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Women’s flat-track roller derby is the best thing in town

Women’s flat-track roller derby is flourishing in the Fraser Valley. It’s growing and evolving. While increasing in popularity, it challenges stereotypes of sport and gender. But more than that – it’s just plain fun to watch.

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By Joel Smart (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: July 17, 2013

Women’s flat-track roller derby is flourishing in the Fraser Valley. It’s growing and evolving.

While increasing in popularity, it challenges stereotypes of sport and gender. But more than that – it’s just plain fun to watch.

I spoke with Undead Heart Throbs bench coach Ellie Ruchkall (AKA Dita VonTits) about her role on the team and about what exactly it is that makes the sport so damn awesome. Originally a skater, she became a coach after a hip injury playing the game. Ruchkall trains her girls to work hard, but also smart. “It’s a full contact sport – you have to know what you’re doing,” she says. After a hard practice, “they leave with bruises, aches and pains.”

“We do what we can to avoid major injuries, but just last week one of our skaters broke her wrist,” she says.

It’s intense, but you won’t hear any of the skaters complaining – they love the bone-crushing body checks just as much as the audience does.

Ruchkall and the Undead Heart Throbs are part of the Fraser Valley Roller Derby Association (FVRDA) and they strictly follow the rules and guidelines of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, which has leagues all across the world from Finland to Japan.

What Ruchkall really loves about roller derby is the fact that it’s an accessible, empowering sport for women.

“It all about embracing yourself no matter what your size or shape, and with that you gain so much self confidence. I think the derby names and alter egos help that,” she says.

Dita VonTits, Ruchkall’s alter ego, certainly exemplifies that confidence. “I am the sexy diva of destruction, and the mistress of pain,” she adds with a smile and a wink. But it’s not just silly fun; it can be a real, tangible boost that some women really need.

“Personally, derby gave me the confidence to leave a bad marriage. And it’s taught me how to stand up for myself.”

That and it’s given her the skill set to modify old t-shirts.

I asked her what else was great about roller derby.

“Other than the fishnets?” she laughed.

Many sports are criticized for unnecessarily sexualizing and marginalizing female athletes – usually in doing so, female athletes are forced to emphasize femininity while trivializing their performances. Jennifer Carson’s 2010 academic article “The Female Signifiant in All-Women’s Amateur Roller Derby” touches on this point, while arguing that roller derby—like punk did with the music scene—creates a “rich, adventurous space to satirize athletic and feminine norms.

In other words, roller derby lets each skater be who they want to be – if you want to be sexy and wear fishnet stockings, it’s celebrated. But, just as importantly, skaters are free to forego the stockings in favour of their own preferences. Perhaps the most exciting are the players who opt to dress even more creatively – zombie makeup, war paint and other themed players challenge our preconceived notions about conformity and uniform in sports.

Whether it’s the hits, the competitiveness, the unique personas and players, or the way the sport challenges expectations, roller derby is an exciting sport that too many people in the Fraser Valley are missing out on. Look them up online, make an effort to get out to a bout and make up your own mind.

If you’ve never been to a game, Saturday, July 27, might be the perfect day to change that.

On that date, Nanaimo’s Harbour City Rollers are set to take on the home team, the Undead Heart Throbs. The bout begins at 7 p.m. at the Abbotsford Curling Club on McMillan Road – right next to the Abbotsford Recreation Centre (ARC).

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