On Deadline had the pleasure last year to take in some GTA Rollergirls roller derby action and we came away very impressed. The action was fast and hard but the personalities which make the league and competition possible is what compelled us to take an even closer look.
Photographer extraordinaire Mike Pochwat captured the action wonderfully with his lens of this grassroots roller community, hopefully our words will entertain you as well.
The following is the first of two parts looking at the GTA Rollergirls.
Über-amazons need not apply.
When a diverse collection of Toronto area women get together at Ted Reeve Arena to don their roller derby gear they not only find themselves in a sport often misunderstood, they are rolling in a sisterhood on wheels.
“This is about real women, the women you work and deal with daily,” explains Cindy “Splat Benatar” Brooks, captain of the Derby Debutantes. “We are derby family and a real tight unit.”
Brooks’ team is the founding squad in the GTA Rollergirls, a not-for-profit roller derby league created to push a grassroots movement to popularize the sport beyond its stereotypical expectations of glam, sex and violence. She wears her derby colours with pride and always laughs at the reaction she gets from people who find out she is roller derby player.
“People’s eyes always get big and are surprised,” she says. “They tend to not realize derby still exists and what they do know is from the old theatrical derby of the 1970s.”
The only things more colourful than the Debutantes bright pink jerseys and colourfully decorated quad (roller) skates and helmets are the names they assume on the flat track such as Daisy Dukes-it-out, Maykilla the Hun, Cherry Blight and Getcha Kicks. Away from the rink, team members are not in careers where the skill set to keep your balance and knock someone on their backside, while going in circles, is necessarily required.
These roller derby warriors by night are office clerks, teachers, writers, developers, students, nurses and mothers by day and range in age from 18 to 42.Their athletic history is as varied as the careers they leave behind before entering the change room. Some were high schools athletes, others weekend warriors, while others never excelled at sports or felt accepted in organized sports. However, in roller derby, they say they have found a new home, confidence and acceptance like never before.
“This is about helping grow the sport and each other as team mates and women.”
Brooks stresses that GTA Rollergirls is about setting personal and league paths forward together, one match, bootie block and crossover step at a time. Olga Royale, says the Debutantes and the teams they collide with believe in the sport being “for the skaters by the skaters.”
“This is not about necessarily about sport but ‘our sport’ and we want to build this our way,” says Royale. “When players come on board, they discuss fitness goals, personal goals and what they hope to achieve and see as they train and practice. This is about helping grow the sport and each other as team mates and women.”
(Part two of Sisterhood on Wheels runs this Friday, April 2.)