Women find their feet and roll with it

China Daily (USA) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESS in Jo­han­nes­burg, South Africa

Aimee Olsen has been injured many times, but the thrill is ir­re­sistible “be­cause it’s a high-adren­a­line sport,” says one of the South African women who have be­come hooked on roller derby.

Fast-paced and ag­gres­sive, the con­tact sport pro­vides a wel­come bout of stress re­lease for women play­ers who say it’s an ad­dic­tive ex­er­cise far bet­ter than any gym.

Dur­ing a twice-weekly prac­tice ses­sion at a sports hall in Jo­han­nes­burg’s south­ern sub­urb of Turf­fontein, play­ers sport­ing brightly-coloured crash hel­mets and pro­tec­tive el­bow, knee and mouth guards speed around a con­crete floor barg­ing into each other.

The two teams of five all skate in the same di­rec­tion, but one player— the “jam­mer” — scores points by ca­reen­ing through four block­ers from the ri­val team in hec­tic, twominute bouts.

Flat-track roller derby is wellestab­lished in the United States but was only in­tro­duced in South Africa in 2011 by two women af­ter watching the movie Whip-It, about a Texas teen who shakes off her small town mis­ery by try­ing the sport.

“One of the most at­trac­tive, most lib­er­at­ing things about roller derby is that it doesn’t mat­ter how big, how small, how un­fit, howold, how young you are — this is for you,” said Dianne Silva, 30, a medic and keen roller derby fan.

Play­ers in­clude lawyers, film­mak­ers, full-time moth­ers and shop as­sis­tants— many of whom never played sport be­fore join­ing up.

For the women, aged from 19 to mid-40s, it is more than a sport. It’ s a pas­sion that em pow­ers play­ers, en­cour­ag­ing them to be phys­i­cally and men­tally chal­lenged to the limit.

“Roller derby is not for dumb peo­ple,” said Silva, who is the chair­woman of South Africa’s C-Max Roller Derby league, in which four teams com­pete.

“We are con­stantly us­ing our brains on track, and it’s fast and we play of­fense and de­fense at the same time.”

Play­ers say it soon gen­er­ates a strong sense of ca­ma­raderie.

“It doesn’t mat­ter what your back­ground is, it doesn’t mat­ter if you have a sport­ing back­ground or not, it’s a com­mu­nity,” said na­tional coach Nic Chalmers.

2011

The year two women in­tro­duced the sport in South Africa af­ter they had watched the movie Whip-It.

Edgy nick­names are some­thing of a rite of pas­sage in the sport. The league it­self is named af­ter one of South Africa’s max­i­mum se­cu­rity jails, C-Max in Kok­stad.

Teams have names such as Thun­der­ing Hell­cats or Rag­ing War­mones while play­ers go by such monikers as Faye Tal­ity, Betty Bone Crusher and Clap Cake.

“It’s like an al­ter ego that I can go on skates and be the per­son I want to be,” said Aimee Plank, 23, whose derby name is Iron Tyrant.

For its South African en­thu­si­asts, the next chal­lenge is to at­tract more black play­ers.

“Roller derby is a com­mu­nity, (and) we pride our­selves on be­ing di­verse,” said Olsen.

MU­JAHID SAFO­DIEN / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESS

Women take part in a roller derby train­ing ses­sion in Jo­han­nes­burg. South African women are tak­ing to the high-tempo con­tact sport they say is em­pow­er­ing.

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