'A very fringe sport': Roller derby is making a comeback on TikTok — and in the Yukon
Trying to rebuild the league also includes making it more gender-inclusive
During the pandemic in-person events and contact sports were not allowed; which made roller derby almost disappear in the Yukon.
Roller derby is a fast-paced, full-contact sport in quad roller skates.
"What was kind of heart wrenching is that just before COVID hit, we'd actually rebuilt our league," said Christy Huey, the president of the Yukon Roller Derby Association.
"We had our team — like a full roster team, we'd signed up for two tournaments and we were ready to go."
Now that most pandemic restrictions have been lifted in the territory, it is the perfect time to rebuild the team, spark interest in the sport, and encourage people to skate again.
Radish Loos, the training director, said social media platforms such as TikTok have also created a momentum where people are interested in the sport.
"A lot of people got really depressed and it was really hard to not have community and not have spots. So, bringing it back now, I think it's really important," said Loos.
In an effort to try to rebuild the league, the Yukon Roller Derby Association is hosting a weekly training class called Learning To Skate where veterans and newbies alike are practising skating and safety techniques.
"You can't actually play roller derby until you have all your basic skills," said Loos, who hopes people will decide to join the league past the summer lessons.
So far, almost 20 people have consistently been attending the lessons.
Besides the challenge of not having enough skaters, Loos, Huey and the team also want to change the narrative around the sport.
'It's not just for girls and women'
For Loos, a passionate roller skater, it was important to come back to the Yukon to an inclusive sports environment, especially in the roller derby scene.
Loos first learned about the sport in Whitehorse back in 2015 and continued playing roller derby in Halifax for a couple of years.
In the past, it's been recognized as a primarily-women sport. However, Loos explained there are multiple gender-inclusive leagues popping up around the world.
"Globally, roller derby has been very inclusive of trans and non-binary athletes. But a lot of local leagues have been stuck with girls or women in the title for quite a while," Loos said.
Which is the case for the territory as the league was previously called Yukon Roller Girls.
"We want to change it to Yukon Roller Derby Association because we do want to be inclusive of all genders. It's not just for women and girls anymore," said Loos.
The objective of the sport is relatively simple, to lap as many skaters from the opposite team as possible. But for most, this is more than just a sport.
For Huey, the most appealing part of the sport is the space it offers people regardless of identity, body type, or athletic ability.
"It's a very fringe sport," said Huey. "There's like this amazing tight-knit community of people, I would say, like a band of misfits. A lot of people who maybe didn't fit in in traditional team sports or really couldn't find their space."