Interview – Auld Reekie Roller Girls and Capital City Roller Derby
We talk to key roller derby players about the sport’s appeal to both men and women
It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the world, but there’s more to roller derby than tattooed girls in miniskirts beating seven shades out of each other (although there is some of that too).
Kirstyn Smith speaks to players from Auld Reekie Roller Girls and Capital City Roller Derby to learn more about the game’s appeal
What is your derby name?
What’s the story behind your derby name?
Stitches: I chose it because I liked the Disney movie, Lilo & Stitch, and it seemed about as badass as I could handle (being named after a Disney movie).
Despicable V: After my first game I settled on WKDeid as at the time everyone in the team's (The Jakey Bites) name was drink-related. It never felt right, however, so when the team retired I took the opportunity to come up with a new name. One of my teammates in the Men’s National Team called me Despicable V, mashing up my love for the film Despicable Me and my and the fact he calls me V from time to time as my real surname starts with a V.
How did you get into roller derby?
Stitches: I actually heard about it from my boss in my first proper job out of uni. I didn’t actually think I would stay for the roller derby part, I just planned to learn to skate and give the contact a miss. Four and a half years later, I’m still here.
Despicable V: I went to see Auld Reekie Roller Girls play London Rockin Rollers and from the first whistle I was sold. At the time there were no men’s teams so my only option was to become a referee. With the help of some of ARRG’s refs and skaters two friends and I started Fierce Valley Roller Girls based in the Forth Valley, where I am still a referee. It was about a year after starting FVRG, that most of the male referees in Scotland got together and looked into starting a mens' team and so the Jakey Bites was born.
What kind of training does it require?
Stitches: It depends really, on what you want to get out of it. If you skate recreationally or for fun then the cross training element won’t feature as much. For us, training is three on-skates sessions a week (three hours each), mixing up scrimmage (playing the game), technical skills and tactical focus. On top of that, I try to get in two-three additional sessions in the gym which comprise a mix of interval training, weightlifting, plyometrics and specific stuff to keep my knees safe.
Niko Ovenden (Niko Blocker Gorey): As much as you're prepared to put in: we only train once a week for two hours as we're a small league with few members but some do extra training, skating opportunities (practice scrims and/or workouts) outside of training.
What was your experience in sport before you started playing roller derby?
Stitches: I definitely ran around a lot as a kid, and did some swimming, horse riding and cycling, but I never did any team sports, due to my extreme lack of coordination. When I was a teenager, I sort of fell out of exercising for fun, which I think a lot of teenage girls go through, so I was in pretty terrible shape by the time I started derby.
Despicable V: I remember having a pair of skates when I was about 7 but I fell and really hurt myself the second time I had them on and never tried skating again until I bought my kit for derby. As for other sports, at school I played for the school hockey team and enjoyed rugby and football.
Why do you think roller derby has regained its popularity in recent years?
Stitches: It’s not just regained popularity, it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the world! I think the sheer number of women and men participating in the sport and the stalwart efforts of all the leagues involved helping to publicise the sport.
Niko: I think people are tired of the usual cliché sports which are rather male dominated and overly competitive and/or either expensive in which to compete or attend, or massive sponsorship deals make it a false economy.
Roller Derby is grassroots and shows how much people can do when they come together with a shared interest.
What’s the best part of the game for you?
Stitches: I am definitely task-oriented rather than performance-oriented, so being able to put into practice the things I have worked hard to master, and feeling like I have done the best I can for my team.
Despicable V: The more you put in to derby, the more you get out of it. I really enjoy training and learning new things. When you work on your own skills you are always pushing yourself to get better, learn new things and develop as a skater. You also get a great buzz when you're on track and all your training just falls into place and you have a great jam working alongside your teammates utilizing all the drills and tactics you have been working on.
Despicable V: I would say there are two bad points. If you get bitten hard by the derby bug it can become all-consuming so you need to keep an eye out for that happening. The other would be the injuries. I've thankfully not had any serious injuries: my worst was about two years ago when my foot slipped out from under me whilst refereeing and I severely sprained my ankle. I was out for about two months until my ankle was well enough for me to skate on.
What’s the team dynamic like off the track?
Stitches: Good! ARRG have some strange traditions we’ve accumulated over the years, from barrel rolling, to pocket food, to power animals – you start to lose track. It’s probably my favourite thing about ARRG.
Niko: Great – we have a bunch of different backgrounds, come from different age groups, but have a shared passion which brings us together. We have social evenings – from quizzes to movies, to meals out and watching other sports – and I can genuinely say I like the people I skate with.
What’s going through your head before a bout?
Stitches: Pre-game for co-captains can be pretty manic. I am probably asking our bench coach and line up a billion questions, and making sure all our skaters are feeling prepared and happy. Once that’s sorted, I am warming up my footwork and focusing on my job during a game.
Despicable V: On game day, as little as possible. I usually try to blank everything out, that way when we get told who is on track and who is doing what for the upcoming jam I can focus on that.
What’s been your best derby moment?
Stitches: Last year, I injured my knee right at the start of the season and had to have surgery, but with the support of pals and a lot of hard work, I still got to travel to America and play in a tournament we were attending, and represent my country at the World Cup later that year.
Despicable V: Representing Scotland at the first ever Mens' Roller Derby World Cup last year.I was lucky enough to be one of few of us who played every Power of Scotland game in the tournament including one of the highlights when we took on the eventual winners the USA.
What would be your advice for women / men who want to take up roller derby?
Stitches: Just do it. It’s an incredibly empowering thing as a human who spends most of their life sitting to learn that your body has a function beyond something to feel bad about. Then part two: take care of your body. If you are going to play a contact sport, train correctly to reduce the risk of injury. You’ll come out the other side fitter, stronger and emotionally tougher too.
Niko: Go for it! Get in touch with your nearest league, they can point you in the right direction if you're interested in skating, refereeing or officiating; many leagues can lend you kit while you try it out and give you a safe space for training.
Does roller derby have any impact on how you live the rest of your life?
Stitches: Derby basically is the rest of my life. Auld Reekie Roller Girls is an amazing organisation and one that takes a huge amount of work (all volunteer) to run. We are effectively a small business that facilitates the training and development of around 80 skaters across levels, while also planning a season of open door games to generate profit, sponsorship, fundraising, creating merchandise and travelling internationally to play games. There is a lot of work and there are so many more people working their asses off than the 14 people you see on track on game day.
Despicable V: It’s a bit different for me the most people who do derby as I am involved with two leagues and two sides of the sport (refereeing and playing). This means I have two different sets of training to attend every week. It also means that I'm reading up on my rules and rules clarifications whilst also learning tactics outside of training. This can take up a fair portion of the free time I have after work and training.
Is there a particular ‘type’ of person who takes up roller derby?
Stitches: I would hope that roller derby appeals to any kind of person that might want to play. One of the things I have loved most about starting derby is that instead of only spending time with my demographic or age group, I know have a group of friends with really disparate life experience. We work hard to ensure that ARRG is a welcoming person to people from all backgrounds, and have a working group dedicated to providing support to anyone within the league who might need it.
Niko: As far as I can see it's an inclusive space for all types: race, gender identification and sexuality are completely irrelevant, and size/shape each confer their own benefit on track for both jamming and blocking.
Adding to that, what are the most appealing aspect of roller derby for men and for women?
Stitches: It is one of the least judgemental environments I have ever been in, and I think that sort of inherent feminist bubble definitely appealed to me.
Niko: It's incredibly rewarding to see grass-roots organisation paying off and supported by enthusiastic fans.