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Former Thunder Bay resident helps Team Canada earn bronze at Roller Derby World Cup

A former Thunder Bay resident is celebrating a major win on roller derby's world stage.

Bethany Fisher played five seasons with the Thunder Bay Roller Derby League

Team Canada at the 2018 Roller Derby World Cup in Manchester, England. The team won the bronze medal with a victory over England. (Dave Wood Photography)

Earlier this month Team Canada won a bronze medal at the women's roller derby world cup in England, Bethany Fisher, who's on the team, has also spent several years playing in the Thunder Bay Roller Derby League. 8:21

A former Thunder Bay, Ont. resident is celebrating a major win on roller derby's world stage.

Ohio-born Bethany "Boxcar" Fisher, who played with the Thunder Bay Roller Derby League from 2010-2015, was part of the Canadian national women's roller derby team that won the bronze medal at the Roller Derby World Cup in Manchester, England, earlier this month.

"It was amazing," Fisher said of the World Cup, which took place from Feb. 1-4, 2018. "The organizers did an amazing job. From the first game I watched of the weekend, before Team Canada took the track, I was like 'this event is going to be crazy.'"

Tough tryout

"It just built up momentum the whole weekend, so by the time we got to the final games on the Sunday, the whole crowd was just in it," she said. "It was one of the craziest roller derby crowds I've seen in a really, really, really long time. Everybody was so enraptured, and cheering at the right times, and just hanging on every moment."

Fisher is in her 12th season as a roller derby player, and has also skated in Portland, OR, Montreal and Toronto. Her Team Canada spot came via an open tryout, she said. And despite her experience on the track, it was a difficult process.

"For this tournament, there were two tryouts: one in the west, and one in the east," Fisher said, adding she was in the east tryout, which took place outside of Ottawa. "It was tough. I did a lot of preparation for it, like really ramped up my training in the six weeks leading up to it, and did a lot of stuff in the season before that, taking on leadership roles to sort of demonstrate my abilities."

"Knowing that I'm sort of a veteran player, I kind of figured this was my last chance to make it, so I was pretty serious."

There were about 70 players at the east tryout, Fisher said. She estimates there were at least 120-130 players vying for a spot on the Team Canada roster.

And while she was happy with her tryout, she knew making the team wasn't a sure thing.

"Toronto isn't ranked as highly as ... Montreal or Vancouver, so I knew skaters from those teams would have a better chance at making it," she said. "I had no idea if I would make it or not."

Then, late one night in November 2016, Fisher got the email she was waiting for — she was on the team.

Bethany Fisher, a former Thunder Bay resident and player with the Thunder Bay Roller Derby League, was part of the national women's roller derby team that won bronze at the 2018 Roller Derby World Cup. (Rodger Proulx/Team Canada Roller Derby)

"I sat up in bed," she recalled. "I think my boyfriend was out of town, so I called him, and I called my sister, and I was just really, really happy."

But there was still much to do before the World Cup. The team started practicing, which involved a lot of travel, Fisher said.

Travelled for training

"We trained sometimes in the east, and sometimes in the west," she said. "We don't have a home base, like somebody from Olympic Team Canada would have one training ground. We kind of go with the cheapest arena we can get, or when somebody donates practice space to us."

And, while there were sponsors and fundraising, it was mostly out-of-pocket, too.

"We don't get anything from any official body," she said. "People just do it because they want to play at the highest level of the sport."

But the World Cup itself was worth it, Fisher said.

Claiming bronze was basically everyone's dream.- Bethany Fisher

"Our goal was to get back on the podium," she said. "The first world cup, Canada came in second, and then the last world cup Canada came in fourth."

"Claiming bronze was basically everyone's dream," Fisher said. "We really faced each game as it came up, but during the bronze medal game you could feel the momentum shifting in our favour, and it was really incredible."

'Intense' medal match

Fisher describes the bronze medal game as intense, especially considering the England squad had home-track advantage.

"Most of the fans in the building were cheering for England, but at the same time, it seemed like Canada had a lot of support too," she said. "That game also has a historical significance, especially for the skaters from Montreal — Montreal and London roller derby tend to have a historical rivalry, which, unfortunately, has mostly been won by London."

"It was really great for those Montreal players to finally overcome England and win."

Fisher even had some Thunder Bay support during the big tournament.

"I can think of four skaters from Thunder Bay that were there," she said. "That was really nice to see."

Fisher is now turning her attention to the upcoming Toronto roller derby season. But she's not done with World Cup roller derby just yet.

"I actually coach Team Canada men's as well, and that world cup is in April in Barcelona," Fisher said. "I get to go back to Europe and do it from the coaching side."

Opportunities to grow the sport

And Fisher would like to see — and be a part of — larger changes within the sport of roller derby.

"I think it is stabilizing," she said of the sport. "High-level teams are establishing themselves as legacy teams, and they tend to draw a lot of talent upwards."

"I think we have opportunities to grow it in other ways," she said. "While we may not have new leagues popping up all over the place, I think we can establish more levels of play."

For example, Fisher would like to see a provincial structure, something between local teams and the national squad.

"I'd love to get involved in organizing something like a real Team Ontario, Team Manitoba ... that can filter talent up to the national level," she said. "And give people more opportunities to play on a mid-level."

"We'll see where it takes us. It's always changing, and always surprising me."