Full-contact feminism

Over 50 women in Kingston head to the Memorial Centre twice a week for roller derby practice

If I ever met an Emily Carr Crash, Scarlett O’Hurtya or Whore Crux on the street, I’d probably run the other way.

In reality though, the members of the Kingston Roller Derby Girls League are nothing like their alter egos suggest.

Roller derby is more than just a unique form of skating. It’s an active lifestyle based on camaraderie between women.

Kate Archibald-Cross, who plays with the Derby Girls under the pseudonym Skate at Home Mom, said the sport has had a profound impact on her life.

“It doesn’t matter what you look like or what your job is,” Archibald-Cross said. “People have a different persona on the track. It’s a full contact sport that celebrates femininity. It’s exciting and empowering.”

Archibald-Cross heard about roller derby soon after the birth of her first child.

“I read an article about derby in Texas around 2005,” she said, adding that the presence of a strong female team dynamic initially grabbed her interest.

“People were really interested in having a league here, but it was a lot of work to get it going – getting insurance, finding a place to practice.”

The Kingston league was officially founded in 2010. The league has two teams: the designated home team, Sinderollas, and designated away team, the Disloyalists.

“In 2008, the interest was still really keen,” Archibald-Cross said, adding that by then, there was information available about insurance, venues and how to deal with injuries.

More experienced leagues helped the Kingston Derby Girls get insurance with the Canadian Women’s Roller Derby Association (CWRDA) when they started, Archibald-Cross said.

Initially, volunteer paramedics were on hand for every practice but now that the team is more experienced, there’s an assigned first aid skater to deal with any injuries.

While the league only needed 20 girls to form a team, 66 joined.

“We just had these cheesy little flyers,” Archibald-Cross said.

Print advertising and word of mouth attracted the attention of women in Kingston, she said.

“The sport becomes an addiction once pursued,” Archibald-Cross said.

Roller derby demands an intense time commitment of its participants, who range from stay-at-home moms to nurses and teachers. Two hour practices run twice a week between March and September.

“My family is very understanding and supportive,” Archibald-Cross said. “It’s like my third child.”

The Derby Girls use referees to closely monitor any action on the rink.

While designated jammers knock or check players to pass them and score points, violent actions like tripping and elbowing result in players being sent to the penalty box.

“It is strictly regulated and we have a huge rulebook.

“You can’t just punch someone in the face,” she said. “You’ll be penalized or kicked out.”

It’s not premeditated attacks from opposing players that cause injury in roller derby. It’s usually falls on the track.

Archibald-Cross said the worst injury she ever witnessed was a player falling the wrong way and breaking their lower leg.

Roller derby has origins tracing back to the 1930s and has since became a globally-recognized sport.

“Earlier it was more of a spectacle. It wasn’t as regulated,” Archibald-Cross said, adding this meant it was dangerous but exciting.

Today, roller derby participants play under the rules set by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

Archibald-Cross said the sport is simple.

“It’s totally grassroots and do it yourself,” she said, adding that she and many other players in the league don’t come from an athletic background.

A 66 year-old skater — who Archibald-Cross said is the oldest player in Canada — continues to play with the Derby Girls.

Even though the Disloyalists lost 102-108 to the GTA Rollergirls on Friday, Archibald-Cross said she’s still proud of her team.

“We played hard and I’m happy about how well the team came together,” she said.

The Disloyalists have started preparations for their November game in Brantford.

Archibald-Cross said she continues to be impressed by what her team has to offer.

“I love how well the team came together. We’ve come a long way.”

The Kingston Derby Girls will take on the Belle City Roller Girls in Brantford on Nov. 12.

Skating with the Derby Girls

Hearing that roller derby is a full- contact sport alarmed me. Clearly not yet ready for the ruthless competition of a game, I decided to participate in a practice with roller derby enthusiasts at the Memorial Centre.

In order to join a practice, I was required to sign a waiver that explicitly warned me of the serious impacts the sport could have on my physical and mental health. But really, who’d let the risk of serious injury or death get in the way of adventure?

Violence is banned but sass and aggression are not only condoned, they’re encouraged. I was surprised that when I looked around me at the women with multi-coloured mouth guards and helmets, I felt an undeniable sense of community.

I didn’t know these women. But Skate at Home Mom enthusiastically lent me a player’s gear who was on maternity leave — helmet, kneepads, elbow pads and immediately taught me how to fall properly to avoid injury.

I was told that learning how to stop isn’t critical. All you need to do is skate into a wall.

Instead of behaving like the frightening alter egos suggested by their roller derby names, these women took me under their wing, encouraged me and most surprisingly, admired my technique. But I can’t join the roller derby team any time soon. According to Archibald-Cross, roller derby has a strict attendance policy. Seventy-five per cent attendance is mandatory at all practices, making it difficult to adapt to a student’s lifestyle.

Zipping around the roller derby track uplifts your mood like nothing else. I can only imagine the surefire stress relief I’d have in a real game, taking any built-up rage out on the first Whore Crux that got in my way.

Rules of the game

Players

Two teams, each composed of five female players, battle each other on an oval rink. Each team has one jammer who wears a helmet decorated with stars. She scores a point for every opposing player she passes.

The goal is for a jammer to score as many points as possible.

The other four players on each team are blockers, who can block or check jammers to stop them from scoring. The blocker with the striped helmet is the pivot and sets the pace of the pack.

Structure

The game is played in two 30-minute periods and points are scored during two-minute jams. Blockers line up to form the pack and jammers stand behind them on the jammer line. After one whistle, the pack starts racing and after two whistles the jammers start racing.

The first jammer to make it through the pack is in the lead and can stop the two-minute jam at any point by tapping her hands on her hips.

Penalties

Tripping, elbowing and shoving lead to penalties. Four minor penalties equal one major penalty, which causes the offending player to be sent to the penalty box.

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