Nadia Elkharadly: Toronto Roller Derby

This past Saturday night hundreds of other people and I were witness  to an epic battle – the Battle For the Boot.  That’s right Don’t Believe a Word I say readers, I’m talking about roller derby.  And not the kind that Drew Barrymore and Ellen Page pretended to play for some movie.  I’m talking about the real deal, courtesy of Toronto Roller Derby.

I was first turned onto roller derby by the lovely and talented Emer Schlosser.  A mutual friend of ours knew a derby girl and told us it was something to check out.  Beyond watching Whip It (the aforementioned Barrymore/Page flick) once whenever it came out, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  What resulted was one of the most entertaining sports experiences I have ever had.

From their website:  “The Toronto Roller Derby League (ToRD) is the largest flat-track derby league in Canada, boasting four house teams, one travel team, a farm team, and roster of over 100 active skaters!”  This league is completely self-run; it’s powered by volunteers, fans and of course the skaters themselves.  They schedule games, they publicize them, they get sponsorship, funding and of course, they make the bouts come to life.  Their mission: “to make roller derby a thing of the present and the future, not a nostalgic sport of the past. We blend athleticism with entertainment so that sports fans and not-so-sporty types can all enjoy a little roller derby action in Toronto! “  And they do a fantastic job of it.

The Toronto Roller Derby was founded in 2006.  Back in those days there were only two teams: the  Toronto Terrors and the Smoke City Betties.  After a training camp run by ex-hockey players and dance skaters, the two teams became true derby girls, light on their skates and lethal with every other body part.  Soon the word spread, and more and more women discovered their own derby aspirations; tryouts were had and soon the Toronto Roller Derby was formed.  Two teams became four, and four became the seven teams that play in the league today:  Chicks Ahoy!, CN Power, Death Track Dolls, Gore-Gore Rollergirls, the Smoke City Betties and the recently revived D-Vas, and the soon to return Bay Street Bruisers.  The ladies that comprise these teams are some of the badass beauties you’ll ever see, and that you’ll never want to run into in a dark alley…unless you’re into that sort of thing.  The bouts are played up at The Hangar at Downsview Park, i.e. the only venue big enough to house the awesomeness that is TORD.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the way Roller Derby works, let me (with the help of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association to refresh my memory) give you a little lesson.  Bouts are an hour long, divided into two half hour periods.  Each period is divided into multiple “jams”.  A jam is, essentially, a race between the teams, and is how the points are scored.    Each team has a jammer (identified at TORD by the star cap on her helmet) and blockers.  The Jammers are the ones who score points, the blockers the ones who block the jammer from the opposing team from scoring.  Each jam will have a lead jammer – the jammer who fights her way through the pack of blockers, and the opposing jammer, to emerge ahead of the pack.  She can then score points on her second pass of the track, and for each blocker she passes.  Now, this isn’t just racing laps around a flat track in old fashioned roller skates; this is derby.  Blockers of course do not make scoring easy for jammers, pushing, shoving, linking arms and essentially forming a human wall that the lead jammer must crash through.  The best jammers are quick and agile – it’s not so much about the strength to push through the blockers, but the ability to dart around them and skate as fast and strategically through the pack.

Each bout is heart thumping and thrilling, with fans screaming for their favourite jammers and blockers– calling out their creative derby names our and cheering them along.  Personally, I am a Gore-Gore Rollergirls fan, since it was my satellite (and now real!) friendship with the mysterious and sultry number 111 – Miss Santa Muerte, that turned me onto derby in the first place.

Of course, their leopard print uniform, and my love of all things animal print did not hurt either.  The Battle for the Boot that took place this past weekend was between my beloved Gore Gores (who hold the record for winning the Boot the most times) and the exceptional Chicks Ahoy.  What is the Boot, you ask?  It’s the coveted TORD trophy, awarded to the winner of the Battle.

The Gore Gores and the Chicks have battled more than once for The Boot, and this year’s battle was as competitively charged as ever.  The Gore-Gore Rollergirls fought valiantly:  jammers Dust Bunny, Bambi and miss Santa Muerte herself skated hard and fast, took their knocks, socks and falls like champs.  Blockers Aston Martini, Molly Bloom and Gamma ray blocked the Chicks Ahoy with all their might.

But it was the Chicks Ahoy, with lead jammers Kookie Doe, and Dyna Hurtcha (didn’t I say the names were great?) racking up point after point, and blocker Mega Bouche nearly singlehandedly keeping the Gore-Gores from passing the pack, that prevailed in an epic victory.  And thus ended this year’s Roller Derby Season, in a blaze of glory for the lovely ladies of Chicks Ahoy.  I, for one, can’t wait until next year.

There are a lot of things to love about roller derby.  The pinup and vintage inspired costumes, both on the track and off are wonderful to see.  All the skaters portray a body positive image, proving that women of all shapes and sizes can not only be athletic, but can kick some serious ass.  There is a level of female empowerment in derby that just comes with the territory:  it’s a sport for women, put on by women and it brings women from all walks of life together in the spirit of sportsmanship and good old fashion having of fun.  It’s great to see little girls attending the bouts and cheering along, collecting trading cards (yes they exist!) and embracing these derby girls as role models.  There also no shortage of male fans, officials and volunteers at each and every bout – proving that roller derby really does have something for everyone.  It’s a great way to start off a Saturday night, and if you are so inclined, it’s just a great thing to get involved in.  Want to learn more?  Check out what it means to be Fresh MeatAnd maybe I’ll see you on the track next year.

Until next time,



Nadia’s column appears every Tuesday

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Nadia Elkharadly is a Toronto based writer with a serious addiction to music. Corporate drone by day, renegade rocker by night, writing is her creative outlet.  Nadia writes for the Examiner (.com) on live music in Toronto and Indie Music in Canada.  She has never been in a band but plays an awesome air guitar and also the tambourine.  Check in every Tuesday for musings about music, love, life and whatever else that comes to mind.

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