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Get Your Skates On: Becoming A Roller Derby Girl

Oct 16, 2013

By Sarah Oates
I’ve read that moving house is the third most stressful life event a person can have, it’s right up there on the stress-o-meter. So when my girlfriend was accepted into a Masters course which meant both of us relocating from Glasgow to London last year I was a little apprehensive about the move. However, in hindsight, I believe our stress levels were kept to a minimum thanks to two words – Roller Derby.
For those not acquainted with the term, Roller Derby is a full contact sport played on quad roller skates. Two teams of five players face off against each other on an oval track in short bursts of action called “jams”. During the 2 min jams it is the job of the 4 Blockers to get their Jammer (the point scorer identified by the star on her helmet) past the players on the opposing team, whilst simultaneously making sure the opposition Jammer is kept firmly behind them. Thanks to the sport requiring a great deal of strategy and athleticism, I have heard it likened to playing chess whilst having someone throw bricks at you. Whilst the term has been around since the 1930’s, Roller Derby  in its current incarnation was reinvented in Austin, Texas in the early 2000s as an all-female, woman-run sport. Since then it has quickly grown to encompass more than 400 leagues worldwide and new teams are constantly popping up all over the UK and Europe.
As someone who was not really interested in team sports in high school and beyond, the fact that it is a predominantly female sport attracted my attention. Watching my first live bout the skaters on track looked like Amazons on wheels – fierce, athletic and determined – and I knew I wanted to be one of them. That was almost four years ago and I’ve been skating ever since, somehow I even managed to persuade one of the determined, athletic skaters to be my girlfriend along the way.

So back to my original point, how did roller derby help both of us adjust to our new lives in London?
Well asides from being an exciting sport that keeps you fit; roller derby is its own little community. As each league is run “for the skaters, by the skaters” a lot of work is put in by each member.  Along with training 3-4 times a week a lot of time is spent fundraising, arranging bouts, recruiting new skaters and promoting events. This means the people you meet through Roller Derby end up becoming like a second family. There is also no denying that this is probably the most accepting and non-judgmental family you could ever hope to have. Roller Derby actively welcomes people from all backgrounds to participate regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or nationality.
Upon moving to London we transferred league from Glasgow Roller Derby to London Rollergirls. Despite having nerves akin to the first day at school, we were warmly welcomed into the fold at our first training session. Jen and I instantly had a little network of people with the same interests to socialize with. Whilst I was having to awkwardly come out to my colleagues in my new job by explaining that my girlfriend I moved to London with was actually my girlfriend, and not a friend who was a girl; it was a relief to go to training in the evening and meet a whole load of awesome new people who found the notion of having to do this as ridiculous as I did. It made re-acclimatizing to a new city much easier and our evenings and weekends were just as full as they had been when we were living in Glasgow.
We’ve now both been skating with London Rollergirls for just over a year and it’s been an eventful one for the league. The A-team London Brawling have just qualified for the WFTDA Championships in Milwaukee this November and there is also a documentary all about the league airing on the 18th Oct on the Extreme Sports Channel. I can’t wait to find out what 2014 will bring!
If I haven’t managed to convince you that Roller Derby is possibly best thing on the planet, why not check it out for yourself at LRG’s upcoming bout at Tottenham Leisure Centre on the 30th November.   You never know, with the help of Dattch you might even meet someone there that you’d be happy to move 400 miles for a few years down the line. Just take my advice and make sure you’ve joined a roller derby league by then, your life will be 100% better for it.

Skating with London Rollergirls since 2012, Sarah can usually found any given weekend whizzing around a variety of sports halls on 8 wheels. Prior to joining LRG she was a member of Glasgow Roller Derby and has also represented Scotland at the 2011 Roller Derby World Cup.
 Header image – someone we don’t know who is a very good photographer
Second and third image by Dave McAleavy – see more of Dave’s derby photography here.

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