Feature: roller derby is fun but not for the faint of heart

The Dolly Rockit Rollers in the huddle.
The Dolly Rockit Rollers in the huddle.

When our deputy editor suggested I take a look in on roller derby my heart sank. I had tried it once before, about three years ago, and spent much of the time trying not to scream.

I was a keen roller-blader when I was about 12 but there’s something about being on eight wheels that puts the fear of God in me.

Roller Derby

Roller Derby

My first question is: what on earth do you wear for roller derby? I find some cut-off shorts and a vest top which seems suitable and my skates were sorted as they were a present from my sister from about three years ago.

Luckily, I check out my outfit choice with one of the Dolly Rockit Rollers who tells me that joggers or leggings would be more suitable.

We were invited along to the Rockit’s base at Parklands Leisure Centre in Oadby by Claire Gibbins who lives in Kibworth.

When I turn up a lovely man called Chris, who (ominously) is sporting a plaster cast, who helps to get me geared up. I cannot believe the amount of padding that is required, and once again I find myself questioning whether this was a good idea.

Roller Derby

Roller Derby

For more photos of the day, click on the pic gallery in the Mutimedia Links section on the right of this article.

As well as an extremely fetching helmet, I have to wear wrist-guards and elbow pads and knee pads. Once I get all the protective gear on, one of the Dollies presents me with a disclaimer form. I pause for quite some time before I decide to put all my reservations to one side and scribble down a still somewhat shaky signature.

The fantastic thing about roller derby (see, rules, in panel below) is that everyone has a special name that is entirely unique to them in the whole of the roller derby world.

I meet Mrs Kripling, so called because of the lovely cakes she makes, Kalashnikov who studied Russian, and Claire Lee Deranged, I didn’t ask about that one.

Roller Derby

Roller Derby

The girls are all very friendly and welcoming to newcomers, People have all sorts of reasons for joining; some have done it because they wanted to find a fun way to get fit, others because they wanted an alternative to rugby and some just want to make new friends.

The social scene of roller derby is close. Speaking to Mrs Kripling, she says that if ever you were in trouble the girls here would be there for you.

To begin with I am let loose on the track to do a few laps and ease into the sport. My main fear is falling over. I am not especially tall, but even from where I’m rolling the floor looks a long way away.

I feel quite happy with myself when I roll over to Chris and show him that I’ve learned how to come to a stop by using the break on the front of my skate.

Roller Derby

Roller Derby

But he tells me this is not actually the right way to stop; it is in fact really a rather dangerous way to stop.

He instructs me that instead you need to stop, horror of all horrors, by falling over.

Don’t be afraid of using your knee pads, he says. All very well for him to say but this flies in the face of my fear of falling over.

I take this in my stride and practice falling over using this new and rather strange technique.

It is not surprising that this is a sport that would keep you fit; when I check out how many calories you burn in just one hour of skating it comes out as 377.

Roller derby is a sport that has a number of rules and my head spins as I try to take in what is happening during the demonstration that the Dolly Rockit girls put on for the newcomers.

Roller Derby

Roller Derby

It is not for the faint of heart; roller derby is a contact sport and during the demonstration I see the girls fight their way through the pack.

There is also a part which involves hitting. Although this conjures up images of punching people in the face it is actually far tamer.

The roller girls hit against each others shoulders during a penalty in a manner that is not too far removed from rugby.

The hall is full of women when I arrive but roller derby, contrary to some beliefs, is not only a sport for girls. Some male teams do exist and many men support the teams in their standing as referees.

Roller derby has grown out of the roller skating marathons of the 1920s and 30s. Over time, the frames shortened and took on a form closer to the sport that exists today.

The revival of roller derby began with the Texas Rollergirls in 2002 and has continued to grow in popularity thanks to a Hollywood film based around the sport, Whip It (Drew Barrymoore and Ellen Page).

I am informed, however, that Whip It is quite a far cry from the roller derby that I see today. For one, it is far less aggressive than the film portrays.

My time at roller derby is certainly fun but the next day my legs are aching so much that I struggle to get down the stairs and pulling on a polo neck is a near impossible task.

The team are welcoming and the new starters are embraced into the pack with a roller congo where we all hold on to each other and, in my case, pray for dear life.

I manage to fall over just the once but it is rather dramatic in my eyes as I manage to bring down two other girls with me. They are all terribly nice about it though and even though my fear of falling will probably prevent me coming again I cannot help but wish that one day I will be brave enough to be a part of the pack.

The Dolly Rockit Rollers hold sessions for beginners every few months at Parklands. Email babydolls@dollyrockitrollers.co.uk for more details.

Further information is also available at the website www.dollyrockitrollers.co.uk.

The rules

Now for the technical part. Roller derby is played with five skaters on a track. One player from each team is the point scorer or the ‘jammer’ as they are known.

The rest of the team are blockers who are collectively called the pack.

The jammer scores points by lapping her opposing team’s blockers; one point for each blocker she passes.

This, as far as I can tell, tends to look like a very fast-moving scrum.

The job of the blockers is to both stop the opposing team’s jammer while helping their own jammer through the pack.

Although speed is needed to get past the training stages by passing a time trial, roller derby is not a race. It is a tactical game that has as much focus on team work as it does on outright speed.