All Images provided courtesy of Delightography.

May 31st, 2017
Jesse Gussow

Once when my apartment flooded and I had to stay at a nearby hotel I suddenly had cable tv and it was amazing! I spent every evening watching Roller Derby games on Rogers Channel 22. It was awesome! Ever since that time I’ve been interested in the culture of Roller Derbies. I mean it looks so badass. Bunch of women roller skating around a track trying smash the shit out of each other; it’s intense. Before I’d ever even seen a roller derby one of my friends had a calendar from a roller derby team or league and one of the shots was taken in a local butcher shop in Ottawa. How freaking wicked is that?! I needed to know more. I reached out to Bethany with the Ottawa Roller Derby [ORD]and her interviews follows.



Where are you based?

We’re based in Ottawa, ON but we practice all over the city and in Hull, QC.



What got you interested in Roller Derby?

I had heard of it, and had seen [the film] Whip It, and knew it looked like something I wanted to try. Those fierce athletic girls were so amazing, and I wanted to be a part of that community. When I saw ORD offering a Crash Course where they teach non-skaters the basics of derby, I knew I had to try it. So I signed up, and never left.



How many teams are there in the league?

In our league we only have one team, the Bytown Blackhearts. Our membership numbers don’t lend themselves to having multiple teams. Other leagues in the city do have more teams, and it’s common to have a lower level House Team, as well as a more skilled Travel Team.



What inspired you to join a team/league?

When I made my way through the Crash Course, and fell in love with roller skating and derby in general, I knew I had to keep going. I never really imagined myself being a part of the team and playing in real games, but the coaches believed in me and pushed me to push myself. As I progressed, being part of the team seemed more and more feasible, and eventually I made it.



Why do you do Roller Derby?

I love it!! There is SO much about the sport of roller derby that I love, and I just can’t imagine not being a part of it now. It’s such a great workout, and the girls are so amazing and encouraging. It’s a super fun way to work out all the anguish and frustrations of real life (I work in retail, so you can imagine how much anguish I can gather!), while still being part of a team and the camaraderie that comes with that. I also can’t say enough how much I love the inclusivity of the sport. There is literally a place for EVERYBODY in derby. Whether you’re short, tall, skinny, fat, gay, straight, academic, no matter your background or real life job, there is a place for you here. And not even just women! There are lots of men in derby, from coaches and referees, to even some men’s teams and leagues popping up. And for those who don’t want to play, referees are always needed (7 per game), as well as lots of non-skating officiating positions. Literally anybody and everybody is welcome (just bring the right attitude!).



Why do you think people like playing roller derby?

I think there are a variety of reasons people like playing roller derby. Some of the things that keep me interested are certainly appealing to other people as well, but everyone finds their own attraction to derby. The camaraderie and team spirit that comes with it, the amazing workout and full body training, and the empowering feminism and DIY attitude are all major factors.



Why do you think people enjoy watching roller derby?

I think many people like watching roller derby for the hits. The hits are really exciting. Seeing a well-placed hip throw another girl off the track is pretty cool. But the game in general is fast paced and exciting, and there is so much going on, and the jammers go so fast, and they move so quickly and nimbly through the pack who are all moving so fast and throwing each other around… it’s exhilarating! Even when you don’t fully understand the rules, it’s fun to watch a derby game.



What can the team not live without?

The team can not live without volunteers. So many people are needed to keep derby alive. Leagues are all run by their members, so each player is directly involved in the survival of their league, from booking practice space, to coaching, to contacting other leagues for games, to laying the track and providing officials for the games. Each person in a league is usually expected to help out in these sorts of capacities, as well as advertising and encouraging new members, but often friends and families are involved as well. For instance, host teams usually provide snacks and an assortment of useful items in a gift basket for the visiting team at a game venue. Visiting guest coaches will often be housed by a volunteer league member. Bake sale tables might be catered and manned by family members or other supporters. The DIY spirit of derby often extends to the wider derby community, and we need all these supporters to keep derby growing.


What are you like outside of the ring?

I think I’m pretty similar outside of the track and derby as I am in it… Perhaps I’m a little more confident as a derby girl. Since becoming stronger and learning to love my body more and learning new skills that impress myself, I feel really at home with my derby family. And since becoming a coach and trying to teach these skills to a new generation of skaters I have also gained more confidence in myself. I try to take that into my regular life, but it’s not the same when I can’t hip check the people who get in my way. Outside derby I’m pretty quiet, but when you get to know me it’s no surprise I gravitated to derby.



How do you come up with the nicknames? Are they given or do you pick your own?

We pick our own derby names. They are often based on a player’s real name, or a hobby or other passion, and are usually a play on words. [For example, my nickname is  BeeWheelsAbub, number 666. 😈]. However, it is becoming increasingly common for women to play under their real names, and the spectacle of the early days of the sport are giving way for a much more serious incarnation.



 Do you get along with the opposing teams?

We get along wonderfully with opposing teams! There is such love in derby, no matter what side of the track you’re sitting on. The hits may get big, and there may be words exchanged on the track, but more often than not, when the game is all over and the sweat has dried, everyone is hugging and friends again. After-parties are a shared affair, and everyone parties together. It’s not uncommon to even compliment an opponent for a good move after the jam has ended.


How do you psych your self up for a game?

I like to just remind myself to have fun, skate with my friends for warm up and dance around and be silly, and remember that what keeps me in derby is my love for it. Winning is nice, but everything else is why I’m there, so I focus on the positive stuff.


Where do you play?

We often play derby games in iceless arenas during the summer. Hockey is out, derby is in! Some bigger leagues, especially in the States, are lucky enough to have a warehouse or some sort of skating venue to themselves, but that’s not a common reality in my experience. If not an arena, then a large gymnasium also does the trick. The track is laid down and taped by volunteers ahead of every game, and removed afterwards. For practice we use pylons to mark the track boundaries.


In your opinion what does the sport need to make it more mainstream? Do you even want it to get mainstream or is that part of the enjoyment?

To make roller derby more mainstream it would probably need a LOT more funding. Every single roller derby player, even those at the highest level, has a real life job. They are not training for and playing derby at all times. They have to make money to keep living the rest of their life, and then devote even more time and some of that money to keeping their derby life. Practice space and gear and coaches and tournaments and travel are expensive. Some teams have sponsors who provide food and drinks at their games, or provide uniforms, but games still don’t bring in a lot of revenue because there still isn’t a big enough audience attending. More interest and accurate video/news coverage would help propel it into the mainstream because I think enough people would be interested in roller derby if they knew more about it and had access to games. For now, word of mouth is the main source of advertising for roller derby, but that is slowly changing. I personally have zero problem with derby becoming more mainstream. The core values that derby was founded on will never change, and making more people interested can only help the community grow and encourage new skaters. It will also help push the sport to continue to change and get better. Skaters are getting stronger and faster; teams are getting smarter and using more inventive strategies. The sport will continue to get better and more exciting, and having a bigger audience on board will only help propel it further.


Do you prefer Oreo or Fudgee-O cookies?

Of course Oreos! With a big glass of milk. Twist, lick, dunk!

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