It’s been 20 years since I put on a pair of skates, so as I arrived at Elijah Smith Elementary School I was a little bit timid about trying roller derby for the first time. Having only seen one game back in Australia, and the movie Whip It, I began to wonder if this was in fact the most dangerous sport I was trying out.
Yet the welcoming and quirky Yukon Roller Girls made sure I was set up for the adventure on eight wheels, saying hello and giving me more safety equipment and support than I could handle.
After many, many velcro adjustments and figuring out how and where all the padding goes, I wondered to myself, “What kind of sport have I gotten myself into? I’m practically one giant knee pad and look like the Michelin man.”
As I got up on my skates, I realized very quickly that, for an adult, things are definitely more difficult. Whether it’s because your centre of gravity is much higher, or you are just more aware that if you do fall and hurt yourself there are much wider implications than when you were a kid. Like the impact on being able to work.
I started skating around and – realizing my balance is certainly not what it used to be – it was a fun, new and terrifying sensation.
Our “fresh meat” training began with 10 girls showing up eager to try the sport and as Christy “Crack-her” Huey, the president of Yukon Roller Girls says, “Any shape, any walk of life, any size… Every body type can have a position.”
Our training ran through the basics, many of us falling over and realising that it’s not as bad as you think it will be. The extensive padding certainly helps.
Two hours flew by very quickly, and it was the end of a fun evening. I begin to realise why roller derby is a popular sport with my legs tingling from actual use, working up a sweat, but also having a lot of fun with some really cool girls.
So, what does it take to be a roller derby girl?
“Passion. Commitment. You are apart of a team,” ‘Crack-her’ Huey says.
There are training sessions twice a week in preparation for the next year’s bouts (also known as games), but the time commitment also extends to ongoing community outreach and shenanigans.
Huey says when she first started, she wasn’t sure how she would get up after the endless crashing on the floor. Yet, within two weeks and barely able to skate she invested in her own professional roller derby equipment.
It appears as though you don’t just join because it’s a competitive sport; you are joining your own family of fellow quirky girls.
However, you don’t need to be a skater to be involved with Yukon Roller Girls. There is also a need for volunteers to help with events and non-skating officials for games. There is always a call out for referees and you can be either a guy or a girl to referee. The Yukon Roller Girls’ primary referee, Andy ‘Papa Squat’ Pauls, talks about the joy and passion of being part of such a group.
“Of all the sports I’ve played, roller derby is the most accepting.”
The girls will be preparing this fall to build their regular team in preparation for bouts, which are usually against Alaska and Northern B.C. teams. The last home game held in Whitehorse in June attracted 200 spectators, which was an amazing turnout and support from the Whitehorse community.
As I talk with some of the girls, I see that roller derby isn’t just a sport, it’s a way of life. As Leah ‘Martha Blackout’ Gilles says. “There’s good camaraderie, supportive community. You need a desire and commitment.”
Yukon Roller Girls are also involved in supporting the community and parades such as Pride and Canada Day.
Shelby “Fleetwood Smack” Maunder said it best: “I never had a sport become apart of my identity before… it’s a really great community.”
If you’re interested to find out more, volunteer, be a referee or just be involved with the Yukon Roller Girls check out their Facebook page or go to YukonRollerGirls.wordpress.com.