I confess I’ve got mixed feelings about women’s sports raising money by selling calendars featuring naked athletes.
When I teach philosophy and get my students to write argumentative essays, I ask them to choose a thesis and argue for it. But I don’t have time for that today. There’s no thesis here. Just complicated thoughts which I thought I’d share. I haven’t worked my way to a conclusion. Have you? Feel free to share in the comments below.
On the one hand, first thought, they’re beautiful. Wow. It’s Christmas soon. Who could I give this to?
Second thought, and look at all the body positive messaging.
“For me, the shoot was about sending a message to women to embrace their curves. We are all naturally self-conscious about some aspect of our bodies, and people can be so judgmental. But at the end of the day, your own opinion is the only one that matters.” – Nana Bruise You
Third, but how diverse are the bodies of the women in the calendar? They all look pretty thin, young, and mainstream beautiful to me.
Fourth thought, I’ve worried about the options women have when it comes to funding the sports we love. See my thoughts on naked rugby calendars here.
Fifth thought, maybe there’s an important difference between derby and rugby though. Roller derby has always played with women’s appearance and made a thing out of being tough and sexy and wild at a wide range of sizes. That’s not just true for the calendars. It’s true for the sport itself. You can’t enjoy derby without making your feminist peace with miniskirts and fishnets.
Sixth, and it is for a good cause. “Proceeds go toward supporting junior skaters in the northwest, providing skates and gear to children in need. ”
On Saturday, July 19, 2014, at the ripe old age of 43, I skated my last game as a roller derby competitor.
I blogged last year about my early experiences with roller derby, from lacing up my skates and donning protective gear for my first practice to working with my league mates at Crow City Roller Girls to present the first ever roller derby game in Chatham, Ontario. These were good times in my life. I loved skating with Crow City, and my life was enriched greatly by the experience. But alas, the old adage proved to be true of my favourite sport: roller derby is a harsh mistress.
Training to play this sport is a huge commitment. Add to this the large amount of work—all of it voluntary—required to run a successful league and many skaters are forced to conclude there is not room enough in their life for roller derby. In a league the size of Crow City, with so few shoulders available to carry the load, this problem is magnified.
As other skaters left us, I took on more and more of the work of running the league. Nobody forced me to do this. I accepted every new responsibility willingly because I loved the sport and loved my league and wanted it to succeed. I took on too much. I soon discovered I was sacrificing far, far too much of the rest of my life to play roller derby. And I could not continue to make those sacrifices. I needed to make a change.
That change came on October 31, 2013 when I resigned my membership in Crow City Roller Girls. It was a difficult, painful step to take, knowing that in walking away I was hurting people I loved and exacerbating the very problem which had driven me out. It was a step I took with a heavy heart and only because it was my only viable choice.
Not wanting to give up roller derby entirely, I then transferred my membership to a much larger league in London, Ontario: Forest City Derby Girls.
I loved training with Forest City. I loved being able to simply show up to practice and participate in drills prepared by other people, no longer required to plan and lead the practices myself. I loved training with a league so large we were able to scrimmage in practice almost every week. And I loved training under the guidance of Forest City’s excellent trainers who gave freely of their own time and expertise to help me improve my game.
I remained diligent in my efforts to keep my participation in the work of running my new league under control. Many hands make light work, and the size of Forest City enabled me to succeed in this regard. Commuting over 100km to attend twice weekly practices, however, proved to be too costly for me in both money and time (and this before I factored in the costs of travelling to away games). Six months after my transfer to Forest City Derby Girls I once again found myself searching for a new way to keep my involvement in roller derby alive.
Several members of the derby community had suggested refereeing to me in the past. They thought I would make a good “zebra” because I’ve always had a strong understanding of the many and often complex rules of our sport and I certainly possess the endurance required for the role. (Referees skate every jam.) I’d rejected these suggestions in the past because I was under no delusions that the role of roller derby referee is easy. It’s one thing to know the rules. It’s another entirely to be able to see them in action and read points and penalties on the fly as a fast-moving pack of skaters jockey for position on the track. I was already giving everything I could to the task of learning to be a better roller derby player. I knew I could not excel at both playing and reffing. But if I gave up playing roller derby? Could I develop the skills necessary to become a great referee then? Once again I needed to make a change. So I exchanged my rainbow stripes for black & white and decided to give it a try.
Southern Ontario is a great place to be a roller derby referee. We have many leagues who need officials for their games and many experienced and talented refs already in the area, willing and able to help train the next generation of zebras. I made the decision to join the zebra dazzle on May 3rd and reffed my first game on the 24th of the same month. Since that date, my officiating schedule quickly filled up, giving me opportunities to skate with many fine ref crews while still maintaining a travel schedule I could afford. My decision to join team zebra enabled me to keep skating, remain involved in a sport I love, and find that elusive but much-needed derby/life balance. It also sent me back to The Fresh and the Furious.
The Fresh and the Furious is a tournament for new skaters hosted by the GTA Rollergirls in Toronto, Ontario. I competed in The Fresh and the Furious IV in 2013 as part of Crow City Roller Girls’ tiny team of seven skaters. People thought we were crazy to skate with such a small roster, but my first year at Fresh was a wonderful experience I will always cherish.
Skaters may only compete in The Fresh and the Furious once, but my switch to team zebra enabled me to return to the tournament this year, skating once again on a crew of seven but this time as part of the much larger team of skating and non-skating officials required to oversee a full-day, two-track tournament.
Fresh V took place on July 12, 2014—2 years to the day since I participated in my first ever roller derby practice. I could not have hoped for a better “derbyversary” gift. It was a privilege to be chosen to officiate this tournament and a joy to work with such a talented crew, skating six games together over the course of the day.
The Fresh and the Furious is designed primarily to provide tournament play experience and learning opportunities to first year skaters, but I learned a lot my second year at Fresh, both about my new role in roller derby and about myself. Most importantly: I learned that I love refereeing every bit as much as I loved playing roller derby. Two years into my roller derby career the zebra’s stripes are feeling comfortable on this dragon’s skin and my future looks bright. Roller derby may be a harsh mistress, but I love her still.
Which brings us back to this past weekend and my final game as a roller derby competitor.
When I made the decision to become a referee I contacted the roller derby leagues closest to me to let them know I am reffing now and to ask them to keep me in mind when staffing their skating official crews. Of course my contact list included the league which birthed me into the world of roller derby: Crow City Roller Girls.
Alas, when I contacted Crow City they informed me that I would not have the opportunity to ref any CCRG home games. The remaining members of the league had been forced into the same decision I’d had to make last October: they could no longer sustain such a tiny league. Crow City would have no more home games. The league was folding. They did, however, have one final away game to play. Crow City Roller Girls invited me to join them for that final game, not as an official, but for one final time as a member of the team.
The location was far away. The timing was bad for some very big reasons. And I’d given up playing roller derby. I was a ref now. But how could I refuse to skate in the last flight of the murder?
Crow City’s final game would feature my former teammates Wicked Pissah and Abstract LabRat—derby sisters who’d gone through fresh meat training with me—as well as, of course, Greta Garbage—Crow City’s founder and the woman who introduced us all to roller derby. Skating alongside them would be Kara Scene—my own fresh meat who I’d helped train back when I was still leading practices for CCRG—and guest skater Ginsane Bruiser—the woman responsible for introducing Greta to roller derby. Four generations of skaters all on the track together, and I’d been invited to be a part of it!
Of course I said yes. Of course I, once again, asked everything else in my life to make sacrifices so I could play roller derby. Of course I joined additional guest skaters from Tri-City and Los Coños: Stacie Jones, REZISTA, Lalie Deadman, Reckless Rabbit and Amy Feral Foul-Her in filling out the Crow City ranks. Of course I made the trek to Alliston with this team, our bench staff Sweet Mother of Quad and Cruella DeKill—another freshie I’d helped to train—and Kozmic Khaos—yet another of my freshies, passed her minimums but sadly sidelined with a (non-derby) injury—who came to cheer us on from the suicide seats.
As much as Fresh V was a wonderful derbyversary gift, Crow City’s final game was an even greater retirement party. Everything about this game, from the coming together of our own team to the skill and sportswomanship of our opponents, Grey Bruce Roller Derby’s Highland Dames, from the hospitality of our hosts, Misfit Militia to the dedication of the referees, NSO’s, paramedics, announcers, photographers and bout production volunteers who worked a long night to make our game possible epitomized the very best of what roller derby can be.
We had so much fun Saturday night, even the rain decided to get in on the action. By halftime the roof was leaking—right over the jammer line—forcing our NSO’s to run out onto the track before every jam to mop up the water and keep the track safe for us. It seemed a fitting send off for a league which trained outside in a parking lot.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of Crow City Roller Girls’ final game. I skated every other jam, slapped the old star target on my helmet several times, and yet made it through the game without injury and (my new zebra teammates will be glad to know) without a penalty. I think, however, my proudest moment in the game came when I was blocking for rookie jammer Kara Scene. I managed to make a hole for her right at the jam start whistle, and Kara saw it, took it and earned a fast lead. Watch out derby world. You’ll be seeing a lot of Kara Scene’s backside as she blazes through your packs in the years ahead.
Alas, all things must come to an end, and the final whistle blew on the last flight of the murder all too soon. I weep at having to say goodbye a second and now final time to a league which gave so much to me and to which I gave so much of myself. But my sorrow is tempered with pride for everything the league accomplished in its two short years and comfort in the knowledge that Crow City’s legacy lives on. It lives on in every game I officiate. It lives on in the future derby careers of former league-mates who will move on to skate for new leagues. I think too it lives on in the lives of those who flew with us for a short while but ultimately decided there was not room in their lives, at least for now, for roller derby. This sport affects everyone it touches in ways big and small, and there are many—including myself—who might never have known the wonders of roller derby if not for Crow City Roller Girls.
All my love, respect and gratitude to the best murder of crows ever. We did good my friends. We did damned good.
Laura Rainbow Dragon writes, dances, cooks, runs, and makes wine–amongst other pursuits–in a way-too-small town in Southwestern Ontario. She skates with the zebra dazzle and officiates roller derby games throughout Southern Ontario. Laura has moved house far too often but found a home she loves in the roller derby community.
Every year the best roller derby teams in the world come together in one spot to contend for the Hydra, the championship trophy of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). I spent all of last weekend with other roller derby fans crammed into Milwaukee’s U.S. Cellular Arena watching the elite teams of the sport raise the game to a whole new level while competing for this coveted trophy. Sitting in the audience looking around at the thousands of others who’d made the trek from around the world to be there, I was amazed to see how far the sport has grown in such a short period of time. From the cameras and media lining trackside and catching all the action live to the elite-level athletes playing the game at an unimaginable level on the track in front of me, the sport is reaching new heights.
Because of its inclusiveness and grassroots, the sport of roller derby is by far the fastest growing sport for women in the world. Toronto Roller Derby is the third oldest league in Canada. At present there are an estimated 200 Canadian leagues and about 50 in Ontario alone. Just ten years ago, the game existed only in the United States but is now played in nearly 30 countries.
This 2013 season was the year that Toronto Roller Derby made a huge splash in the international roller derby community. Our all-star team, CN Power, had high hopes to earn a spot in the Divisional II WFTDA tournament. WFTDA is the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, our non-profit international governing body.
Not only did Toronto’s all stars exceed their goals by winning a few key late-season games to place 39th, they qualified for Division I playoffs! They flew out to Salem Oregon to play Sacramento, Boston, Atlanta, and Melbourne. They were international sweethearts and put Toronto on the derby map for all to see. While we didn’t qualify for the championship tournament in Milwaukee, this success and exposure has created a lot of opportunity and momentum for Toronto Roller Derby.
This year’s WFTDA Championships in Milwaukee were the biggest yet. Here is a preview of the tournament and its teams written by Canadian Roller Derby Sports Writer, The Derby Nerd. I’ve been to every WFTDA Championship since 2010 in Chicago. Denver hosted 2011 and Atlanta hosted 2012. In each of these three previous Championships, there was a similar theme: one or two teams displayed a huge disparity in elite derby skill. This year, things changed. We saw the top five bring their top skill level and exceed all expectations, closing the disparity and demonstrating that the world is catching up to the top teams. The final, between New York City’s Gotham Girls and Austin’s Texacutioners, was one of the greatest games ever played. Here is the Derby Nerd’s recap on how it all went down.
I have been reflecting on how far we’ve come, as a league, as a province, as a country, and as a women’s sport. It is a privilege to be involved in the development of a sport in its infancy: both on and off the track. As all leagues follow a DIY model, the skaters you see on the track are the same ones who are the Executive, ticket sellers, promoters, training, bout setup, and BoD members of the league. We do it all!
I’m taking all this inspiration I’ve gained from the 2013 WFTDA Champs and bottling it to sip it slowly in preparation for next season. Our travel team tryouts have set our CN Power (A team) and Bay Street Bruisers (B team) rosters and our league draft is this weekend where our four home teams top up to 20 skaters and train hard for our January 2014 season start. If you’ve never been, I encourage you to throw away all preconceptions from the roller derby of the 60s and 70s and even the roller derby of several years ago and find your local league (you definitely have one and you may not have even known!).
This sport is evolving fast. Starting as a fun, cheeky, feminist-focused revival in the early 2000s, the game has reached a whole new level. Skaters have become elite athletes. Leagues have multiple levels of play that encourage competitiveness while still remaining inclusive for skaters of all skill levels and backgrounds. You are going to want to see Toronto Roller Derby in its 2014 season. Get tickets here and watch for our schedule here! Season passes make great holiday gifts!
Bio: Jan Dawson has been skating with Toronto Roller Derby since 2008. She skates for the Death Track Dolls, one of four Toronto home teams and was formerly Co-Captain and one of the creators of Toronto’s B Travel Team, the Bay Street Bruisers. Alongside various other leadership roles in the league, Dawson is Past-VP of Toronto Roller Derby, serving three seasons in total.