Wed, Apr 23, 2014 - Page 19 News List

Roller derby gains traction beyond the US

AFP, STERLING, Virginia

“Jammers” for the DC Roller Girls, left, and Rocktown Rollers race each other for points during the women’s flat-track Roller Derby in Sterling, Virginia, on April 5.

Photo: AFP

Adrienne Schreiber curls down her lower lip to reveal “SF1” inked in black — a tattoo celebrating Scare Force One, a tribe of fierce Washington women on roller skates.

When they get together, they push, shove and — above all — win.

Bureaucrats, teachers and scientists, the women who compete in roller derby — a US game that is quickly gaining traction abroad — come from all walks of life.

However, to take part is not merely to don skates and score points.

On a recent Saturday afternoon in a sportsplex in Sterling, Virginia, a suburb of the US capital, the DC All-Stars A team — drawn from the area’s four teams, including Scare Force One — competed against the Vixens from Canada’s Rideau Valley Roller Girls league.

This is a full-contact sport with jostling, bumping and hitting — so long as it is not done with the elbows, forearm, hands, head or lower legs.

It is not for the faint of heart or spirit.

As each team of five races around the track, the “jammer” pushes ahead of the pack in an attempt to lap the other team’s players. After an initial pass, points are scored with each opposing player the jammer passes.

Team-themed tattoos and frequent injuries are common, as are tough personalities and derby pseudonyms. Condoleezza Slice and Nasty Pelosi — puns on the names of two of Washington’s most powerful women — play in the area.

The 31-year-old Schreiber — who last year opened Washington’s first-ever derby shop, Department of Skate — competes under the name Velocityraptor.

Roller derby, which got its start in 1930s Chicago, has had peaks and valleys of popularity, and a brief period in the 1970s full of theatrical stunts and storylines similar to those in professional wrestling.

“I think women really stuck with derby because it was an early sport where they were on the same track as men,” said James Vannurden, curator of the National Museum of Roller Skating in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the governing body under which many teams operate, had just a couple dozen leagues when it began 10 years ago, all of them in the US.

Today, there are 243 full-member leagues, WFTDA public relations manager Kali Schumitz said.

The organization also has 101 apprentice leagues that are training to join the competition ranks.

And until just a few years ago, non-US teams were rare.

However, WFTDA leagues now exist in South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The Web site derbyroster.com counts 1,307 women’s flat-track leagues worldwide, from Mexico to Malaysia.

Sister Disaster, 38, plays on the Rideau Valley team from Ottawa, who beat Washington 180 to 165. Her real name is Lauren Hart.

“We travel a lot, by nature of being in Canada. There are fewer leagues for us to play there, so we have to come to the States,” she said.

Schumitz, a journalist who competes in Washington’s DC Rollergirls league under the name Lois Slain, said the sport is nevertheless expanding quickly overseas.

“Right now, most of our growth is outside the US. If you look at the makeup of the apprentice leagues, there’s a much higher percentage of non-US leagues,” she said.

In December, the sport’s second-ever World Cup will take place in Dallas, Texas, with 30 countries expected to participate.

Just 13 countries participated in the 2011 event, with the US dominating and Canada, England, Australia and Finland rounding out the top five.

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