Tyler Van Winkle will have quite a story to tell when h returns to El Capitan High School this fall for his senior year.
Van Winkle, 16, will be able to show off the gold medal he won as a member of the Men’s USA Roller Derby Team in Barcelona, Spain. Van Winkle and Team USA defeated Spain 42-37 in the championship on Saturday at the World Roller Games.
“I’ll be telling the story for a while,” Van Winkle said.
The national team went 6-0 in the tournament with wins over teams from countries like Japan, Australia and Spain.
“Winning the tournament was a huge deal,” Van Winkle said. “I did it for myself, but I also did it for my papa and grandmother. In the back of my mind, I was thinking of them. They pushed me to try my hardest to win the tournament.”
Van Winkle’s grandmother passed away last year, shortly after he found out he had made the national team. His grandfather died last month.
“They were both my inspiration,” Van Winkle said. “They were really happy when I made the team. Their house was always like my second home. They really inspired me to fulfill my dreams.”
Three separate tryouts were held at three different locations last year for the national roller derby team. Van Winkle tried out at Merced’s Roller Land, which is owned by his family.
Out of about 60 men who tried out for the team Van Winkle was the youngest player selected for the 15-man roster.
“I’m such a young player so it was really a surprise when I found out I made the team,” said Van Winkle, whose older sister Victoria previously played for the national women’s team. “The first person I told was my mom. It was really a special day.”
The men’s and women’s national teams met up in Chicago in March to train and play some practice games before departing for Barcelona and the World Roller Games in July.
The World Roller Games is an event that includes the world championships of ten roller disciplines: artistic, speed, rink hockey, inline hockey, roller freestyle, skateboarding, inline freestyle, inline downhill, roller derby and inline alpine. More than 4,500 athletes representing more than 100 countries competed at the World Roller Games.
One of the biggest challenges for Van Winkle was competing against grown men. The ages of the players on Team USA ranged from Van Winkle at 16 to some players in their 50s.
“I did pretty well but yeah, that was one of the things I was super nervous about,” he said. “Some of these guys are twice my age, twice my weight. It was definitely an adjustment for me.”
Van Winkle also took advantage of the opportunity to learn from his older teammates.
The toughest part of the tournament for Van Winkle was injuring his knee in a game against Australia. A trip to the hospital revealed there was no major damage done and he was able to continue playing.
Van Winkle was able to share the experience with his mother Carrie Craft, who served as the team manager for both the men’s and women’s national teams.
“He grew up, all my kids did, playing roller sports,” Craft said. “Tyler started playing roller derby when he was 14 years old. He had watched his older sister play and be a part of Team USA.”
It’s a trip Van Winkle will never forget.
“It’s been so cool to walk around and see the stuff in the city,” he said. “I really loved staying here. The view of the ocean is so nice. I love it here.”