I have a confession to make. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be American. By that I don’t just mean I’d like to be granted a Green Card to allow me to live the American Dream, although that would be lovely, but I actually wish I was a peppy high school cheerleader from Orange County, or a Santa Barbara surfer girl, or a glossy New York socialite. Accent, pearly whites, Super Sweet 16 party and all.
When I was invited to train with Edinburgh’s Auld Reekie Roller Girls, an all-female flat track roller derby league, I jumped at the chance. Not only was it a fab feature waiting to happen, but it would also bring me one step closer to that all-American high school sports experience that I had never experienced.
After exchanging many emails with league member Sasha (“Stitches” on the track) my trusty photographer and I headed to the Jack Kane Sports Centre, on a usually lazy Sunday in February, in order for me to attend a Fresh Meat session. Curious as to why I’d need a mouthguard, I realised soon after my arrival that there was nothing glamorous about roller derby; for one thing, it’s a contact sport. What I thought it involved before the training day I’m not sure, but I definitely didn’t think that practising falling safely would be on the agenda!
Luckily I was supplied with plenty of padding before getting my skates on – elbow, wrist and kneepads are the norm, plus a well-fitting helmet and the aforementioned mouthguard. As this was the first day of an intensive sixteen-week Fresh Meat programme, at the end of which all new skaters are tested on basic skills to ensure they’re at an appropriate level to safely join the league, there were plenty of fellow novices to play with. Laced into my quad skates, I soon realised that my regular inline sessions weren’t going to do me much good, because your weight distribution and centre of gravity is so different.
However, I managed to stay on my feet as Stitches and her fellow coaches, including league captain Lianne “Crazylegs” Parry, explained how our afternoon would pan out. Straightforward skating in derby stance – a squat – was up first, followed by learning to fall safely on one and two knees, stopping WITHOUT falling, laps of the track and some fun games to finish.
I felt quietly confident as I zoomed up and down the track, and found that falling on to one knee could actually be fun – the trick is to slide along on your kneepads, eliminating the impact of a straight fall. Then came the double knee fall, which should have been simple enough, but I managed to misbalance and fall flat on my backside – a painful mistake, which I was assured happens to everyone once.
Undeterred, I practiced my T-stops and snowplough stops, before forming a team for shopping trolley races. Team spirit is one of the best things about the Auld Reekie; they’re all genuine friends, supportive of each other on and off the track, and their committee set-up ensures that all decisions are made as a group. Plus, they’re always up for nachos from the local pub after training, which gave me a chance to find out more about my new favourite sport.
“In a nutshell, blockers have to block the other team’s jammer, but also help their own jammer,” begins Jenny, aka Admiral Attackbar. “Only one member of each team is a jammer, and they get a point for every member of the opposite team that they pass, but there are four blockers who skate around together and the jammer has to try and break through their ‘wall’. The first jammer to make it through becomes lead jammer, providing she does it legally, and she can stop the jam whenever she wants.”
Very technical, but I think I get it. With the growth of the sport in Scotland, there are plenty of local teams for the girls to bout with, but they’ve got their sights set a little higher – they’re off to America! The Twisted Thistles, Auld Reekie’s all- star travel team, will be taking part in the East Coast Derby Extravaganza (ECDX) roller derby tournament in Philadelphia from 28th-30th June 2013. The event draws in more than a thousand skaters each year, with fifty bouts taking place across the three days, over three rinks.
“We’re so excited for America, but we’ve got a lot of fundraising to do,” says Crazylegs. “We organise things like quiz nights and sell merchandise to make money, and there’s also a section of the committee who work on getting us sponsors.”
“We want everyone on the team to have an equal opportunity, and for us all to be able to go, regardless of our personal finances,” adds Sasha. “It’s only fair that we do it together as a team and that nobody has to miss out because of circumstances.”
With just three months to go until their biggest trip yet, the girls have just launched limited edition “Party ARRG” and “Go ARRG Or Go Home” merchandise on their website, with all proceeds going directly to their travel fund.
Exhausted from skating and stuffed from our pub grub, we said our goodbyes to the Auld Reekie Roller Girls. Driving home that evening, the one thing that really stuck in my mind was the team spirit, positivity and welcoming atmosphere that the girls extend to all members, new and old. In the words of Stitches, “Even if you have never been on wheels before, if you really want to skate, we’ll teach you how to skate.”
For more information on ARRG or to buy exclusive merchandise visit Arrg.co.uk