A beginner’s guide to Roller Derby (the fastest-growing sport in the world)
This week, Geraldine Carton took a few tumbles as she teetered out her comfort zone. Her challenge? To dive headfirst into the wild world of roller derby
It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon when I drive out to Inchichore Community Sports Centre. I am here to try out roller derby (the fastest-growing sport in the world) and if I’m being honest, I feel a little nauseous by the prospect of doing so.
What is roller derby?
Roller derby is deemed a “full-contact” sport, although skaters are only allowed to use the force of their core body to bump and bolster opponents out of their way. Each game features two teams going head-to-head, both of which are comprised of one “Jammer” and a handful of “blockers”. It’s the jammers’ job to get through the opposing team’s blockers, who try to prevent the Jammer from getting past, all whilst helping their own Jammer to get through. The aim is to get your jammer through so that they can lap the opposing team around the track, and earn your team points in the process. Not as confusing as it sounds.
Dublin Roller Derby
As I walk into the hall I see two teams of skating women in the midst of a rigorous game. As they hustle against each other, women are nose-diving to the ground all over the place, only to get up and skate on like it never happened. Straight back into the action they go, pushing and blocking like this is what they were born to do.
I can’t help but feel concerned by the sheer extent of protective gear that all skaters wear… What did each element protect participants from, exactly?
Dublin Roller Derby teammates
Passion, commitment, fitness and community
Valentina Nicosia is the Dublin Roller Derby PR Manager and kindly offers to be my guide for the day. Val is wildly passionate about the sport and speaks with enthusiasm about how it helped her to settle into life here in Ireland, having moved from Italy more than six years ago.
Val explains how, upon joining the derby community, every member is given their “derby name”. This is usually a wordplay on their name. A big fan of Harry Potter, Val is known as “Valdemort”, whilst she points out her friends; “Violent Bob”, “Argie Bargie”, “Miss Fury” and a cartoon-enthusiast referee who goes by the name “SHREF”.
Being on the A Team, Val and her teammates practice three times a week, “We do it for the love of the sport,” she says simply.
“Roller derby is brilliant, from both a fitness and community perspective. We have loads of team nights out and regular events that get everyone involved; be it raising money for charities [they are big supporters of Period Poverty Ireland] or organising pub quizzes.”
Inclusivity is another key part of the DRD culture; this is a sport that actively welcomes every race, religion, size and sexual orientation. What’s more, the focus here is not how your body looks, but what your body can do; and so long as you can whizz around on four-wheel shoes, you’re in.
The strain of keeping myself upright causes my thighs to shake, and I teeter slowly around the room with little-to-no control.
Geraldine Carton after finishing the “Fresh Meat” session
“Safety is paramount” explains Val, and whilst this is obviously reassuring to know, I can’t help but feel concerned by the sheer extent of protective gear that all skaters wear…
What did each element protect participants from, exactly? Were the mouthguards there to prevent a gummy smile after an elbow to the face? Would the helmet prevent a crippling head injury when I am inevitably launched down to the ground by an enraged opposing team member?
My mouth is dry with fear, but before I have the chance to think up any viable excuses for why I need to leave (sudden illness in family member, sudden realisation of crucial dentist appointment on a Sunday, etc) someone shouts “FRESH MEAT!”, and I know it’s time to meet my maker.
Feeling like a sacrificial lamb going to the slaughter, I put on skates only to find myself looking more like Bambi when she first learns to walk. That is if someone made Bambi wear a helmet, knee pads and lycra leggings.
Having not roller skated since I was about eight-years-old, I struggle to get the hang of what is – crucially – a roller skating-based sport. The strain of keeping myself upright causes my thighs to shake, and I teeter slowly around the room with little-to-no control. Every now and then I roll into my fellow students and claw frantically at their arms. They are nice about it, managing to laugh graciously when I take them down a-tumbling with me.
When the session finishes, I must admit that I am filled with relief. Against all odds I have managed to make it through the session unscathed; nothing more than burning thighs, a bruised bum cheek and some metaphorical ego-bruising to report. Great success!
More noteworthy than the burning and the bruising though, I have also come away with a newfound hope for the good that people can generate when they embrace a shared interest in a fun, supportive and encouraging atmosphere. I remind myself to get a hobby that is as positive as roller derby, but less painful.
Right before I leave I am delighted to find that I have been assigned my very own derby name! They have named me “Geraldoom”. I can’t help note how appropriate this feels, when you consider the doom I felt upon entering the derby hall in the first place.
Main image via Earl McGehee