It will be a blast from the past next Saturday night when the women of the Tri-City Roller Girls strap on their skates at the Waterloo Recreation Complex to take on their derby sisters from London.
Roller derbies are gaining popularity across North America, with more and more women participating.
Even Hollywood has jumped on the bandwagon, with Drew Barrymore producing the hit movie ‘Whip It.’
Fishnet stockings are still a standard at the rink, but this is not the roller derby from the 1970s. This is a sport.
The Tri-City Roller Girls are a skater-run, flat-track roller derby league that have been taking the track by storm, facing off against teams from Canada and the U.S. for four seasons.
Considered to be one of the fastest-growing sports worldwide, roller derby combines a unique mix of athletics, creativity and camaraderie. With leagues in nearly every major city in Canada, the game has re-emerged with the emphasis shifted from the theatrics to athleticism.
Abby Horst, who grew up in St. Jacobs and just finished her masters in social work at Wilfrid Laurier University, has been trading bumps and hits with the Tri-City girls for three seasons.
Under the name Freudian Whip, Horst manages her time between her league team, the Venus Fly Tramps, and the travelling team, the Tri-City Thunder.
Horst took up the sport in September 2009 after seeing a match with a friend.
“I had no idea roller derby was around here or what it was, and when I came out and watched a bout I was hooked instantly. I knew I had to skate somehow,” said Horst.
The league, which runs from April to October, originally started off with two teams, the Venus Fly Tramps and the Vicious Dishes. A third team, the Total Knock Outs, joined this season after an overwhelming demand for a new squad.
“There is a lot of interest from women from all walks of life to join the league,” said Horst. “It’s not the roller derby that most people remember from the 1970s.That roller derby was a bit more staged and more about the entertainment, not to say that roller derby now isn’t entertaining – we have held onto the classic roller derby names and we still play up with the outfits – but we are trying to clean up the sport.”
As the sport works to legitimize itself new rules have been enacted especially where safety is concerned.
“The roller derby from the ‘70s had a lot of nasty hits and girls would use their elbows; that is not allowed anymore,” said Horst. “Anyone who doesn’t think it is a sport clearly hasn’t watched a bout and I would encourage them to come out and see one.”
With safety a major concern, matches are now manned by numerous referees watching for illegal hits, which will send a player to a penalty box. Players spend 60 seconds in the penalty box after accruing four minor penalties or committing just one major penalty. This may not sound like much time, but a minute can be more than half of a jam.
The goal of each match-up is to skate in a tight pack, working together to score points while stopping the opposing team from scoring. Each team has five players in the pack: one jammer, three blockers and a pivot.
Before a match starts, teams line up side-by-side with the pivots first, blockers behind them and jammers at the back. When the whistle blows, the pivots and blockers start to skate around the track. A second whistle blows and the jammers race to catch up to the pack. The first jammer to get through the pack without leaving the track becomes the lead jammer. The lead jammer’s team gets a point every time she passes one of the other team’s players.
Horst is a versatile player taking on many different rolls on her teams, including the outside blocker, the pivot, which means she is the blocker that controls the pack’s speed, and jammer.
“My confidence has gone up this season so I enjoy playing the different positions,” she said. “The way roller derby is changing, the ability to play different positions helps you become a better player: as a blocker you learn about the jammer and you can become a better jammer and vice versa.”
Never one to play organized sports as a teenager, Horst has discovered she is competitive and enjoys pushing herself to the extreme, which has come with its bumps and bruises.
“I’ve had a couple x-rays and possibly concussed at some point: it happens, it comes with the territory. If I am going to get hurt I would prefer it be during the derby.”
Tri-City Roller Girls are the third league in Canada to be full members of the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association, along with Montreal and Hamilton. No longer using the banked track from the 1970s the league can now play in any arena across the country.
“There is a great sisterhood amongst the girls in the league, the sport has been growing for sometime and we just want people to know we are out here,” said Horst. “It’s a fun time for the whole family.”
As for Horst’s name, Freudian Whip, she wanted to play up her psychology degree but more importantly she wanted something her grandparents could shout out at a bout so it needed to be appropriate and ‘whip’ comes from the move that skaters do during match-ups.