Memory of a Great Friend and Skater ♥
Who Will Be Greatly Missed
Picture For Larger Image
Many thanks to Phil Berrier for permission to use his Collage Tribute to Judy.
Roller Derby World Mourns the Loss of a Legend
Published: Thursday, July 28, 2011, 9:45 AM - Updated: Thursday, July 28, 2011, 5:07 PM
By Fraggle Bloxx, PJRD Skater & NJ.com Blogger
There is a heavy cloud of sadness today in the Roller Derby world, as one of the greatest derby legends to ever step foot on a track, former professional roller derby player Judy "The Polish Ace" Sowinski, has passed away.
King Taco: Judy Sowinski and Skip Schoen - Coaches of Penn Jersey Roller Derby and longtime skaters and friends
Coach Judy was one of my coaches in PJRD, alongside world famous former professional skater, Arnold "Skip" Schoen. I will never forget the first time I set foot into our warehouse as a brand new skater, and heard that Judy was one of our coaches. I remember watching and hearing about her in her heyday, when she was a tough slugger that wouldn't hesitate to fight an opposing player.
King Taco: Judy Sowinski - Roller Derby legend, PJRD/OSDA Pro Coach, Loved by all
The very first time I met Coach Judy was my first vet practice, in September 2010. I had just moved up from the rookies and was still having a hard time staying in the pace line of skaters. I skated for all of five minutes under her watchful eye and then got out of pace, huffing and puffing and convinced I could not do it anymore. She stormed over to me with this look in her eye - all the PJRD skaters know this look very, very well. She got inches away from me and started yelling about how I would never be anything if I didn't stay in pace and that giving up was for losers and that if I wanted to be a loser, I might as well take off my skates and go home. I did go home that night after practice and cried my eyes out about how mean she was.
A few weeks after that incident, I ended up stepping away from derby for a few months; a combination of a broken tailbone from a September game, as well as a lot of self doubt that I could ever actually succeed at this sport. It was not until March 2011 that I came back, and saw Coach Judy again at our league's first banked track game. When I saw her on the track that day, a quote I've always heard about her popped into my head;
"I may not know all your names, but I know what you're capable of", and I was convinced she had no idea who I was and would not remember our brief encounter a few months prior.
King Taco: Judy Sowinski and Jerry Seltzer (the "Commissioner" of Roller Derby)
I was shocked when she came up to me at that game in March with her tradmark smirk, and said to me "So you decided to come back and not be a loser anymore". She patted me on the back and gave me some advice that I will take with me the rest of my life, about believing in myself, pushing myself to work hard, and that I was the only one stopping myself from being great.
Judy touched the lives of every single skater, both on our league, as well as all the other skaters worldwide that had a chance to know her. She earned the nickname "Queen of Mean" years ago, and despite the fact that she was often harsh and bristly, we all knew she did it out of love; love for her skaters and love for the sport. She pushed each and every one of us harder than we thought we could be pushed, and she was relentless. She had a way of staring you down and making you know that giving up was not an option.
Penn Jersey skater Angry Topaz wrote these touching lines after hearing of Coach Judy's passing:
Standing in the middle, you glare
Making us shake
Standing in the middle, you stare
Making us keep up
Standing in the middle, always with a dare
...We dug deeper
Standing in the middle to teach us life ain't fair,
We tried harder
Standing in the middle,
because you always care.
Others on Facebook had the following tributes to the Polish Ace;
You were mean, but fair. Cruel to be kind. Made us all work so hard just to get that hint of a smile... and we thank you for it. Coach Judy, we love you. You will be missed.
Roller Derby has lost a true legend and the OSDA has lost an
amazing coach. Judy Sowinski you have inspired so many. Your Legend will live on in our hearts and the game will live on because of you!!! We will make you proud!!!!!
I'll never forget the day you threw an ice pack at my head & yelled, "What were you thinking trying to skate after donating blood this morning? Sit down, shut up & cool off." Then you smiled at me & said, "Good work today Bruise." Thanks for helping me push further than I thought I could every time. ♥ you Ace
You are a pro, an icon, a star, a drill sargent, a joker, a tell it like it is-er, a coach, a mom, an inspiration, and a friend to us all. For everything that you have done for all of us, for all the amazing things that you are, and from the bottom of so many of our hearts, thank you. We love you
Jesus needed a blocker. Thank you, Judy Sowinski for everything. From making me stay, to making me a better skater, and helping me learn that it's okay to follow, I don't have to lead. I will never forget you, and I will make you proud. Thank you for being my friend.
King Taco: Judy Sowinski - PJRD coach, mentor, and friend.
The power of Judy Sowiniski will live on in our hearts forever. We will never forget you, and all strive to live on in your honor and to make you proud. We may have lost a friend, mentor, and coach, but Heaven has gained one tough angel.
I know that for all of the skater's skating in this Saturday's Rookie Rampage game, we will all have a special angel watching over us, and cheering us on. We will all be skating this upcoming game in Judy's honor.
From Fans, Friends and Family
Permission from the RDF and CRD Forums
From: RollerDerbyForum@yahoogroups.com On Behalf Of Phil Berrier - Thursday, July 28, 2011 12:12 AM
Subject: [RollerDerbyForum] In Loving Memory of Judy Sowinski
I have just been notified that Judy Sowinski passed peacefully from this
life at approximately ten o'clock on Wednesday evening.
To her loved ones, family and those closest to her I offer my sincere
~ Phil Berrier
From: Jersey Joe firstname.lastname@example.org - Thu, Jul 28, 2011 12:29 am
Subject: [ClassicRollerDerby] In Memory of Judy Sowinski - 07/27/11
It breaks my heart to inform everyone that my dear friend, Judy Sowinski, passed away peacefully in her sleep last night at approximately 10pm.
Judy had been valiantly fighting lung cancer since she was diagnosed in March. Unfortunately, her form of lung cancer - small cell, was both inoperable and incurable.
I had become very close to Judy. She was like the big sister I had always wanted. Our friendship made me a better person. She taught me so many things, often with just a word or two.
Judy takes a piece of my heart with her. I pray that she is now out of pain and with all of her friends and family that passed before her.
I'd like to share a poem that was recited at my wife's Uncle's funeral.
It is very fitting for our Judy.
~ Jersey Joe
God looked around His garden
and He found an empty place.
He then looked down upon this earth
and He saw your tired face.
He put His arms around you
and lifted you to rest.
God's garden must be beautiful.
He only takes the best.
He knew that you were suffering.
He knew you were in pain.
He knew that you would never
get well on earth again.
He saw that the road was getting rough
and the hills were hard to climb.
So He closed your weary eyelids and whispered
"Peace Be Thine."
It broke our hearts to lose you
but you didn't go alone.
For part of us went with you
the day God called you home.
You left us beautiful memories.
Your love is still our guide.
And though we cannot see you
you are always by our side.
Our family chain is broken
and nothing seems the same.
But as God calls us one by one
the chain will link again.
~ Author known to God
Posted by: "email@example.com" - Thu Jul 28, 2011 4:48 am (PDT)
This is such sad, sad news. The sport and the world has lost a very special
~ Tom in New Orleans
Posted by: "firstname.lastname@example.org" - Thu Jul 28, 2011 5:52 am (PDT)
This is so difficult to accept. My head is so full of words that I don't even know where to begin.
Judy was one of best female skaters to ever skate on the banked track. I've read so many posts over the years by former female skaters that Judy was one of the hardest blockers to come up to at the back of the track. She was known as the Queen of Mean, a title that only fit her on the banked track.
A few years ago I attended my first flat track Roller Derby game in south jersey. There I got to meet Judy Sowinski the person. I was introduced to Judy and received a hug from Judy. I have to admit I didn't how a skater called the Queen of Mean would take to me. Judy wasn't even close to title she had as a skater. After that game I attended an after party where I sat at the same table as Judy. I felt honored to be sitting with Judy Sowinski.
Then to have Judy ask me my opinion of her skaters and how they skated the game. Wow!
The next game I attended Judy walked up to me, she hugged and kissed me. Again, I was still a little leery about the Queen of Mean hugging me and kissing me but, that's when I realized there is another side to Judy when she wasn't on skates. Judy was a sincere, funny and loving person.
There wasn't anything fake or phony about Judy.
Then I attended the first banked track game at the warehouse in Philadelphia. To be part of that history and to see how hard Judy's work with her skaters paid off. I think most of us old school Derby fans were emotional to see a banked track game again. During the game Judy was sitting in the penalty box and I asked her, how does it feel to be home again. Judy pretended she didn't hear me as she walked closer to me. When she was on the track near me I repeated my comment and then Judy poured water on my head. Now I realize, at that moment I was blessed by Judy Sowinski.
It may sound selfish but I feel like I didn't get to spend enough time with Judy Sowinski the person.
I will miss her dearly and feel her presence whenever I go to a flat track game in south jersey or a banked track game in Philadelphia.
Our loss is God's gain!
Judy may you be at peace now and take with you how many people's lives you touched!
Posted by: "Hagy, Donald C (Personnel Board)" - Thu Jul 28, 2011 6:00 am (PDT)
This is for all of Judy Sowinski's family, friends, and fans: "Death is
not the extinguishing of the flame. It is merely putting out the light
because the dawn has finally come."
From a Great Fan and Admirer,
~ Donnie Hagy
Posted by: "Juan R. Molano" email@example.com - Thu Jul 28, 2011 6:02 am (PDT)
So many of us have been where you were at the time of your "anointment". That was the spirit of Judy through and through. Ask her teammates.
She was a marvel to look at. I can remember as a youngster people talking about the T-Birds and how many of the fans loved Lynch's supporting cast, especially #5....Those were the days that I will keep fondly in my heart.
Posted by: "Kenneth" firstname.lastname@example.org - Thu Jul 28, 2011 6:34 am (PDT)
I will miss my dear friend very much. I have shed more tears over the last few days then I have in months. I thank God for the memories and good times he allowed me to have with Judy during her lifetime. Though we mourn her death, let's also celebrate the joy and love that she brought to our lives. Perhaps those memories (like Rich shared) will bring a small smile to our face amongst the many tears as we all share our love for this great woman. Those of whose life she was part of were truly blessed.
Posted by: "MayMangone@aol.com" - Thu Jul 28, 2011 8:42 am (PDT)
I really enjoyed the pictures. In fact they gave me a small ray of light in an otherwise dark morning.
Keep those pictures coming, Jude would be very happy knowing you Skip and the gang are keeping things going.
The poem is beautiful maybe Eva can put it in the Has Been Newsletter, as many skaters are not on=line and would enjoy reading it.
Again thank you for all of your efforts.
~ Chief May
Posted by: "Jeff Hart" email@example.com - Jul 28, 2011 9:30 am (PDT)
I was blessed to have spent Tuesday evening--11:30pm--until Wednesday morning--2:00am--with Judy and her very devoted friends along with Lucy Ponce. Lucy and I are so grateful that we were in her presence by her bed side. I was grateful that I could extend my hand when she wanted to stand just for a while. I watched Angela, her niece, and other devoted friends attending to her every need. Finally, the Creator came to her aide relieving her of her pain and suffering. Believe me Judy was ready I touched her, I saw it in her eyes, and I could feel her spirit Judy had made peace and she was ready.
One of the greatest "Mean Girls" in Derby history has left us great memories. I am sure that many of you can think of a game that you will always remember watching Judy Sowinski skating against Judy Arnold or Judy Sowinski the T-Bird #5.
May GOD rest her soul and accept her into the House of Joy, Peace, and Happiness.
I first saw Judy when the T-Bird games were being shown on channel 17 in Philly in the mid 1960s. She was on the T-Birds and quickly became one of my favorites. She was a great all around skater. She and Liz Hernandez also were great filling in as co-captains when Terri Lynch was injured on several occasions.
I next saw her when the Warriors came to the east coast and I was watching the games on TV. Judy was on the Chicago Hawks in February 1968 and June 1968. Even though she was skating red against the Warriors I still liked her for her talent and ability.
In January 1969 I got to go to the Philly Arena to see my first live game ever. It was the last game of the Warriors series against the Hawks and Judy again was captain of the Hawks. The half time match race was Judy vs. Judy Arnold and I was amazed about how tough the match race was. Surprisingly, Judy Sowinski beat Arnold in the race. This was unusual because in those days the white skater or skaters usually beat the red skater or skaters in the match races in the last few games of a series. At that time little did I know that one day I would be refereeing in games with Judy Sowinski and many other top skaters. I continued to watch the Warrior games on TV and in person and saw Judy when she came in on the NY Bombers and then when she joined the Warriors in late 1974.
In 1976 I became a referee for the Warrior games. The first game I ever refereed was in Scranton, PA in a game between the Warriors and Scott Howard's NY Chiefs. Judy was captain of the Warriors at the time. You can imagine how nervous I was about refereeing my first game even though I was working with veteran referees Horace Daniels and Dick Feltenberger. I was especially apprehensive about working with Judy because of her "Queen Of Mean" reputation and because of several stories I had heard about her from others. More about those stories later in this article. Even though there were many other super star skaters in the game, Judy was the only one I was in awe of.
Early in that game, there was a young female skater on the Warriors (don't know her name) who I believe was only skating in her first game ever. The girl was totally unprepared because her skates were a mess and apparently she couldn't skate in them. Judy was furious with her. I couldn't hear what Judy was saying to her but she was really giving her the riot act. I never saw that girl skate again. While seeing this I thought to myself "OMG, what have I gotten myself into?!" After that I always stayed as far away as I could from Judy when we were working games together.
After only several months of working Warrior games with Judy, the group folded. Judy then went to skate for the Rose Patterson group in the summer of 1976 and I was refereeing for the Jim Trotter/Gootch Gautieri Warrior group so I never got to work with Judy again.
Our paths didn't cross again until I saw her at the 2007 Warriors reunion in Cherry Hill, NJ. At the reunion I told her about how it was such an honor for me to be able to work in those games with her in 1976 and about how much I admired and respected her. She seemed very touched and gave me a hug and we got a picture of us taken together which I still treasure.
In the summer of 2008 I began volunteering as a score keeper and referee for the OSDA games and I got to see Judy on a more regular basis and to hang out with her at the parties that the skaters held after every game. This is when I began to know her better. She was still gruff but you could see her soft, fun loving side. She always said hello to me or gave me a hug and a kiss.
Another touching moment for me with her was several years ago at the group's year end party. I had given her some old game DVDs with her skating in those games and she appreciated it. It was January and very cold out when I was getting ready to leave. She zipped my coat up and pulled the collar of the coat up for me just like a mother hen taking care of her family or like I was her little son and she had a big smile on her face while doing so. That was very touching for me and I knew I had a good friend in her.
Here are the stories I mentioned earlier. The first story was told to me by a friend who refereed the Baltimore-Washington Cat games in 1972 and 1973. The NY Bombers with Judy were playing the Cats and Judy hit a Cat skater with a chair. In those days when a skater used a chair they were thrown out of the game for the rest of that period. My friend threw her out like he was supposed to but Judy went totally ballistic on him! She got so angry and yelled at him so much that he got intimidated and reversed his decision and let her stay in the game! Not very often that a skater can scare a referee that much that he changes his call. Only Judy could do that!
The second story was told to me by Gootch Gautieri. It took place in southern California in 1973 when Gootch was GM of the NY Bombers and Judy was the captain. Judy would always take her skates off and lead Gootch through the crowd back to the dressing rooms to protect him. One night while they were going back through the crowd, a woman fan grabbed Gootch by the wrist and dug her nails into him hard enough that it drew blood. He yelled and Judy turned around and asked him what happened and he told her about being grabbed and she saw the blood. Judy took one of her skates and hit the female fan in the head with it! She was protective of her team mates!
Losing Judy made me think of all of these things and about what an incredible athlete and person she was and I am sad to see her pass away. I'm glad that I had the time to get to know her better over the last 3 years or so. I know she will still look down on us and see how successful that the OSDA Pro Division will become over the next few years. She can take pride along with Skip Schoen about the seeds they have planted and nurtured in the OSDA and how those seeds are now bearing fruit and creating a brand new generation of pro banked track roller derby skaters.
~ Tom Wersderfer
Posted By: Marc - Thu, Jul 28, 2011 5:03 pm
Juuuuuddddddddy Sooooooooooooowinnnnnnnnnski... trackside arena announcer Herb Roberts would make it sound like a train.
Legendary Hall of Fame Announcer Dick Lane "Out of the pack like a bullet...Long, Lean and Lanky...Sowinksi.
Sowinski...Roller Games Legend...Hall of Famer..."Ski" to colleagues and teammates. Captain. Everyone else will talk about her legendary career in Roller Games.
But to me, she was just Jude.
She was Chicago, through and through. Honest, open, opinionated, loving. "Here I am, like me or don't". You always knew where you stood with Jude. I am thinking about her and I just smile... her laugh it was infectious. I loved her laugh and I loved to make her laugh.
We talked usually a couple times a week, just about "things". Life, love, people, places, roller derby, recipes ( I have her Stuffed Cabbage Recipe)just things. Gary Powers and I were her younger "brothers" when talking she always referred to us as such. lol
We saw each other whenever we could, especially if she were "home" meaning Chicago. When the Windy City Rollers started Jude was the first to come out and help. She never said no. We had a road trip to Grand Rapids Michigan to help one of the infant girl leagues get started...that was an I Love Lucy episode in itself!
We talked for at least a half hour or more everytime...touching base...sharing. Then Jude got sick... and then sicker. We talked about being sick and dying. Jude (like in everything else) was not afraid of dying. She said to me "Not that I want to go, but if it is my time, I am ready. Ready to have coffee with my Mom and everybody else". I made her promise that if she did go, she would tell Shirley that I loved her. And of course she promised. I will miss her always... I can feel her with me. I loved her and she loved me. I guess that is what it is all about. I know she is with God and her family and of course her heavenly skating family. Our phone conversations always ended something like this:
Jude: Okay I have got to get going...You take care of yourself.. Love you Marc.
Marc: Okay... and Jude?
Marc: I love you more!!
Marc - I know all about those phone calls. They are something I will miss very much. We often talked 1, 2 or 3 times a week.
I remember before the PJRD Holiday party when they surprised Jude and Skip with the banked track, she was FURIOUS with Lucky because she wasn't returning phone calls or wouldn't tell her what was going on. You know how intuitive Judy could be. She knew something was up and she thought it was something big! So she'd call me and say, "I'm ready to quit as coach. They don't want to tell me anything, then they don't need me!" Well, that week she called me 6 times and just vented. She's apologize and I'd say, "Jude, I love when you call me, it's never a problem!" Finally I had to tell her, "Jude, listen to me, they have some special things they are working on and you have to trust me to just go with the flow and wait." She never put two and two together, which surprised me because you know how smart she was and intuitive!
I'm glad so many people were touched by her and loved her so. She left this world with many friends and admirers.
I'm proud to be one of them.
~ Jersey Joe
Posted by: "eve711" - Thu Jul 28, 2011 6:26 pm (PDT)
Deepest condolences to her Family and Friends. Please take heart in the fact that Judy forever remains a Legend and an Icon.
A million years ago i met her and was scared to death of her; my teammates knew her better and idolized every move she made (but were just as intimidated in her presense); my Father (RIP too) adored her as his Pinocle (i think it was pinocle) partner and very much looked forwards to her visits to Chicago.
Tonite, the 7th period blow-off on Heaven's banked track goes RED.
When I first went to Gary's house I was greeted warmly by someone who introduced herself as "Judy" - Gary came over to me a couple of minutes later and said "Do you know who that is?" I said "Judy" - she told me" - when Gary told me it was Judy Sowinski I was stage struck. She was warm, talkative and very engaging to someone (me) she had just met. Later on that day we were talking and I mentioned how nice it was to met the skaters and then I said to Judy "I really hated your guts!!" I still remember the smile on her face.
She was equally warm last fall in Philadelphia - what a class act.
My deepest condolences to her family and all who love and respect her.
~ Steven G.- NYC
For those who missed it when it first aired, here is Judy Sowinski interviewed by Dick Gordon.
Approx 20 min, taped when the movie Whip It! was released.