Derby rolls full speed ahead

By Erin Shumlich

“It’s not about if it will happen. It’s about when,” said Cheetah Von Teese.

Cheetah, with both arms covered in tattoos, is talking about injuries. And she means business.

In a diner booth from the ’70s covered in pop stains at Lloyd’s Recreation, Melissa Kruskowski, who goes by Cheetah Von Teese, explained that four years ago she found a sport she could call her own.

That sport is roller derby.

Originating from Illinois in the ’30s, derby has gained popularity across the world. In 2007, a women’s roller derby league was formed in Calgary. The sport took off in the city and has surged in popularity since its inauguration.

Two teams of five players– three blockers, a pivot and a jammer– compete in two 30-minute periods that consist of ‘jams’ that are about two minutes each. During a jam, players skate around a track and try to block the other team’s jammer from getting through the pack and scoring a point. Points are scored when the jammer makes it past the other team’s blockers.

Although biting, face jabs and hitting from behind are illegal plays, blocking is when the injuries occur.

“We have protective equipment and all of our training helps us avoid injury as much as we can, but it’s going to happen,” said Kruskowski. “Other than that, lots of bruises. I cracked ribs once. But you feel better and start to play as much as you can. Maybe you shouldn’t be, but it’s too much fun.”

Behind Kruskowski’s tough attitude is a studious first-year education student at the University of Calgary. Balancing derby and school, however, is not hard for her.

“It’s definitely a commitment to do both,” she said. “But I am able to balance things out. I practice twice a week and it’s definitely more of an outlet than tough to find time for. It’s something that you make time for– you finish your homework so you can go out and give it your all.”

The Calgary Roller Derby Association is made up of a diverse group of girls. The all-female league has house teams, an all-star team and a team for newcomers to the sport, aptly named Fresh Meat.

Derby is not, however, a sport only enjoyed by women. Men who volunteered for the CRDA decided they couldn’t let their female counterparts have all the fun and started a league of their own. It’s an exciting time to be in the derby scene in Calgary– the largest tournament ever held in Alberta will be at the Olympic Oval on April 13-15, during which Calgary’s junior league will be making its debut.

Kruskowski said derby has become widespread in Calgary.

“It’s really tight-knit,” she said. “Everyone really helps each other out.”

Angela “Dangercat” Unsworth started roller derby last year.

“I knew some girls who played. We went to a few games and a friend and I started the learn-to-skate program. We had a lot of fun, so we tried out, made Fresh Meat and went from there,” she said.

Unsworth said derby is a sport anyone can take up, regardless of their skill or knowledge of the sport.

“You are on Fresh Meat for about three months, where you learn basic skills,” she said. “Like safety about hitting, safety about falling and those kinds of things.”

The women begin their fifth season on April 28, but they train all year. Each team has about two practices per week.

In a sport where you don a skirt and roller skates, seeking members is easy. Once you’re in, Kruskowski said you’re hooked.

The difficult part is finding a derby name.

“It’s a long process,” she said. “You really have to take into consideration your interests and your personality. Sometimes people will bestow a name upon you depending on if it’s a long-time nickname. You have to be original, but it’s tough these days because there are so many derby girls. You have to make sure your name isn’t used by someone else.”

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