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February 24, 2009 
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Today's roller girls are hell on wheels
By THANE BURNETT, SUN MEDIA


'I see this sport possibly doubling in the next two years in Canada -- (it's) not a flash in the pan,' predicts Lesley McDonald, who, as part of Edmonton's Oil City Derby Girls, last month, created the Canadian Women's Roller Derby Association. (Thane Burnett/SUN MEDIA)


A Saturday night meeting of Toronto's Derby Debutantes comes together -- hard -- in a secret location.

"She elbowed me in the boob," Leather Locklear grimaces as she rides out a painful infraction.

Gatherings such as these began as a way to lighten up the Depression of the 1930s, and while there were decades when other distractions pulled the women apart, the traditional values of roller derby are undergoing a huge revival.

"You're on my list," Amie Everett -- sitting on a bench and rubbing ice on her backside -- chides a teammate who sent her tumbling to hard concrete.

Outside this place, Everett's a professional nanny. The women around her include secretaries, an insurance broker and an aspiring actress.

But for a few short hours every week, Everett becomes "Cleave Holt!," and laced up in skates and some fishnet stockings, her teammates transform into St. Anger, Cherry Blight, Bruise Berry Pie and Daisy Dukes-it-Out.

Wham, bam, thank you ma'am -- the heydays of roller derby have come full circle.

A spectacle which rolled off the social calendar after a professional resurgence on TV in the early 1970s, more than 15,000 mostly amateur flat-track players currently ring the world. In Canada, there are at least 19 leagues, in every major city.

"I see this sport possibly doubling in the next two years in Canada -- (it's) not a flash in the pan," predicts Lesley McDonald, who, as part of Edmonton's Oil City Derby Girls, last month, created the Canadian Women's Roller Derby Association.

But there's still myths they have to bash through, she admits, recalling concerns by officials at a Red Deer, Alta., fairgrounds that the girls might use chairs to beat one another.

"Please ... I could never even do that to my ex-husband," says Lesley, who's better known on the track as "Hoochie Mama."

Rather that bloodlust, the women come armed with a sense of independence and rebellion.

But those ingredients have sometimes been explosive off the track. In Ottawa, there's currently a nasty divide among players -- some wanting the experience to be not-for-profit, while others, including local league founder Kelly McAlear ("Honey Bee" to fans), see a business on wheels.

"I considered them my friends -- it's become sour," McAlear laments of girls manning a team without her -- setting the stage for a possible legal tussle.

A 38-year-old coffee shop worker, who also labours as a theatre stagehand, McAlear grew up watching roller derby's last great revival, when it was closer to pro wrestling. This month, The New York Times Magazine devoted space to its third-coming, concluding:

"In its 70-off-year history, roller derby has been many things, but never until perhaps now has it been a legitimate sport."

On this night, the Derby Debutantes, part of the GTA Rollergirls league, meet to practise in a hollow, hard surfaced ball-hockey space. It's in an inner-city school, where a worn concrete floor allows wheels to move like blades on ice. Bruises are as common as tattoos here.

Their leader, Splat Benatar -- a 36-year-old medical clinic office manager named Cindy Brooks, believes this time around, despite obstacles, the queens of roller derby are finally getting respect.

"More than ever it is a sport today," says Splat. "It's also a strong sisterhood."

In these hard times, welcome back roller girls -- it was agony without you.









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