From jammers to goats: Stories of women's roller derby

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First aired on The Bridge (16/03/13)

Talking Derby: Stories from a Life on Eight Wheels is a forthcoming book of short stories about women's roller derby, by Windsor, Ont., writer Kate Hargreaves. She's a member of the Border City Brawlers, Windsor's roller derby team, where she's known as "Pain Eyre." (She took the nickname as a play on Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre -- since she has a B.A. and an M.A. in English, she wanted her derby name to be a literary reference.)

Hargreaves has been a part of the team since its inception in 2010. When she started out, she couldn't roller skate, and in fact had never even ice skated. "I was Bambi on ice when I first showed up," she laughed. "I couldn't skate at all, I could barely stand."


Hargreaves got interested in trying the sport because she thought it seemed fun, and she had seen the 2009 movie Whip It with Drew Barrymore, which had been shot in Detroit. She pointed out that the film, as well as the earlier movie Kansas City Bomber, exaggerated the roughness and amount of contact in the game. "Roller derby has about 48 pages of rules now, and it's really serious in terms of penalties and what kind of contact you can make," she said. "You can't elbow people, you can't trip them, you definitely can't punch them. A lot of the egregious stuff you'd just be thrown out of the game for."

Even without the rough stuff, though, it has its challenges. "It's kind of like playing chess while people throw things at you," Hargreaves said. Players have to strategize, but keep track of what's happening ahead and behind them at the same time.

Hargreaves was inspired to write Talking Derby, which is her first book, because she wanted to combine "the two things I love the most, roller derby and writing." She described the stories as "mostly vignettes, impressionistic pieces about one moment, or one kind of experience in roller derby," she said. "A lot of what I was trying to get at with the book has to do with how roller derby takes over your whole life. So there's pieces that take place in the grocery store, and there's roller derby girls kind of having a pack in the grocery store and yelling roller derby terminology at each other because they want to grab the last rotisserie chicken before the after-party."

One of the stories is about a skater who gets a black eye and posts about it on facebook, where she gets admiring comments. In roller derby, bruises are "badges of honour, it means you're working hard," Hargreaves said.

The book includes a glossary of roller derby terms such as "fresh meat" (new skaters) and "jammer," which is the point-scoring skater. "She's got a star on her helmet, it's literally like a target on her head," Hargreaves said. "She's the one who's picking up the points, and the blockers are trying to stop her if they're on the other team, or help her if they're on her team. "

She went on to explain that skaters try to get a "goat," which is one of the weaker skaters in the pack, when they want to slow the skaters down. They'll shout "get a goat, get a goat, and they're not talking about going to the petting zoo."

Hargreaves says that she's not breaking any taboos by decoding the sport's slang for readers. "People in roller derby want to share it with the world," she said.

Check out the Whip It! trailer below:

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