Some kids have brains and some have brawn, and Ana Cheng has both.
If you talk the senior at Steinbrenner High School, you can tell she has the brains. And that is before you find out that she scored a perfect 1,600 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test and is the school’s valedictorian this year.
Okay, that takes care of the brains part, but as for brawn?
When she isn’t studying and besting the SAT, she doesn’t always have her nose stuck in a book. She might, however, have her nose stuck in the elbow of one of her opponents in the rough world of competitive roller derby.
In school, she goes by Ana Cheng. When she ties the laces of her skates, she is Apolona Ana. Cheng says she knows that there are very few valedictorians who compete in roller derby (or is that roller derby queens who act as valedictorian on the side?), But she’s been into roller derby since she saw the movie “Whip It” a few years ago and decided that, since she could roller skate, this was just going to be a hobby.
It’s become a lot more. School comes first, so Cheng said she has to juggle both even if that makes sleep little more than an afterthought.
“I saw roller derby and it looked cool,” Cheng said. “I knew how to skate and the Tampa Junior League had room so I went into it.”
She started at 15 and, while roller derby isn’t the full contact sport that made it wildly popular on television several generations ago, it can still be a little violent. Cheng is in the Junior League, but is about to be transferred to the adult league, which means the competition will be a lot more physical.
“It’s like football on skates,” said the diminutive Cheng. “It isn’t as violent as it used to be, but I have gotten banged up.”
In roller derby, each team has five skaters and they score points for each lap completed. Typically, there are four blockers who try to clear the way for the lead skater. That’s Cheng’s job, to win points. She fell in love with it immediately and said that, even though her SAT scores can take her to almost any college she wants, she is determined to make sure there is a roller derby team close by.
As for the SAT score, Cheng said she never really studied hard for it. She has a 7.34 weighted grade point average at Steinbrenner, and never went to SAT study classes. In high school, a 4.0 GPA is perfectly acceptable.
“That score just kind of happened,” Cheng said. “I devoted a whole week to study for it, but I kept being busy, so I didn’t really do anything until the night before. I was never worried, but I didn’t expect a perfect score.”
Cheng said she isn’t one of those kids who are pressured by their parents and that doing well in school has always come naturally, but doing well was never her goal.
“I always felt like I had to be the best,” Cheng said. “I wanted to finish in the top 10 of the class, but once I got going, I wanted to be valedictorian. It was a goal of mine.”
Her day can be busy. She studies several hours, never misses a class and has three-hour practices with her roller derby teammates four times. She’s skated for three teams – the Tampa Tantrums, Switch Blade Sisters and Bruise Crew.
Her teammates know she is one of the more intelligent skaters in their sport, but she says she can take the kidding and give it right back.
“I’m just a regular kid,” Cheng said. “I am really passionate about things and I have a good work ethic and my team respects that. They know I work hard and that’s great. They don’t kid me too much about it.”