited-Hylton, Kelly Hecker and Michelle Sickbert – (click on an image to open in a new tab)
As flat-track roller derby started its rapid ascent as a St. Louis sports attraction during the first decade of the 2000s, newer audiences attending Arch Rival games at All-American Sports Mall in South County gravitated towards individual skaters that piqued their interest, whether it was because of their athleticism or personality.
Those rules certainly applied to this fanboy, who in 2007 was merely a beer-drinking tailgater that, like many others, fell in love with the raucous, alternative avenue of sport.
And while there were plenty of favorites that I found intriguing, the one that immediately caught my eye was C.J. Etzkorn, who competed under the “nom de skate” for multiple Arch Rival seasons as “the Siege.”
The reasons were crystal clear. She certainly had the perfect game-face that compelled any sports fan – a cold stare that was no bullshit and could make others fearful.
The skill-set was also top-notch, as the Siege could fulfill multiple responsibilities, whether it was as jammer, blocker or pivot, and display precision moves that made hard motions look flawless.
Most importantly for hops-fueled fanatics cheering in the “splash-zone” amongst crushed cans, she had the ability to bounce around like a ping-pong ball and return upright on quads after being involved in a human car-wreck on the sport court.
No matter how hard the Siege tumbled, one knew that she would be back to the bench in a hurried flurry after the whistle blew. If the Siege was suffering physically, no one would be wise to it. She wouldn’t let it show.
Sporting a jersey that read “50’” (as in “50-foot wave” that was scribbled on the helmet), the Siege was the perfect illustration of how women’s flat-track roller derby blossomed in a crowded St. Louis sports scene and could draw 1K on an average night.
An athletic presence, C.J. was equal parts soul-crushing talent and frenzied energy that would knock you off your toes early and then share a pint at the after party later. She was also loved by her teammates and Leaguemates who looked at her both as a mentor and a confidant.
When I transitioned to Arch Rival’s full-time announcer in 2008, I always got a kick out of announcing her name during team introductions. Instead of just merely bellowing name and number, I’d register lower on the vocal scale and make it sound really gritty like one barks a prize fighter.
“Checking in at 50-feet deep….THIS…IS…THE…SIEGE!!”
Although it immediately destroyed my pipes for the rest of the night, the warning shot was appropriate. Hardcore deliveries with single-syllable endings result in greater impact, right? It was also a last-minute, friendly reminder to the opposition that they were about to have a tussle with a human tornado.
I wasn’t alone in my “derby crush.” St. Louis fans at the time swelled a Facebook page entitled, “Ninjas, Punkrockdykes and Straight Girls for the Siege.” We all had a fondness for C.J. She was our rock star on eight wheels.
Sadly, the Siege passed away on October 19 after a five-year battle with ovarian cancer and one can imagine that she combated every traumatic obstacle during that stretch with the same intensity and fight that was displayed on flat-tracks.
Her legacy in local roller derby runs deep. As one of the primary members of Arch Rival when public “bouts” were first being held in 2006, the Siege initially skated with the Black Angels as the League operated under a two-team local configuration.
As Arch Rival’s intraleague play expanded to a three-team set-up a year later, the Siege became a career staple of the M-80s and helped her squad claim local championships in 2007, 2008 and 2012.
As a charter member of the Arch Rival All Stars, the League’s traveling team sanctioned and ranked by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), she competed at the League’s first-ever appearance at a post-season tournament, the 2009 North Central Region “Brawl of America” weekend in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Arch Rival finished their inaugural global splash with a sixth-place finish, which planted the seeds for eventual evolution.
One of her crowning achievements was on April 28, 2012 at the League’s debut at St. Louis’ Chaifetz Arena in front of 1,500 fans that resulted in the aforementioned M-80s’ 2012 championship triumph. Prior to the game, her image of badassery loomed mightily over the home of the St. Louis Billikens basketball team on the video screens.
The M-80s’ 188-139 victory over long-time rivals the Stunt Devils put the cherry (bomb) on top of the firecracker.
It also meant that the Siege highlighted her derby career with a trophy hoist and a “W” in the personal ledger in the city she truly loved.
During her tenure with the League, she also served as a skating official for GateKeepers Roller Derby, the men’s league sanctioned by the Men’s Roller Derby Association (MRDA). This was pretty significant as GKRD in 2011 held their first-ever local season in front of audiences at Midwest Sport Hockey in Ballwin.
With years of derby knowledge in the portfolio, the Siege executed her duties flawlessly and was respected by those that followed her in-game rulings.
She played partial seasons for the M-80s and the Saint Lunachix traveling b-team in 2013 until back issues forced retirement. Like most that hang up the quads, the Siege made the transition out of the sport that provided multiple years of pride, comfort and quasi-notoriety.
When diagnosed with Stage 3C ovarian cancer in January 2015, C.J. knew a greater, personal challenge loomed ahead.
In that stage, by definition, it meant that large deposits of cancer cells were found outside the spleen or liver, or that it had possibly spread to the lymph nodes. Either way, the situation was extremely serious.
Siege was able to rebound with treatments from Washington University’s Siteman Cancer Center and she made it known to others online that she appreciated the emotional/financial help and support during her fight over the first couple of years.
Even under duress during multiple chemotherapy treatments over the ensuing five-year stretch, the Siege continued to support ARCH. At the League’s “Be Your Own Hero” running event in 2018 at Carondolet Park, she attended as her spouse, former ARCH skater EnYa Nightmare, was conquering the 5K. She sat on a nearby bench at the race’s start with family dog in tow and a smile on her face.
Perhaps we didn’t notice it at the time, but we definitely know it now. C.J. was a hero that day and perpetually displayed that fighting spirit right up to her passing.
Although losing a member of the Arch Rival community is tough on the surface, and we still miss our friends that left us earlier, there is actually something positive to be gained thanks to the memories reflected that provide healing during somber times.
C.J. represented all that’s right with roller derby…and perhaps life in general. Be competitive and athletic. Have fun and display flair while you do it. Be serious while simultaneously not take yourself too seriously.
Most of all, be brave.
The Siege was a monumental asset of Arch Rival Roller Derby during our early growth and progression and we can’t thank her enough for the years of service and dedication to the League.
ARCH gives its deepest condolences to C.J.’s wife, Michelle, and to her family, friends and former Leaguemates.
The Siege was a true competitor, both on and off the flat-track.
And one can bet that somewhere up there, she is already shaking things up and making things right.
© 2016 Arch Rival Roller Derby All rights reserved.