Editor’s note: People aren’t always defined by their day jobs. There are plenty who have quite fascinating second jobs or pastimes. Our series, Like Night and Day, shines the spotlight on those who are finding time for their passion, after their 9-5. Today, meet funeral director Randi Rennecker. By night, she’s Pocket Rocket on the roller derby rink.
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to have an alter ego? A second personality that you could shift into, shrugging off the person everyone knows you as and becoming a possibly cooler version of yourself?
Many of us do. It’s why superhero mythologies exist and massive multiplayer online gaming platforms like World of Warcraft are so successful. It touches on something universal within all of us that gives us the escape we need to return to our normal lives refreshed and maybe a little happier.
Randi Rennecker’s alter ego is called Pocket Rocket. By day, Randi works as a funeral director for Altmeyer Funeral Homes and Crematory, but a couple nights a week — that is, before COVID-19 struck putting her hobby on hiatus — she laces up her skates to battle it out as Pocket Rocket on a roller derby rink.
While her occupation and her hobby might seem to be worlds apart, Randi said the two go surprisingly hand in hand for her.
“It’s welcoming. We love everybody, all body types, all colors and walks of life,” she said of her team, the Ohio Valley Roller Girls. “My work has taught me to be more open-minded. I deal with all types of families. All types of religions.”
As one of six siblings growing up in Colorado, Randi has always been just a little bit competitive and more than just a little athletic. She swam competitively in high school and, it was there that the idea of becoming a funeral director first took hold, even if it was just a passing joke at the time.
“I was like 18, and we were getting ready for our senior swim event, and I was joking about studying mortuary science just for the shock factor because I really had no idea what I was doing in my life at that point,” Randi said.
“But then my mom and I looked into it, and she said, ‘if you can give me five solid reasons why you want to do this, you have 100 percent of my support.’ One of those reasons was the mobility of being able to find a job anywhere. I went to school at Arapahoe Community College. In the first couple weeks it was a lot to handle, but by the time I got the swing of things I was like, ‘yeah, I can do this.’ The longer I’ve been doing it, the more I just love what I do.”
HOLDING HANDS IN TOUGH TIMES
The role of a funeral director can consist of many tasks including meeting with the family of the deceased, processing the body for burial or cremation, and overseeing the funeral rites.
“I get to help people in one of the worst days they’re having. When you lose someone you love, I get to be there to hold your hand and walk you through it,” Randi said.
One of her favorite parts of the job is getting to know families and hearing stories about their recently passed loved one.
“My favorite stories to ask people are about spouses, how they met,” she said. “I get to be there and walk them through it, and now I get to help people I know. I’ve made a friend base and I’m able to be there for my friends in a way that others can’t be.”
After briefly living in North Carolina, it was Altmeyer that brought Randi to the valley; she now lives in Moundsville. But derby, she said, made it feel like home, as it was something she’d heard about growing up, but never found the time to try.
“When I lived in Colorado and was 19 or 20, we would go and watch the Pikes Peak Derby Dames. I always thought they were super cool and badass,” Randi said. “Then I moved to North Carolina and totally forgot about it. I was here for about a year, and I had mentioned it to a couple friends.”
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Roller derby is considered a contact sport in which two teams of five people skate around a track, earning points by lapping members of the other team. Randi said a chance meeting with a friend of a friend at the 19th Hole prompted her to jump in with both feet.
“I grabbed my beer and thought, ‘Ok, looks like Randi is joining roller derby tonight,’ and I walked up to her and said, ‘Hey, I heard you do roller derby,’ and she looked totally confused but she gave me all the information for the new skater class, which was the following day. So, I went, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said.
If you visit ohiovalleyrollergirls.com, that’s Randi front and center staring back at you. Her bio is just a few scrolls down. Among injuries it reads, “I bruise like a peach” though in our interview she said her worst was probably a sprained ankle.
Roller derby, it turns out, is the perfect place for alter egos. Players are identified online only with names like Maiden Hell, Green Eggs and Slam, and Kay Nein. Randy said the name Pocket Rocket came from a coworker.
“The Monday I went to work after the new skater class, I told my coworker that I was joining roller derby and he said, ‘You’re so small, you’d fit into someone’s pocket. And I bet you’re fast. You’re probably just like a little pocket rocket,’” she recalled laughing. “I go by Pocket most of the time. It would be weird almost if someone didn’t call me Pocket within the derby community.”
Even within other leagues, Randi says she’ll hear someone yell out for Pocket when they meet for bouts. And though roller derby has a reputation of being rough and tumble — or “badass” in Randi’s words — it’s there that she said she’s found as sense of belonging.
“It’s not an all-out brawl. It’s all very strategic and not as theatrical as it used to be,” she explained. “A lot of it is about the athleticism and just being athletic. The other thing I always tell people is that it’s great when you get hit and stuff, but there’s something about being part of a group like that and being able to take those hits, and it makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger. The more you look at the derby community, whether locally or internationally, they’re very open and welcoming. It doesn’t matter your skin color or your orientation — you can come and enjoy derby. We’re not all about beating the crap out of each other. It might not seem like it on the track, but we’re in it for the camaraderie.”
“We’re not all about beating the crap out of each other. It might not seem like it on the track, but we’re in it for the camaraderie.” — Randi
Randi says taking a good hit or giving a good hit gives her a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that it’s tough to find anywhere else in adult life. Where else can you push someone down but then turn around and help them back up again knowing you’ll get knocked down yourself soon? Maybe not this bout, but certainly in the next one, and all of it is proof that you’re alive and strong and capable. Which is the lesson Randi said she takes back to work with her.
“When it comes to derby and my job, it’s helped me grow as a person. I’m a better leader, a better manager,” she said. “It’s spilled over into other aspects of my life. It’s helped me at work. I’ve held captain positions and president positions. It’s helped me learn how to talk to people.
“It’s not just a bunch of people hitting each other. It saved me as a person,” Randi continued. “It was there when I was in a weird spot in life, and I was new here and didn’t have any friends. It’s welcoming, we love everybody all body types, every body. My work has taught me to be more open-minded. It makes me want to live my life a little bit harder and go hard and live it to the best of my abilities, and roller derby helps me do that.”
• Cassie Bendel was born in Wheeling and raised in Bellaire. A graduate of St. Vincent College, she began her writing career as a reporter with The Times Leader and the Steubenville Herald-Star before writing content for SiriusXM Satellite Radio and a national faith-based consulting company. After more than a decade in Pennsylvania, she has moved back to the Ohio Valley with her husband and two sons.