Tawshma Pachito was attracted to the rigorous contact sport of roller derby but didn’t realize that the biggest competition of her life would be going up against cancer. Her desire to return to the track has motivated her to keep up the fight. The Soboba Tribal member, who lives in Eugene, Oregon, fell in love with the sport in 2009 when she went to watch a local roller derby bout of her home team, the Emerald City Roller Derby.
“I instantly fell in love with the game,” she said. “I loved how it was a game on skates because I grew up skating as a child. My mom was a hard-working single parent, and it was a cheap way for her to take me and my two brothers to have a fun family night.”
Although not living on the Soboba Indian Reservation herself, she has many relatives who do live there such as her uncle Buster Mojado and her cousin Geneva Mojado. “Tisha, Adela, Romel, Frenchie and Mia, are my Aunties,” Pachito, 45, said. “I keep in touch with as many as I can. We have a huge family and I got to know some of them more than others in my adult years. I love each and every one of them, though. I also have family ties to the Pauma Reservation through my father, Richard Allen Pachito.”
When she first got involved in the roller-skating contact sport of roller derby, she said it pulled out of her the excitement and confidence needed to give it all she had.
“It became my passion,” Pachito said. “That began my derby career and I soon not only played on my home team, The Church of Sk8tin, but also on the All-Star Travel Team for years. We played in tournaments all over the west coast and beyond. I went to Utah, Nevada, California, Washington and Florida. During the beginning of my skating, I looked around and again felt the familiar feeling like I had while growing up of not seeing a lot of Native skaters. I was one of two on my home league, I believe. So, my vision was, how amazing would it be to skate with an all-Native derby team?”
Pachito skated derby from 2009 to 2015, when she retired while pregnant with her daughter Tasia, now seven. She also has a son, Phoenix, who is 21. She always intended to return to the sport, believing she had what it took to make a solid skater, which requires being laser focused on your goals and pushing yourself to always get better while also helping other skaters improve.
“I’ve learned through the years that in skating and in life, that trust and leaders who have integrity and patience are important,” she said.
On August 15, 2017, Team Indigenous Rising Roller Derby was born and Pachito knew that her dream was within reach. TIR was invited to represent at the Roller Derby World Cup in February of 2018 in Manchester, United Kingdom.
“I was home watching the game and rooting them on as they played against Jewish Roller Derby for the win,” she said. “I’ll never forget that feeling and seeing them all come out representing their nations’ flags and then using the platform of derby to speak on important Indigenous issues such as missing and murdered Indigenous women. I was in tears and said to myself that I wouldn’t stop until I made it on this team of incredible skaters, representing the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians.”
Pachito knew deep down she would make a comeback to the sport when time permitted. But unfortunately, she got the horrible news in September of 2017 that she had stage two ER-positive breast cancer. She also discovered she was BRCA1 positive, meaning she had a gene mutation that puts her at a higher risk for breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer.
“So, my comeback to derby got put to the back burner as I had to handle chemo and two major surgeries in 2018,” she said. “I reached out to Team Indigenous Rising in 2018 when I saw they were holding online tryouts, and introduced myself explaining how it is a dream of mine to skate with them. They offered me to skate with them that July at RollerCon in Las Vegas, a huge annual derby convention. As hard as it was, I had to pass because I had just had a double mastectomy and knew I needed more time to heal. I let them know they would be my driving force to heal and return strong and ready to skate again.”
Pachito returned to skating in 2019 and in her first three games back, she earned MVP, given by the opposing team; two for jamming and one for blocking.
“I came in focused and with one goal and that was to get strong again and be able to join Team Indigenous Rising. I got another shot in 2020 to try out again for TIR as they were taking on a few new skaters,” she said.
After sending all the requested items and then some, Pachito anxiously awaited the news of the lucky picks. “To my disappointment I was not chosen and had to accept the news of my dream slipping out of my hands again!” she said. “As I pulled myself off the ground again and got through a few hard days, I had a shift of clarity that showed me I was not going to give up trying and that I had to put the work into myself to get better and stronger and try again.”
She said that “no” was the catalyst to become the best version of herself and eventually saved her life down the road. “When one door closes, more open, and it’s through our life obstacles where we grow into the best version of ourselves,” she said.
About a month later, Pachito took a leap of faith and switched careers from being a medical assistant in the field of urology to becoming a financial advisor and her own boss. “My life kept leveling up and I was all about personal development,” she said. On Jan. 1 of 2021, she made the decision to give up alcohol after knowing it was holding her down from becoming the person God intended her to be.
“I then started my Red Road Wellbriety journey of self-healing,” she said. “That year was amazing, and it brought me to a place of enriched mental clarity, spirituality and overall wellbeing. As the world shut down around me along with roller derby from the COVID outbreak, I was happily on my journey of self-awareness and discovery becoming that hollow bone as we say in Wellbriety. As 2022 rolled in, life hit me with COVID for the second time. I thought I had healed completely when I started having pain when breathing in deeply. With my cancer history, I went to get checked. Hearing the news that the cancer had returned after almost five years in remission and had now metastasized to my left lung and lymph nodes in my sternum area, I went numb as they told me it was stage four. I knew I was about to take on the scariest fight and had to be ready for anything.”
She had IV chemo treatments from May to September of 2022. During the end of that treatment cycle, she felt she wanted to get stronger and start skating again in 2023 as it gave her something to work towards. She had some victories, but the tumor returned in November. She started another form of chemo by pill, on for two weeks and off for one.
“So, as I was dealing with this cancer journey, the desire to return to skating was one of the driving forces to get well,” Pachito said. “I was all along keeping tabs on TIR and seeing if they had come back from the pandemic and being shut down, as some leagues took longer to do so than others.”
As she was checking, she saw that TIR was offering online tryouts for their 2023 season and the deadline was that same night. She didn’t feel she was ready to skate yet but thought she could be if she worked hard at it.
“I prayed about it and knew this was my last shot at trying to get onto this team,” Pachito said. “So, I took action and got in touch with the team captain who was in Canada, and we were able to talk on the phone. I told her my whole story and she heard me. After that call she told me I was now on the team! I was beside myself with happiness and satisfaction. I knew everything aligned for this to happen this time. And that because of that first ‘no,’ the Creator had to make it hard for me to see I had a lot of work to do on myself before getting what I really wanted. And it was through that ‘no’ that I grew and became the best version of myself. Creator always sees our obstacles and so I needed to do the work in order to be fully ready to take on the biggest fight of my life. We don’t get things when we want them, we get the things we really want when we are ready.”
Although still in the throes of her cancer battle, Pachito has high hopes that she can soon join her siblings, as they call their teammates, representing Soboba while skating under the name PACHITO #541 with skaters from many other Indigenous nations.
“No matter what, I can say I didn’t give up on this dream and I forever will be proud of myself and happy to finally be a part of this team,” she said. We have about 25-30 skaters and a lot of exciting tournaments and skating opportunities on the horizon, hopefully attending World Cup once again.”
The next tournament is in Scranton, PA at the end of March and then RollerCon in Las Vegas in July, which Pachito hopes to be skating in. There is also a tournament scheduled for October in Denver. TIR is a travel team of experienced skaters that meets online for team meetings and then in person for the tournaments. They have a practice session or two together before game play and all skaters are also skating back home with their home leagues for practice. The team requests sponsorships for its travel during the season and they regularly host fundraisers for the team and different charities.
Pachito said, “Learning that ‘never give up’ mindset from skating all these years has gotten me through some tough times. I will always respect this sport and all the amazing life lessons and memories made. I promise to represent the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians with integrity and pride. And for all the youth, I hope a takeaway will be to never give up on your dreams. To keep leveling up in life. And to honor your bodies and respect your sobriety. We only get one life here. So, make the most of it!”
To view Tawshma Pachito’s GoFundMe page, https://gofund.me/697eaaee. For more information on TIR, visit them at www.facebook.com/teamindigenousrollerderby or on Instagram.