The Rideau Valley Roller Girls are rocking the roller skatesPhoto credit: Sarah Nolette
It’s a sport that rose to popularity back in the 1940s, but has never quite stuck. Roller derby’s popularity has fluctuated greatly over the years as the theatrical elements have competed with the athleticism of the game.
What was once a sport broadcast on multiple television networks throughout North America has now become an underground phenomenon run by fun-loving amateurs, typically in self-organized women’s leagues. Here in Ottawa, the Rideau Valley Roller Girls (RVRG) are bringing the roller skate back in style.
Since 2008, the non-profit organization has been run by the skaters, grouped into three awesomely-named home teams: the Slaughter Daughters, Riot Squad, and the Prime Sinisters; and two all-star teams: the Vixens and the Sirens.
University of Ottawa student Angie Tracey joined in August 2013. She began practising with the beginner’s program, called Fresh Meat, every Friday.
The object of roller derby is to score the most points by lapping the opposite team’s skaters on the track. The game itself is called a bout, and each bout consists of many jams. The jams are two minutes long where skaters can score points. Tracey explains that everyone who gets started with roller derby has to pass a minimum skills test, where they learn a bunch of different skills; how to stop, how to jump in skates, and how to hit people safely.
Tracey now plays with the Riot Squad, with skills practices every Tuesday and league scrimmages every Friday and Sunday.
Fellow student Jamie-Lee Lauzon skates with the “A” travel team, the Vixens, the highest level of roller derby. Lauzon has been involved with the RVRG for three years.
At 16, she bought roller skates with her friends, and then saw a flyer to get involved with junior roller derby in Montreal. At the time she had just seen the movie Whip It, and was interested in giving it a shot.
“The movie is nothing like roller derby is now, but you still get the idea. So, I went there and I basically learned to skate, as I learned how to play,” she says.
Tracey and Lauzon, like other roller derby players, use flashy derby names during competition. On the track, Tracey goes by “Mercy Not Found,” and Lauzon goes by “Jamie’s Got a Gun” (a play off the similarly titled Aerosmith song). Derby names usually come from the skater’s interests and their on-track persona. “We come up with our derby names,” says Tracey.
“Not everyone always has one, because they may want to take on their actual name, and take it more seriously. (But) if someone were to just do house tournaments, they definitely would have a derby name.”
Though there’s no shortage of excitement, she says it’s difficult to master the skills and keep motivated. Some talents aren’t the easiest to acquire.
“For me, doing transitions was really hard, and it was really a mental block,” said Tracey, referring to the 180 degree turn skaters learn. “It took me six months to do it, but I eventually got there.”
“It was the eagle skating for me, which is when you glide on both feet, the toes turned out to the sides, and heels facing each other,” says Lauzon.“It was just so hard for me to place my feet this way, even when not skating … I’m still very happy when I do it, because I remember how long it took me to learn it.”
For anyone looking to join roller derby, it’s most important to go in with an open mind, the ladies say.
“Don’t expect yourself to be an expert the first time you put your skates on,” says Tracey. “As long as you work hard and stay determined, you will soon accomplish that one skill.”
The next RVRG event will be their double-header home game Saturday, April 11 at the Jean-Marc Lalonde Arena in Rockland, starting with their first game at 6 p.m.