Hellions on Wheels

Roller Derby spins brutality and finesse

By Jason Santerre

The next time you drive through Lincoln, Nebraska, take a break from the blur of cornfields rushing past and stretch your legs inside the National Museum of Roller Skating. Take in the roller derby exhibit and you’ll see that, although it’s a modern sport, it has a rich history rooted in feminism.

Here’s a sport whereby women wheel ’round a track at high velocity, smashing and crashing into one another with equal measure finesse and ferocity. Fortunately, it never takes itself too seriously and that makes it seriously fun to watch.

Two teams consisting of five players each—four blockers and one jammer— face off on a flat, circular track. The four blockers from each team form “the pack”. The jammers’ goal is to pierce the pack and score one point per opponent passed. The blockers’ goal is twofold: prevent the opposing jammer from passing; help their own jammer pass the pack. By the mid-1940s, roller derby was rolling across over 50 major cities in front of five million spectators. By the mid 1960s, however, roller derby became more spectacle than sport, with histrionics akin to pro wrestling’s fixed storylines and staged action. Luckily, roller derby is coming full circle.

The Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the governing body of hundreds of new member leagues, is breathing new life into roller derby, emphasizing the importance of proper officiating and defined rules without losing focus of the value of fun and entertainment. In 2009, the WFTDA expanded into four competitive leagues, and its first international member was the Montreal Roller Derby League.

Claudine “Kaboom” Miranda plays for both Les filles du roi and the Sexpos of the local league. The 25-year-old says the community feel is the best thing about roller derby. “Being a part of something that's bigger than you feels amazing,” says Claudine. “Physical and mental challengesare what I’m after. And, like many young women, I have body image issues. But with roller derby, these issues seem small, unimportant. Now I work with the body I have and use it as an asset.”

Claudine says that the only downside is the misconception regarding the sport . . . Well, that and the smelly gear. “Lots of people think we’re hostile individuals. They think we’re allowed to make contact with our hands, like punch or grab the opponent, but that’s illegal. They'd be surprised by the sweetness of derby players.”

Mirja “Swing La Bacaisse” is co-captain for the Sexpos and plays for the New Skids on the Block, too. Like her teammate, Mirja loves the sense of community in the sport. “Our values, like diversity and feminism, make up a big part of roller derby,” she says. “It’s the perfect place to grow as a person and as an athlete.” After all, she says, everyone involved, from the referees and league administrators to fans and players, are open minded and like to have fun, pure and simple. How many things are pure and simple these days? Find out more at www.mtlrollerderby.com

Summer 2015, Vol 7 N°3

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