Con­tact roller derby speeds through South Africa

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

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.

“Link up a lit­tle tighter!” coach Nic Chalmers yells out dur­ing a twice­weekly prac­tice ses­sion as play­ers on roller skates speed around a con­crete floor barg­ing into each other.

Sport­ing brightly coloured crash hel­mets and pro­tec­tive el­bow, knee and mouth guards, two teams of five skaters com­pete in a sports hall in Jo­han­nes­burg’s south­ern sub­urb of Turf­fontein.

They are all skat­ing in the same di­rec­tion, but one player – the “jam­mer” – scores points by ca­reen­ing through four block­ers from the ri­val team in hec­tic, two-minute bouts.

Flat-track roller derby is wellestab­lished in the United States. but in Africa it is only played in Egypt and South Africa, where it was in­tro­duced in 2011 by two South African 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, how old, how young you are – this is for you,” said Dianne Silva, 30, a medic and keen roller derby fan.

Play­ers in­clude lawyers, film-mak­ers, 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 em­pow­ers play­ers, en­cour­ag­ing them to be phys­i­cally and men­tally chal­lenged to the limit.

“Roller derby is not for dumb peo­ple,” said Silva, who is the chair 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 of­fence and de­fence at the same time.”

“It’s a think­ing game,” she adds of a sport some­times de­scribed as “rugby with­out a ball and on skates”, or even “play­ing chess while bricks are be­ing thrown at you”

Play­ers say it soon g.en­er­ates 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 Chalmers.

Be­ing thrown down on their knees or chests, or pitched onto their backs or back­sides, is part of the ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing the 30-minute matches.

But play­ers quickly pull them­selves up and charge back into ac­tion.

“It en­cour­ages me to be pow­er­ful. I’m not the small­est per­son. With this I can be fast,” said Aimee Plank, 23.

“It cel­e­brates my size, and that makes me pow­er­ful ... It makes me feel I can do any­thing on skates.”

Off the track “im­me­di­ately you come here, you have this kind of ready-made fam­ily. It be­comes part of your ev­ery­day life”, said Olsen dur­ing a rest in the hall which is nor­mally used for mar­tial arts and hockey.

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 pun­ning 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 Plank, whose derby name is Iron Tyrant.

“Hav­ing that se­cret iden­tity puts a bit of fear into your op­po­nent, and it’s a lit­tle bit of an in­tim­i­da­tion game,” said Silva, known on the track as Di-fib­ril­la­tor.

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

“Roller derby is a com­mu­nity, [and] we pride our­selves as be­ing di­verse,” said Olsen. –

‘It cel­e­brates my size, and that makes me pow­er­ful ... It makes me feel I can do any­thing.’

Aimee Plank roller derby en­thu­si­ast

Pho­tos: AFP

South African women prac­tise roller derby dur­ing a training ses­sion on August 24 in Jo­han­nes­burg.

Flat-track roller derby is a quickly grow­ing sport in the African na­tion.

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