All my life, I’ve been told that nice girls don’t push and shove. And they definitely don’t wear fishnet stockings and skirts short enough to be mistaken for headbands.
Well, maybe they don’t. But the girls that do sure have a lot of fun.
The last time I went rollerskating, I’d paired my quads with a head-to-toe fluorescent outfit made from some kind of parachute material. Yes, dear readers, it was a really long time ago.
When I heard that roller derby was in Ottawa, I was excited to try it out. I love in-line skating, so quads can’t be that different, right?
I strapped on my skates at the recent Ottawa Roller Derby Fresh Meat night (you know it’s going to be fun when organizers refer to new recruits as such) and had barely risen to a standing position when I fell, hard, on my butt.
I’d leaned on my heel to apply the brakes before realizing that, on quads, the stoppers are on the front.
Tears sprang to my eyes, but I held back. Roller girls are tough. Roller girls don’t cry. Though, later on, a big purple bruise the size of a baseball would bloom on my behind.
“She fell right on her skate,” Ottawa Roller Derby member Leila Younis announced after witnessing my spill. “Ouch!”
She doesn’t make a big deal of it, so neither do I. After all, roller derby’s not a sport for the weak hearted.
A full-contact, competitive sport, games involve two teams of five skaters who try to pass opposing members on an oval track to score points. Sometimes, players fall so hard that the spectators flinch.
With 14 teams in Ontario, roller derby is rapidly growing, but it started out for men only in 1932, said Ottawa Roller Derby founder Kelly McAlear, who “grew up at roller rinks.”
McAlear is quick to play down the sport’s sometimes-violent reputation.
“TV has made it out to be more violent than it is,” she said. “Fighting is definitely not encouraged.”
It’s not the only myth members want to dispel.
“We have girls coming out thinking of it as a kind of fashion statement,” said Younis. “Some girls see it as a way to expand their wardrobe. But it’s physically demanding and competitive. We’re not just standing around looking pretty.”
But it doesn’t hurt either, said Katie Bonnar, 26, who admits to liking the roller derby’s showmanship aspect.
“When else do you get to wear fishnets and six-inch skirts in public?” she asked.
When it comes time to skate, Younis tells me to “just go for it. Don’t worry about falling.”
That said, one of the first things McAlear teaches newbies is how to fall properly in a series of what she calls “suicide drills” – throwing yourself down on the ground with both knees.
An unstable pack, we skate around the track, jumping over obstacles. Girls try this one with surprising courage. Some wipe out. Hard. Twice, I jump over roller-road kill. Graduating to more advanced moves, we practise whipping teammates forward by their arms and bumping opponents off the track.
By the end of the practice, I’m a regular whiz on skates.
Just don’t make me balance fries or milkshakes.