City Woman: You can’t stop the rock ‘n’ rollergirlsBy Leigh Mencarini
March 15, 2010
They're the black and blue queens of the roll rage – and they want YOU.
If you’ve never heard of roller derby before, that’s all set to change this summer.
The fast, feisty all-female contact sport on roller skates which first started in the US is about to hit the big screen with the release of movie Whip It (12A) next month, directed by and starring Drew Barrymore.
But roller derby already exists here in the UK, and our local team, the Royal Windsor Rollergirls, want women to find out how fun this sassy sport can be.
And it certainly has attitude. The players are encouraged to compete under pseudonyms and the team outfits are as much about bringing out the player’s personality as they are about protecting them from some pretty nasty bumps.
City Woman met up with some Reading-based players at a team practice to find out more.
“It’s so fast and energetic and a lot of it is about personality,” says Charlotte Whitfield, who plays as Lottie 2 Hottie.
The 25-year-old has been with the team for six weeks but was sitting out this practice as she’d twisted her knee in her last game.
“It’s fun and you can pick it up really quickly. I never thought I’d want to do exercise on a Friday night – before, you’d normally find me down the pub!
“It’s nice to see a sport where women are encouraged to be – not aggressive – but strong.”
Lori Fadden, 27, from Reading, agrees.
She’s been Rock ‘n’ Roll Ruby with the team since October.
“I just thought it looked pretty cool,” she says.
“I loved it. I never used to be sporty; I hated the gym and the treadmill and exercise of any description. Unless it was something a bit different I wasn’t interested, I just wanted a bit of rough and tumble.
“Then I found derby and now I feel better than I ever have.
“It is really good exercise and I actually lost about two-and-a-half stone since I started. But it doesn’t feel like exercise you don’t want to do.”
For most of us, roller skating is a childhood pastime that we’d be unsure of rekindling as adults – especially since now there’s a longer way down to fall.
But the girls insist it’s not a problem if you haven’t been on skates for years.
“The last pair I wore before derby were those plastic Fisher Price ones!” laughs Charlotte.
“At first it’s all about teaching you how to fall over safely,” adds Lori. “The whole team is interested in getting newbies up to scratch.
“And the injuries are never really that bad. Occasionally bad things will happen and it’s just something that comes to you with instinct.”
Caroline ‘Slipknott’ Knott, 28, from Woodley, says she was on the floor for the first few weeks.
“I turned up not knowing anything at all. I didn’t expect to be hit or have pads,” she says.
“Some people cling to the walls in their first few sessions while others take to it like a duck to water.
“You can come to as many or as few training sessions as you want but obviously the more committed you are the better you become.”
And, theoretically, the less you’ll fall down. But players are prepared for knocks – along with their team kits, which players customise to reflect their individuality, they pad up with a gum shield, helmet, elbow and knee protection and padded shorts.
“You can really invest in your kit,” says Caroline. “People tend to start with the cheaper skates and then add accessories.”
The girls are happy to lend skates to first-timers until they get a feel for the sport – just one thing that demonstrates the welcoming spirit that Charlotte said she felt when she signed up.
“I tried other clubs sports before like netball but this is really different,” she says.
“They’re so welcoming because when you start, no-one has really tried it before. I got involved because my brother’s housemate is a referee and because I’d not lived in Reading long.
“I just thought joining would be a good way to meet new friends.”
“We’re such a diverse collection of people, from all walks of life and we probably wouldn’t have met up before except for the fact we have this common interest,” adds Lori.
“But we’re really close. We’re together such a lot of the time.
“Without meaning to sound cliché, it is like having an extended family.”
That’s not to say the girls don’t take the sport seriously. While they have funky nicknames and dress up for matches, it’s no panto.
“We don’t take ourselves incredibly seriously but we do want to win,” adds Caroline.
“There’s a massive enjoyment element to it but it is very tactical and strategic.
“We have to work together throughout the game. You have to think really quickly because things happen so fast – it’s a real blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sport.
“It’s like any sport that you go to, you get a buzz from watching it as well as from playing it. Everybody gets fired up.”