Sport mixes fish­nets with hip checks

Lo­cal women’s roller derby started humbly in 2006. It’s grown into a league that at­tracts more than 1,000 fans a night

Vancouver Sun - - Sports - BY YVONNE ZACHARIAS yzacharias@van­cou­ver­sun.com

The ath­letes have names like Cin­der Hella, Toi Box and Micki Mer­cury. The teams have names like Faster Pussy­cats, Riot Girls and Rain Val­ley Vix­ens.

Wel­come to the edgy, fast­paced niche sport of roller derby, an un­der­ground sport that is tak­ing off not just in Van­cou­ver, but across North Amer­ica.

The sport started humbly here in 2006 by a group of women who gath­ered at one of their homes. No one dreamed it would grow into some­thing peo­ple would pay to watch.

The prod­uct of all their spunk and hard work is dis­play to­day as two home­grown teams vie for the lo­cal cham­pi­onship at Mi­noru Arena in Rich­mond. That game will be fol­lowed by a grudge match be­tween Van­cou­ver and a vis­it­ing horde of roller girls from Cal­gary.

The cold con­crete sur­face at Ri­ley Park Com­mu­nity Cen­tre vi­brated with action and pumped-up girl power dur­ing prac­tice Thurs­day. On the track, Lisa Sug­gitt, who runs a roller skate shop near Com­mer­cial Drive and a web­site called Rol­ler­girl.ca, was do­ing fly­ing leaps over an­other player. Un­like the 1980s pro wrestling-style TV in­car­na­tion of roller derby, the Van­cou­ver league doesn’t fea­ture staged bouts.

“There is noth­ing fake about our sport,” Sug­gitt said be­tween run­ning drills. “The girls are amaz­ing. It’s like hav­ing a big girl gang.”

Al­though it’s def­i­nitely off­beat, roller derby has all the hall­marks of a reg­u­lar sport, in­clud­ing ref­er­ees, coaches, prac­tices in­volv­ing drills and scrim­mages, point scor­ing in games, penal­ties and a 27-page rule book set out by the U.S.-based Women’s Flat Track Derby As­so­ci­a­tion.

Some of the more re­cent bouts in the Van­cou­ver area have drawn crowds of more than 1,000 spec­ta­tors partly be­cause there is noth­ing bor­ing or se­date about the spec­ta­cle. It has kind of a campy, bur­lesque, satir­i­cal punk feel to it. While wear­ing team T-shirts and hel­mets that de­note their po­si­tions, the girls can be dressed in short dresses, fish­net stock­ings or wildly striped knee-high stock­ings.

You are apt to find a few more tat­tooed, pierced and dyed girls here than on a reg­u­lar sports team.

Then there is the rink-side beer gar­den. That might help to draw the crowd too.

If you were to watch it, you would see a bunch of women in op­pos­ing team colours racing around a flat track in one di­rec­tion. Sim­ple, right?

But there is strat­egy among the chaos. There are 10 girls on the track at any one time, five from each team. Each side has a jam­mer, iden­ti­fied by the star on her hel­met, who scores all the points and four block­ers who try to pre­vent her from scor­ing.

Al­though it is dif­fi­cult for the un­trained eye to see, each of the block­ers has a unique role. The key player, iden­ti­fied by a stripe on her hel­met, is called a pivot. Like a quar­ter­back, she calls the plays.

Michelle Lamoureux, who com­petes as Micki Mer­cury, re­mem­bers racing home from church on Sun­days as a kid to watch roller derby on TV.

“I re­mem­ber putting on old metal skates, the kind that go over your shoes, and head­ing down to my base­ment so I could be a roller girl. I broke my tail­bone do­ing it. That is when it all be­gan.”

She knew she had to try to get a league up and run­ning here. So in 2006, she put an ad on Craigslist, a group be­gan to meet and a league was born.

Lamoureux loves the ag­gres­sion. When the games first started here, “we used to say I’m sorry a lot but now there is no sorry in this.”

Andi Struc­tion, who has a danc­ing and act­ing back­ground, played team sports all her life but never found any­thing she could re­ally latch onto un­til this rolled along. Other sports were ei­ther not com­pet­i­tive enough or didn’t have enough show­man­ship. For her, roller derby is the per­fect mix of sex­i­ness and stri­dency.

“It’s a full-con­tact sport which is un­usual for women. We don’t see many women bash­ing the crap out of each other. It’s very em­pow­er­ing.”

She says the sport is at­tract­ing all kinds.

“We have nurses and stay-ath­ome moms and construction work­ers and les­bians and girly girls and ev­ery­thing in be- tween,” she said. “We def­i­nitely have the party girls and the rock ’n’ roll girls and the punk rock­ers, but speak­ing for my­self, I work in an of­fice. I don’t have any tat­toos or dye my hair.”

MARK VAN MA­NEN/VAN­COU­VER SUN

The Ter­mi­nal City Rollergirls helped bring the rough-and-rum­ble sport of roller derby back from the dead.

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