Things We Love: Auld Reekie Roller Girls
As ARRG All Stars head to The Big O tournament in Oregon, Kirstyn Smith looks at why she loves them
The surge in encouraging women to participate in sport seems to be reaching a much-needed apex: the success of the England Women’s Football Team in the 2015 World Cup boosted the We Can Play campaign, encouraging young girls (and their parents and teachers) to see football as just as much a sport for them than it is for boys. Then there’s the #thisgirlcan movement, widely celebrated for its portrayal of women of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds genuinely enjoying sport, which seems to have encouraged as many of 150,000 women to take up sport after a post-2012 Olympics slump. There’s also Scottish Women in Sport, who tout the vision of a Scotland where every women can enjoy exercise in a positive, equitable culture. It’s an encouraging time for active women.
If there’s a sport that embodies the hardworking attitude of women in sport, it’s roller derby, and if there’s a team that takes that hardworking attitude and runs with it, it’s Auld Reekie Roller Girls. Eight years ago, they didn’t exist and as of this week, as the Auld Reekie All Stars make the journey to Eugene, Oregon as the only UK team to have secured a coveted place in this year’s Big O Tournament, they’re ranked 48th in the world.
A not-for-profit, grassroots Edinburgh team, ARRG are dedicated to promoting fitness, fun, equality and friendship for women. Constantly striving for inclusivity, all female-identifying women, including transwomen, are encouraged to join the league, while male-identifying people can take on roles as referees, volunteers and non-skating officials.
Training begins with Skate Skills 101 – a 14-week course teaching minimum skills: think falling (cos, you’ll quickly learn, there definitely is a wrong way to fall), hitting, endurance and generally staying upright. After passing their mins test, skaters graduate to inters, where they hone their blocking, jamming and pivot skills, after which they’re invited to move on to advanced and the opportunity to qualify for the league’s A and B teams.
At all stages of their roller derby journey, each member of the league is encouraged to be their best: bruises, blood, sweat and tears be damned. There’s a focus on the true strength of women: that moment where you reach your limits, then push a little bit further. At the same time, skaters are encouraged to forge their own path: skaters can re-sit their mins test as many times as they need to get by. What keeps skaters coming back is the realisation that your journey is different from everyone else’s: don’t define your progress by what you perceive others’ successes to be.
The Grassroots Events
One of the things that attract so many to roller derby is the sport’s DIY spirit. ARRG was built from the ground up by members of the league. These days, all home games are put on by the league itself, via members of ARRG’s committees (which range from finance to fundraising, equalities to advocates, and everything in between), teams of volunteers, and a massive local support base. This proves to be beneficial for everyone – non-league members can find themselves actively involved with game day and a wider range of participants is viable: photographers, merch sellers, and, obviously, the audience, are all as important as one another. You don’t have to be on skates to be invited to the party.
It’s not just bouts that benefit from an obscene amount of behind-the-scenes, league-wide hard work. The School of ARRG Knocks is a bootcamp run by ARRG’s coaches, where they collate the derby skills they’ve picked up on their travels to drop some serious knowledge on the general derby public. There are events for all levels of skaters, all the way from pre-mins (confidence building, creative skating and derby life skills), to inters and advanced (jammer skills, team building and off-the-track prep), as well as skate park and artistic skating skills and a full-on tournament.
The Indomitable Spirit
Members of ARRG, particularly those in the All Stars and All Stars Reserves, aren’t just there because they got lucky. Huge amounts of determination and hard work go into training, but the same amount of dedication (if not more) is practiced off skates.
Skate House Edinburgh (SHED) is a company set up by All Stars Crazylegs and Skinn’er Alive and league member Princess Die, which aims to create Scotland’s first roller derby venue. The popularity of roller derby means it’s one of the country’s largest amateur sports, but the expense of training and game day facilities means league members have to pay pretty high member fees. To get past this, the trio have taken their combined 12 years of derby know-how and put it towards trying to get the league a more permanent home. Their values are strength, health, enjoyment and dedication (shed, geddit?), promoting athleticism and healthy living through skating. Despite campaigning, meetings and lobbying, SHED have experienced knock backs and barriers in their pursuit of a venue, but, true to form, aren’t going to give up that easily. If that’s not the personification of roller derby spirit, we don’t know what is.
Auld Reekie Roller Girls All Stars Big O Fixtures
Fri 29 Apr
ARRG v Windy City Rollers (Chicago)
Sat 30 Apr
ARRG v Sacred (Sacramento)
Sun 1 May
ARRG v Santa Cruz
Games can be streamed live online.