It’s practice day at Fuller Lake Arena and members of the Brass Knuckles Derby Dames, including the guys, are showing up for a session of sprinting, jamming, dodging and blocking inside the 35 meter track, marked out with white lines on the concrete arena floor.
From April, when the ice comes off at Fuller Lake, to the end of summer, when it goes back on, Chemainus is a practice and competition venue for the roller derby team. In Captain Bridgette Duckett’s mind it’s the birthplace of an Olympic sport. Shove over baseball and golf; out’ta my way karate and rugby, the Derby Dames are set to lap you.
Actually ‘roller sports’ are on the radar of the International Olympic Committee, but Roller Derby is not mentioned in the mix. Roller Hockey was a demonstration sport in 1992; and inline racing has been angling for position, too. And skateboarding. But they’ve all got a long way to go.
That doesn’t deter Head Coach Monica Arthurs or the team. Not much does. Whether you’re a jammer, or a blocker, or a pivot, you’ve got to be tough and determined to make it in roller derby – at least when your on the track in competition; off the oval, players will tell you there’s few sports where camaraderie and friendship go farther.
That’s, perhaps, one of the things that distinguishes roller derby from other sports. It’s serious, it takes commitment and skill, but there’s a big social component to the game, too. It seems to be a place where team members get to be someone other than who they are in their day-to-day lives for a few hours each week. They become Derby Dames, with their own derby names – Arthurs’ track handle is Angel O’Death
“Everybody has a derby name, sometimes they just use their last name, but for the most part it’s part of the fun – it’s almost like you get to play a role. You get to be a different character,” Arthurs said. “There’s skaters out there I don’t know their real names.”
Which begs the question, is roller-derby part drama, part sport, like World Wrestling Federation match ups, or the original version of roller derby that used to air on mainstream TV in the 70s, with players elbowing, checking, and generally doing their best to knock each other off the banked oval… or knock each other out.
Those days are gone, Arthurs’ said. There’s no sport more disciplined, or refereed than the 21st Century version of roller derby; and today’s flat tracks do not lend themselves to the kind of mayhem that made the sport a TV mainstay. But drama in the form of costumes and ‘derby names’ has survived.
“It’s a spectacle,” Arthurs said. “But it’s a serious sport, we train hard.”
No kidding. Behind her, through the observation window of Fuller Lake Arena the team members were sprinting from one end of the rink to the other – repeatedly. Then forming trains, with one skater pulling a queue of others like a locomotive.
All that training, twice a week, is to get the players game ready. It’s also to coach them in the rules of conduct of a sport that has distanced itself from its wild and woolly origins. The objective is to win, to do that you have to get physical, but roller derby is a sport, not open warfare on an oval track.
“We’re rolling around on concrete at high speeds, trying to knock each other over, but we maintain a high regard for each other’s safety. Nobody wants anyone to get hurt,” Arthurs said. “I don’t think there’s any more injuries in roller derby than there is in jogging. Honestly, I don’t.”
As for the bumps and bruises that do occur, you get used to it. You build up a ‘resistance,’ Arthurs said. “The first time you fall on your butt, it hurts; by the tenth time, you just bounce right back up again.”
Checking, jamming, bruising… women are getting more and more into realms of sport that used to be the preserves of men. But roller derby occupies a special niche in that movement. Hockey at the professional level is still mainly about the NHL; soccer about the men’s side of FIFA. Women play those sports, but most of the glory goes to the men.
Roller derby is one of the few fields of play that turns the formula around when it comes to team sports.
“This is the only thing that’s primarily just for women,” Arthurs said. “There are men’s roller derby teams and they’re fabulous skaters, but people are more drawn to come and see women play roller derby.
“It’s almost a women’s movement, really. It’s a sisterhood, and we draw from it.”
That’s where the off-track spirit comes to the fore. The Brass Knuckles come off pretty quick when helping hands are needed outside the arena. “If there’s something happening in somebody’s personal life, you have a whole team that will come and help you,” Arthurs said. “There’s no questions asked, there’s no judgment.”
Anybody who wants to participate, can. Making the competitive team takes more commitment than some are prepared to offer, but skaters can come to practices and participate at a more casual level, Arthurs said. “If somebody just wants to come and skate, they can,” she said. There’s room on the team for just about anyone.
So get yourself a derby name and try it on. Contact email@example.com for information or visit brassknucklederbydames.com.