Rolling Heartbreakers by Stephen Akehurst
by Stephen Akehurst
-“I play roller derby because I can’t see myself not playing it”.
Hockey Girl/Camilla, 25. Marketing student.
Hockey Girl isn’t alone; thousands of women across the globe have strapped on their quad roller skates and taken to the track as the addictive thrill of what is rumoured to be the fastest growing sport of the moment hurtles into a future far from its campy roots of staged fights and crazy penalties to dreams of official sports council recognition and a possible shot at a position in the 2020 Olympic Games.
So what is roller derby exactly? Well that’s a pretty long story but in a nutshell, take two teams of women, put them in skates on an oval track and give them an hour to race about scoring points on one another and attempting to prevent their opposer’s success by blocking (hitting) them with various body parts. This is a more than basic description and for those of you who are now cowering in fear at the thought of these wild women attacking each other while hurtling around a track worry not as large teams of officials both on skates and off are on hand to make sure that the rules are followed and that everyone plays nice. Well, nice enough.
Hockey Girl is one of 100 women who are signed up on the books of the Copenhagen Roller Derby League. She began as ‘fresh meat’ in September 2011 and is now a member of the Kick Ass Cuties; the ‘B’ team of the league where newer derby girls get their wings before moving up to the ‘A’ team, that goes by the name of the Copenhagen Rolling Heartbreakers who began 3 years ago when the first sweep of derby excitement spread through Europe from the US where it had been resurrected by an awesome group of women in Austin Texas.
Now following the rule set of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) there are more than 2000 leagues playing derby from New Zealand to Colombia and from Israel to Japan.
Like many of the of the skaters, Hockey Girl was introduced to the sport knowing nothing or little of it. Now, as is the norm, she is hooked “I use the excuse ‘sorry I have derby tonight’ more and more often. That’s the way it has to be. I’ve never had this feeling before and I really feel that this is where I belong – right with all these girls”.
Sofie, a 27 year old digital designer and frequently known as Coco Rebelle No5, is also on the Kick Ass Cuties and has been playing for a year. After discovering it in London she was hooked “I love the thrill of the game. On the track we are free from the conventional views on gender and can just kick ass for a few hours”. Her friends have become her supporters and while they find the sport exciting as a spectator haven’t quite yet plucked up the courage to start playing themselves.
The one thing that is clear with the players on this team is that they are there for each other. New players are quickly welcomed into the fold where they are as nurtured and cared for as if they were in a tribe. The social experience is incredibly unique and can for may of the girls provide a life changing experience. “I discovered roller derby when I moved to Denmark from Italy and it’s definitely one of the reasons that I have stayed in this town where the winter never seems to end!” Marta/Martattack, 31. A roller derby trainer and cook, comes from Venice and has been speed skating at competition level since she was a child. “I’m a foreigner in a country where it’s not always easy to be foreign but with derby I feel happier and more welcome here than I do back home. I have fun with my team who have been there for me through some pretty bad times; unemployment and trouble with my boyfriend. Now I have a job and a girlfriend. This is the power of roller derby to me!”
Michelle/Missy Kick-A-Lot, 32. Graphic designer has also experienced the caring and support of the roller derby community “I needed something to do. My husband and I were turning into couch potatoes. I fell in love with roller derby. It gave me energy and took me out of the house. My husband complained. I ended up getting a divorce!”
Of course not all roller derby stories end up with the end of a marriage or a change of sexual orientation. Many of the women see it as a compliment to an already great life. But whether your life needs it or not, being a member of a roller derby league will change it.
Elisabeth/LOL (Laughing Out Lizzie), a student at Copenhagen University sees it exactly this way “I’ve always enjoyed sports, I just never found the perfect teamsport. I love the trainings as much as a bout (contest); I get good exercise, make great friends and just have a really awesome time!”.
Both LOL and her team-mate on the Rolling Heatrbreakers, Line/Raging Bully, 28. Have been playing roller derby for a few years now. They both began playing as a way of being a part of something that they felt was missing from their lives and in society in general “I missed a teamsport for adult women, which was something more than ordinary. I have become more confident not only in sport but also in my normal life: I push myself more to achieve my goals – and I’ve also got a really great ass now!”.
Roller derby is a thrill, it’s also a tough sport that is both physically and mentally demanding however the rewards clearly out-weigh any negative elements. The desire to push yourself to the limit has given witness to plenty of bruises and even a few broken bones but no one gives up, it makes the skaters more determined. In fact the newer skaters wear their bruises like medals, proud of the fact that they either made or took a really big block (hit) and lived to tell the tale. It’s not just the younger members of the community who are out there doing this. Roller derby leagues are proudly made up of a membership that sees women playing together from ages 18 to 50 and on.
Tina/Chilli Burn is a 44 year old university secretary and a mother of two. Age has an affect as it will do in any sport but it doesn’t matter “I know I am old compared to many of the other girls, but I feel like a 23 year old when I play – I really need to work hard though! My mum worries about me but my teenage sons are used to my new lifestyle with all my tools and gear around the apartment but they are proud of what I do! It makes me happy! I used to clean in my spare time but now I have fun and just clean when necessary!”.
“I haven’t had this much fun in years. I guess they’ll have to carry me off the track; or maybe we can make an ‘old girls’ team in the league?!”.
Boys do get to play, there is a men’s version and it’s called Merby but it’s not reaching the same heights as its female counterpart where the majority of the referees are male, with the ranks built up from husbands and boyfriends who want to spend some time with their partner instead of becoming a dreaded ‘derby widow’.
If you are interested in roller derby as a player or as a fan there are leagues all over the world. Google it and you will find. No matter your age, skating skill level or fitness level you will be welcomed into the team and made into a player.
Lesbianism, while popular, is still only optional but I would recommend a good stretch after training to avoid cramps.
(Images © Stephen Akehurst)
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