More and more women are participating in roller derby, making it one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. The sport combines a unique mix of camaraderie, creativity and physicality. With leagues in nearly every major city in Canada, the game has re-emerged with the emphasis shifted from the theatrics to athleticism. This spring a new league in the region has emerged with a twist: a zombie theme.
Within the new league, called the Walking Dead Derby Girlz, fierce makeup and fishnet stockings are still a standard but safety is the main concern for league organizers Cindy Brown, a.k.a. Bonny Bruiseher, and her husband Michael, a.k.a. Chocolate Meltdown.The couple has been involved in roller derby leagues across southwestern Ontario for the last three years, learning the ropes before deciding to take on the challenge of creating their own.
“It all started one night when my husband said to me we’re getting fat just sitting around: we’re not roller skating enough. So I went on the computer and looked up roller skating and came across Tri-City Roller Girls and I thought ‘what is this?’ There was a game that week so we went and by the end of the match I was hooked,” said Brown who has been roller skating for 30 years.
At the age of 44, Brown decided to try out at a boot camp and has been taking part in the sport ever since. She admits that boot camp was not her cup of tea.
“Every minute was painful for the three days a week that we did it. I am not an athlete and was not used to that kind of workout. I am allergic to exercise,” laughs Brown. “I wore full makeup throughout boot camp and I told them that I don’t sweat and of course I didn’t want to wear the helmet as that wrecks your hair, but it was an amazing time.”
Of the 60 women who attended that boot camp only 14 would survive to play in the league; 80 per cent of those girls had never skated before, said Brown.
“Some girls don’t have any idea what this sport requires of them, they think they can just grab their roller skates and show up. It takes hours of practice but it is worth every minute of it when you are out there with your team in a game.”
Brown skated with the Tri-City Rollers for a year before moving to the new Guelph Royal City Rollergirls, where she showed them how to skate derby style. That led the couple to teach skating at the at the Elora Community Centre on Sundays for low contact (LOCO) derby and for the last six months they have been teaching the Stratford Festival City Roller Girls team.
Two months ago the Browns were discussing all the work they were doing for all the different leagues in the surrounding area when they decided they would set up their own league.
“We know how to do all this now. Michael was refereeing for other leagues, and we were both teaching and it just made sense to start our own league.”
Safety is a priority for the Browns, who are holding boot camps every Saturday night until the end of August before sending their players into the rink for the fall season.
“It takes at least two months of boot camp before players know what they are doing. Some leagues only have eight practices before they send a squad out. I don’t think that is very safe. We know all the rules to the sport and know how to be safe.”
They plan to start off small introducing one team of players this year before expanding on the numerous ideas they both have for the sport.
“We are taking baby steps right now, but we have some great ideas for the future.”
The league already has 15 players, well enough for one team, called the Rigor Mortis Roxys. The team will be playing against girls in September from leagues in the area, starting with scrimmages against teams from Toronto, Tri-City, Stratford and Fergus.
“Scrimmages help players learn the game; they can ask questions to the referee during a scrimmage. It is not like a real game where everyone is focused on the task at hand.”
Cindy, who grew up and lived in Elmira before moving to Kitchener last year, is looking to tap into the Woolwich Township for new players.
“I would like to build from the Woolwich area and I know that there are a lot of girls playing soccer and baseball and hockey. I just want them to know that there are other sports available to them. Roller derby is so much fun I just want to share the sport.”
The leagues boot camp is held at the Albert McCormick Arena in Waterloo every Saturday night from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. and everyone is welcome to come and watch.
Anyone interested in the league should contact firstname.lastname@example.org