Roller derby will bounce back, skates are already hitting the track: Peterborough edition

As pandemic-related restrictions loosen, many people across Southern Ontario and beyond are hoping they can lace up their roller skates and hit the roller derby track again. This series of articles will check in with teams as they prepare for some action in 2022. This time, sharing the progress of their league, are Peterborough Area Roller Derby (PARD) Co-presidents Emma Merritt and Chantel Daniels, who some people in the derby community might know as Saul Good and Nancy Drew Blood, respectively.

If your roller derby league is on its way back to the track, please get in touch for an interview.

PETERBOROUGH – PARD is in the process of booking games, but Good said the most challenging part has been getting in contact with leagues that are back up and running.

“A handful of them have been practicing for the last little while and are getting ready for bouting season.”

She indicated that Kingston, Ottawa, Durham, and Niagara have all shown signs of getting back on the track. However, Good noted a few smaller leagues, such as Gravenhurst and Lindsay.

“The pandemic ate a lot of them, but the bigger name ones are moving on,” she said. “We know, for example, that Lindsay was kind of going under before the pandemic had taken over, so Peterborough as a league had already reached out to some of their existing skaters to offer them a new home if they wanted to continue skating.”

Good described derby as a “niche” sport and said that skaters would travel to find somewhere to play.

“We have people that will travel an hour and a half to come skate with us,” she said. “Yes, we did lose some leagues, but skaters are welcome to go to whichever league they want and join in.”

Blood believes interest in roller skating took off during the pandemic based on the number of people signing up for PARD intake programs.

“People were looking for activities they could do for health and exercise,” she said. “The intake we just did there was a really good response to it, and we are running another, and we’ve had a good response to it. That starts next month.”

Good said roller skating was food for people who could get out and trail skate with a friend or hit a skate park during the pandemic.

“There is a couple of online platforms where you can go, and you can do it as an individual instead of needing a team,” she said.

Blood has been participating in the International Games of Roller Skate (IGORS), done through Facebook. Skaters from all over the world compete to out-trick each other.

“I think a skater in my game is playing from Seoul, South Korea, Australia, the United Kingdom,” she said. “It’s park skating and ramp skating, but the pandemic made those things more widespread, which was helpful.”

Weekly practices are back, and (PARD) has finished its first Derby 101 intake for new skaters.

“We are starting another intake on April 12,” said Good. “I think one of the things we did that garnered more interest was we couched the first four weeks of our Derby 101 program as a Learn 2 Skate so you could just come and learn to skate. It didn’t have to be that we’re strong-arming you into derby.”

Most of the skaters who showed up for the last intake carried over into derby 101.

“We’ve focused on getting ourselves back into the ability to have contact and be safe on skates while playing derby,” she said.

Good said the break from the full-contact side of the sport during the pandemic gave players a chance to work on those micro-skills that help build those macro-skills needed for derby.

“Sure, you couldn’t do a lot of contact at that time, but you still need to have the fundamentals of the basic footwork,” said Good. “As things were easing up … week one you were six feet apart wearing your masks but then as restrictions lifted … you could start touching each other again and kind of loosening up … I kind of feel like it was almost the perfect segue for getting people’s skates back on their feet.”

Blood said it was almost like everybody was starting with Derby 101 again.

“Even the returning skaters who have 10 or 12 years under their belts, but it was good that way,” she said. “Obviously, you don’t want to jump right back into contact, so this was the best way to do it, and it got our veteran skaters able to know the newer ones, which was nice as well.”

2022 is Good’s seventh season playing roller derby and her fourth season on the board of directors.

“I’m going to tell you what keeps me coming back is the community – the group of strong, dedicated individuals that you get to practice with every week truly becomes this family, and it’s contagious,” she said.

Good said the sport is challenging, physically and mentally.

“It forces you to try things that you are just not comfortable with, and for me, that’s such a huge draw, and honestly, every week that I am there, I am learning something new, and that’s what keeps me going,” she said.

It was an invitation from a friend who said she looked tough enough to play derby that first got here to try it.

“I was like, oh ok – sure, I’ll run with that,” she said. “That was it for me. I showed up, and I never left.”

“Nobody ever told me I look tough,” Blood said with a laugh.

She got her start in derby more recently.

“I think I passed my minimum standards in December 2019, I had one scrimmage and one bout, and then the pandemic arrived,” she said. “I had never even roller skated before September 2019. I met a couple of the women on our team in a different capacity, sort of a social justice advocacy capacity.”

Through those interactions, Blood was intrigued by the other women’s bond.

“They talked about derby, what their team was all about,” she said. “I’ve never been an athlete, and I’ve never been on roller skates, but sign me up. The physicality and the challenge, the growth that happens every time I show up and the friendship, community and family – that is what keeps bringing us back.”

Blood has been visiting skate parks with a few other skaters throughout the pandemic.

“It has been a ridiculous challenge for somebody who has never been on skates, who did derby 101 to throw themselves onto the coping of a four-foot halfpipe suddenly,” she said. “All of those skills I acquired over the past two years now I am getting to incorporate into my derby play, and it has made a huge difference.”

She was a 37-year-old mother of teenagers when she started Derby 101.

“Starting a sport at that age seems ludicrous in my head when I think about it now, but in reality, I joined exactly when I needed to, and I have not looked back,” said Blood.

People interested in trying roller derby in the Peterborough area are invited to visit the PARD Facebook or Instagram.

“We love taking on new skaters,” said Blood. “We love teaching people new things and growing our sport and family, so just reach out.”

PARD is holding a meet and greet on April 5 at the Village on Argyle, 780 Argyle St, Peterborough, from 6:00 to 7:30 PM.

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