Roller derby, the high impact, high speed sport which first rose to prominence as a contact sport in the late 1930s, has been experiencing a bit of a revival in recent years, with leagues popping up all over Alberta, including here in Central Alberta, where the Nuclear Free Roller Derby League rules the roost at the Springbrook Multiplex.
“A big part of it is that it is something new and exciting. It’s also one of the fastest growing sports in the world so with that there’s a lot of new interest, as soon as people hear about us that really draws some people in,” said Jordana Thesen, the captain of the Nuclear Free Roller Derby BOOM, the league’s adult team.
Thesen, who goes by the name Gypsy Jo in the derby world, said many people choose to get involved with derby because it’s a good, cost-effective way to get active.
“It’s a really good way for them to get some activity in, it’s a little bit more cost-effective than some of the other sports that kids are involved in,” she said.
The sport, which is probably best known because of its extremely rough nature, consists of two teams with up to five skaters each skating around a track in the same direction. Each team designates one of their skaters as their scoring player or ‘jammer’ while the other members become blockers. One blocker can be designated as a ‘pivot’ who can become a jammer during play.
Blockers travel around the track in a large pack and the object of the game is to have your team’s jammer break through the pack and lap the other team’s skaters while preventing the other team’s jammer from doing the same. Each time a jammer breaks through the pack, their team gets a point.
Blockers can use body contact, changing positions and different tactics to assist their own jammers while hindering the others, making the action fast-paced and hectic.
“My sports history was rugby so I was used to the aggression and hitting and that kind of stuff,” said Thesen when asked what kinds of people tend to like to get involved with the game.
She noted that while the sport is very rough and injuries do happen often, the NFRD league is committed to ensuring the safety of all their skaters, especially those in their junior programs.
“The way that we run our juniors is that they start at a level one and accelerate to a level three, so it really helps break down the sport for them. Level ones don’t have any contact at all and then level threes can be quite intense,” she said.
All skaters also must have elbow pads, knee pads, wrist guards, mouth guards and multi-impact helmets as a required part of their uniform.
Plus, of course, their trusty four-wheel roller skates.
The league also ensures that every skater has mastered the basics of skating and legal body contact before they are ever allowed to participate in a game.
“When we’re first teaching you the skills we teach you everything from the basic skating stance, falling and then later on comes all of the hitting and contact. You must have your minimum skills to be able to play.”
Thesen said the league is always looking for new members who are interested in trying out the sport.
“If skaters are interested in trying out, they can come on a Monday. Juniors skate from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and adults skate from 7:30 p.m. until 9 p.m.,” she said.
The NFRD does have some loaner gear that first-timers can borrow for a few practices, but eventually participants will have to purchase their own skates and protective equipment, as well as skaters’ insurance.
Anyone interested in checking out how the game is played can head out to the Springbrook Multiplex on March 25th to check out a double-header of roller derby action as the Nukerwave Shov’ens junior team takes on the Hiway 14 Speedbumps at 4 p.m. before the BOOM play host to the Gas City Regulators from Medicine Hat at 6 p.m.