Last Friday morning I arrived at work at Millennium Library bruised, sweaty, exhausted, but, overall, riding high on endorphins. I’d been up since five a.m. with a bunch of other members of the Winnipeg Roller Derby League, drilling and skating in a mock scrimmage for a live morning TV broadcast. Despite the early hour, and the fact that we’d all been at another two-hour practice less than 12 hours before, we were a pretty chipper, boisterous group, mostly because we were all doing what we love: hitting, sweating, and living roller derby.
Modern roller derby is quite different from the staged “sports entertainment” shows on TV in the 80s and 90s, with stars like Gwen Skinny Minnie Miller, plenty of over-the-top action and WWE-like pre-scripted outcomes. Modern roller derby is grassroots; it’s still full-contact, and the larger-than-life characters and edgy player names still dominate, but it’s low-budget, run by the players, and above all, it’s a real sport. The hits are real, but if you take someone down illegally, you’re going to the penalty box.
If you’re interested in exploring this burgeoning sport, check out a few of the resources available on our library shelves:
Basically a running-away-to-join-the-circus story; a young teen stuck in small-town Texas finds kinship and acceptance among the bold, tattooed personalities in the roller derby league in nearby Austin. A lot of people first heard about modern roller derby in the Ellen Page/Drew Barrymore movie Whip It, the screenplay for which Cross wrote around the same time she penned Derby Girl (later retitled Whip It to match the movie). Cross brought true-to-life experience to the page, having skated under the name Maggie Mayhem for the LA Derby Dolls. There may be some Hollywood-style liberties taken in the movie but, pretty much every derby girl who sees it agrees, they got the part about kinship and sisterhood just right. When you join a roller derby league, you join a family.
Talking Derby: Stories From a Life on Eight Wheels by Kate “Pain Eyre” Hargreaves
A series of short vignettes and day-in-the-life-of moments from Pain Eyre’s life on the derby track with the Border City Brawlers in Windsor, ON. Most of the stories are short, terse and whip-sharp — just like derby!
Down and Derby: The Insider’s Guide to Roller Derby by Alex “Axles of Evil” Cohen and Jennifer “Kasey Bomber” Barbee
If you’re looking for a less anecdotal, and more factual, run-down of the derby world, check out this insider’s guide. Both authors skated with the LA Derby Dolls & worked on training Hollywood actresses for Whip It. Some of the rules might be a bit out of date, given that the WFDTA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) rules recently underwent a major overhaul, but the basics still hold true.
And finally, if you’re looking for something a bit fun, we’ve also got Joelle Charbonneau’s Skating On the Edge. It’s the third volume in a series of mysteries featuring small-town roller rink owner Rebecca Robbins. In this volume, Robbins asks derby girl Sherlene-n-Mean to fill in for her in the dunk tank at the local fair, but Sherlene ends up electrocuted. You better believe they figure out whodunit, because there’s one thing that’s certain: if you take out a derby girl, her teammates will be coming for you. See you on the track!
–Sophie “The Scufflepuff”