Friends become enemies on the track
Don’t let Brim Stone’s girlish smile and petiteness fool you. She will drop you like yesterday’s bran muffin.
After all, she is a pivot for the Gore-Gore Rollergirls team, one of four troupes that suit up for the Toronto Roller Derby, which holds matches at the Hangar in Downsview Park.
“In this league, we usually get along pretty much until we get on the track,” she says. “When we’re on the track, all of a sudden all that friendship breaks down and you become enemies just for that game.”
The Parkdale resident’s eyes grow as large as roller wheels when she talks derby before an August bout.
“The rules in derby are a little bit complicated and it takes a little bit for someone who is a spectator to figure it out, but it’s still a fun game to watch, even if you don’t understand at first what’s going on,” she says. “We really hope we’ll get some fans that are diehard hockey fans who are really into the sports side of it.”
A quick and dirty explanation of the game is two teams take to the ellipse, measuring 16 by 27 metres, with five players each: one pivot (wearing a stripe), three blockers and one jammer (wearing a star) for two 30-minute periods.
An initial whistle is blown and the ladies push off, setting the speed for each two-minute session called a jam. Another two whistle blasts send the opposing jammers on their way, scrambling through the pack to become the lead.
Once there is a legal lead jammer, they control the jam. Teams earn points on the jammer’s second trip through the pack: every player passed garners one point. The jam is called off by a repeated tapping of the hips by the lead jammer.
“It’s an intense, intense sport,” Gore-Gore Rollergirls’ blocker D. Rail says. “Whether it’s the practices you do, the feelings you have during games or the injuries you receive afterwards.”
Indeed, intensity is the name of game as the ladies practice three or four times a week for normal league play. If they’re on the all-star team, CN Power, it’s five times a week.
“It rules your life,” Roncesvalles Village resident D. Rail adds with a laugh.
When it comes to the names of the bouters, it’s all about personality and the choice of one can be tough.
“It’s actually kind of hard because they have a site online of everyone’s name in the world,” D. Rail says. “You can’t pick anyone else’s name. It has to be completely unique.”
The names add to the antagonistic antics on the track.
“It’s run by women and they’re naturally aggressive towards each other, I think,” she says.
But don’t expect any donnybrooks to break out.
“Our league takes (rules) more seriously than most leagues,” says D. Rail, who suffered a knee strain during the bout against the Death Track Dolls and had to be carried off. “With roller derby, you have a hard time balancing entertainment factor and the sport.”
The Death Track Dolls blocker/pivot known as Lucid Lou agrees.
“You have specific areas, specific legal target areas,” she says. “You can’t come up behind somebody and elbow them in the back.
“Your elbows have to be at your sides all the time.”
What drew her to the sport was its competitiveness and camaraderie.
“Just the athleticism and getting out and being active and hanging out with a very eclectic group of women,” Lou says. “Most of it is tattoo culture, but there’s a lot of girls out there: we’ve got doctors, lawyers — everything.”
Lou has been a member of the women’s Toronto Roller Derby league for two bouting seasons and is active behind the scenes, sitting on 10 committees. She got started in roller derby through the observations of her 11-year-old daughter.
“My daughter is the one who saw the roller girls and freaked out and thought it was the coolest thing ever,” Lou says.
For those ladies brave enough to strap on the wheels and scrap it out in the Hangar, be prepared to feel like a piece of meat.
“We call our new recruits Fresh Meat,” says Brim Stone. “Sometimes girls will come out to the games and become interested in the sport.”
But the lamb chops are not thrown to the lionesses right away. They go through rigorous training before entering the arena. And rest assured, the derby’s aggressive nature is all part of the game’s spirit.
“It’s really amazing how we can come together for this common sport,” Lucid Lou says. “Obviously, unless it’s rugby, you’re not getting a full-contact sport with women.
“It’s setting a new pace and new standard for extreme sports as far as women go.”
The ladies lace up for their next match between the Gore-Gore Rollergirls and the Smoke City Betties on Sept. 20.