It’s a term you’ve heard somewhere before, whether you grew up watching it on TV, or you saw Ellen Page in the movie Whip It; you have some idea of what roller derby might be. The rules have changed over the years in an effort to create a safer atmosphere for the skaters, but with the right team and the right group of skaters it gets interesting.
The group of skaters I want to bring to your attention today however is the Dominion Derby Girls. Founded in 2005, DDG is an amazing group of women who play derby under the rules and association of WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.) There are hundreds of leagues who follow this set of rules and regulations.
WFTDA derby is played with two teams of a total of 14 each, for two 30 minute periods that have as many ‘jams’ (a two-minute period during which the action happens. A jam can be shortened by the ‘lead jammer’) as needed. Each Jam starts with 5 players from each team setting up on the track. 4 of the girls take the ‘blocker’ position and one girl takes the star helmet cover to become the ‘jammer”. The Jammer’s goal is to get through and past the other team of blockers first to take control of the Jam, and each pass through the opposing blockers gives her points for her own team.
Here’s where things get rough. As the jammer tries to get through the blockers, she’s being hip checked, and shoulder checked to stop her progress. Don’t worry though, that jammer gives as good as she gets to move those blockers. If that hip check knocks her down, she’s back on her feet in seconds. You can’t take your time getting back up, because that’s the moment another girl falls over you or you lose your position and have to get through that pack again to get ahead.
Being a spectator to these falls and hits, it looks like it hurts. Don’t get me wrong, it usually does….later. You don’t always realize how good a hit that other player gave you until you see the bruise the next day. It’s those hits that cause you to lose your breathe, or hit just the right nerve to ‘dead arm’ that really leave an impact. The best part about those hits, are you usually congratulate the player who hit you, because that means they’re improving and now you’ve got to push yourself harder to keep up.
I joined this team in April 2015 after watching two bouts (games, but don’t ever call it that to a derby girl.) It looked like something fun and exhilarating. I worried about the pain, the falls and the hits that could be really dangerous. I even watched a few girls get hurt themselves. I had to realize, this is a part of derby. It is exhausting, stress, skating in circles, throwing yourself on the ground repeatedly to get back up so you can learn how to land safely….it is fun, and a stress relief, and a chance to clear your mind of all the things of the day that might have left you in a mood. Any aggression you had, you channel it towards being stronger in that hip hit, or making sure that jammer doesn’t get past you.
As I watch more women fall in love with this sport I remember again what made me want to start my first day. If you’ve ever been competitive, and wanted a team sport with a group of crazy, rowdy, intelligent, and strong women: join derby. Afraid to skate? Come help on the side lines. Keep score, track the penalties that occur, keep time. Jump into the fold with both feet, it’s a rough landing, but that’s why we wear knee pads.
-Ravenclaw UrEyesOut #934
Chris Ramsay Photography