You may have seen them whisking around a street corner during their routine endurance skate, or rolling along in Manchester’s Spirit of New Hampshire Parade this winter. You may not know, however, that Manchester’s Roller Derby team is in a “revamping year.”
Roller Derby Manchester is a new roller derby team in Manchester, composed of new and old skaters, many of whom are former Manch-Vegas Roller Girls. The team trained outdoors all summer long and is just beginning to get settled in its new training facility: an abandoned Rite Aid at the Shaw’s plaza in Goffstown.
The new team members are hoping to make the sport more widely watched and more widely played in Manchester. With recruiting under way, Roller Derby Manchester (RDM) is looking not only to bring new members to the new, competitive Manchester Mayhem (women 18+), but also to recruit members for a recreational, co-ed team called “Manch-Wreckers” and a junior roller derby team for girls between the age of 12 and 18 called “Slaughter Daughters.”
The Manch-Vegas Roller Girls are currently on hiatus, and that status has allowed for some reform in Manchester Roller Derby, led by RDM president and Manchester Mayhem co-captain Katrina Swirko, formerly known as “Chick Anery.” She’s one of the first skaters in New Hampshire to have abandoned her skater name, and she hopes that others will follow.
She’d like to bring a new philosophy into the sport: less show, more action.
“I just want to bring some integrity to the sport. Derby is headed in a more professional, athletic direction, anyway; I see this as being more common in the future. If we’re ever going to be generally accepted as real athletes, we need to get rid of the sideshow names,” Swirko said. “We’re trying to be more family-friendly; we’re trying be taken more seriously and be seen as a real sport.” Roller Derby in the past has been seen almost as a staged sport, not unlike pro-wrestling for women, Swirko said.
While Derby is fun with its crazy outfits and fierce names, it’s an intense physical sport. Newbie, or “nugget,” Deandra Smith can attest to that.
“I grew up in the ’80s, and from what I saw of it before I joined, the actual game is not like how it is stereotyped,” Smith said. She found it to be a very demanding sport, requiring speed, strength and agility, not elbow jabs and tripping techniques (both of which are illegal in the sport).
“You have to have endurance to play — and it’s actually very strategically played,” Smith said. Smith, who joined the team last August, decided to pick up the sport on whim. At 35, the Lexington client account manager said she was someone who loved to work out (deeming herself the “kickboxing queen) but had very little experience in playing sports. Yet she took to skating and blocking like no other. Now she works out on wheels instead of by kickboxing.
The game of roller derby is played five on five, with four blockers and one jammer per team. The jammers are typically the skaters built for speed, and it is their aim to earn as many points as possible by getting through the other team’s “blockers.” Points go to the team whose jammer passes each blocker. The blockers abide by strict rules and learn proper blocking technique through three-days-a-week training.
“I really did like that it was a sport that was dominated by women. I was looking for a sport that was geared towards what I would be good at,” Smith said. She also noted that because the sport is uncommon, it’s not uncomfortable to be a newbie, since most people who join have little or no experience. Neither Smith nor Swirko had ever participated in Roller Derby before joining the team.
Manchester Roller Derby welcomes players of all experiences and ages, men and women; all they ask for is some sweat and hard work.
“You basically have to be willing to put your all in it! Of course you’ll mess up trying something new. What you need to have, however, is competitiveness,” Smith said.
Game season is typically from April to September, and during the off-season the Derby players practice outdoors, in abandoned parking lots, warehouses, or on the streets for long endurance skates. They practice Monday and Thursday nights from 7:30 to 10 p.m., and Saturday morning, typically 9 to 11 a.m. The team is very excited about their new venue, as the indoor space allows them to better practice their stride and smooth out their knee-drops, plow stops and recovery.
Derby also provides great camaraderie.
“There are nurses, lawyers, teachers who play — which is totally not who I was expecting to find playing. It’s amazing to know who these women really are outside of the team,” Smith said.
Newbies are required to view one practice before taking part in roller derby, and there is gear on loan for those trying out the sport. However, personalized derby gear is crucial for comfort and performance, Swirko said, so it is expected that members eventually purchase their own gear. No roller skating experience is necessary, and all skaters must pass lLevel 2 WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) skill requirements to compete on the home teams; higher levels are required in order to skate with Manchester Mayhem. (This is acquired through practicing with the team.)
For those who want to be a part of the Manchester Derby legacy but don’t exactly want to lace up the skates, the team is also always looking for sponsors, volunteer managers, graphic designers, etc. RDM works closely with local businesses and organizations and is run by committees of skaters and non-skaters.