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 Kingston Roller Derby’s Brooke Gilmour and Ashley McCallum, who some people in the derby community might know as Pepe Le Puke and Ashteroid, respectively.
If your roller derby league is on its way back to the track, please get in touch for an interview.
KINGSTON – When 2020 hit, Kingston Roller Derby was gearing up for the season with bouts booked. Then March hit, and the momentum came to a screeching halt with the rest of the world.
“We had to cancel everything,” said Le Puke.
They managed to have some summertime outdoor practices during the pandemic, but it was socially distant with masks, and it did not capture the same spirit as a full-contact bout of roller derby.
“We all desperately missed hitting each other and having contact and playing because we, basically, just started skating,” she said. “Many of us started at skate parks, skating in the bowls and learning different tricks just to fill time.”
Ashteroid pointed out that the pandemic hit at a very unfortunate time, not that there is a good time for a pandemic.
“We had just finished one of our derby 101 classes,” she said. “We had just graduated our class and got a bunch of new folks to join the league, and we were very excited about that. I think they attended one practice. It was so demoralizing.”
Le Puke added that they had just started junior derby too.
“We had about four practices, and then we had to cancel that,” she said.
Ashteroid appreciates that as many league members held on and are very motivated and enthused about coming back.
“(The pandemic) was a kick right in the teeth at the wrong time,” she said.
Kingston has a Community in Bowls chapter, and through that, they did a Halloween rollout in 2021.
“We all dressed up in October and went for a skate around downtown Kingston,” said Le Puke. “We would meet up at the skate parks and work on our skills.”
Ashteroid said the pandemic brought an interesting shift to trick skating and riding halfpipes.
“I’m not sure if it was necessarily the same community feeling,” she said. “I don’t know if it was a solid replacement by any stretch, but it was a nice way to maintain some contact. Any excuse to lace up your skates is a good idea.”
There are plans in the works for 2022.
“We might play Ottawa Roller Derby this year,” said Le Puke. “We’re going to go to Peterborough. We have been in touch with those folks as well.”
Before everything hit the fan, Kingston Roller Derby was part of the Eastern Ontario Roller Derby Association.
“We were looking to get a regional ability to have predictable bouting each year,” said Ashteroid. “Teams we would always play, and then that would allow us to do a tournament style and have a championship within our areas. That was the goal. We haven’t started talking about that yet to relaunch that, but hopefully, we will get those associations back off the ground again in the future.”
Le Puke started skating in 2010 after she saw the first roller derby bout in Kingston.
“I knew I wanted to do it,” she said. “I went to practice, got myself skates, got put in the fresh meat and unfortunately, that first one, I broke my ankle.”
Despite the broken ankle, she loved her taste of derby.
“Fast forward to 2014, I redid my fresh meat with my four-month-old daughter in tow,” said Le Puke. “I started back, and I haven’t stopped yet.”
Ashteroid said her introduction to derby was not as dramatic.
“I haven’t broken anything at derby yet, but oh-my-god, I’m going to knock on wood immediately because that seems like a dangerous thing to say,” she laughed.
Ashteroid has not been doing derby nearly as long as Le Puke, but she has been a hockey player.
“I love it,” she said. “I play with a local league here, but it’s not year-round, and it’s not the same thing. I missed that little extra because apparently, I won’t exercise unless it’s competitive. I didn’t know that about myself, but I’m learning new things.”
Ashteroid worked with the husband of one of the Kingston Roller Derby members, and he told her she had “the personality for derby.”
She was unsure whether to be offended by that comment, but she decided to take it as a compliment. There was a derby 101 class, so Ashteroid asked her husband if he thought she should try it.
“He said, ‘yeah, you are a bit of a freak so go find your people,’” she said. “I showed up, and it was incredible. The people were so cool. It’s a very neat way to feel something that I don’t normally feel. I’m not a particularly graceful person. I’m not particularly feminine. I’m not particularly cool, but I feel very cool, and I feel very grateful, and I feel very in tune with my body when I’m out there just kicking butt and taking names, and I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off sweating and swearing. It’s just fun. It’s a lot of fun, and now I can’t leave.”
“That’s exactly how I feel,” said Le Puke. “I’m going to be 50, and I’m still going to be playing roller derby.”
“I’m doing this until my knees give out,” said Ashteroid. “Even then, I will just see if the doctor will replace them so I can do it again but bionic this time.”
Le Puke said she had met the most weird and wonderful group of people through derby.
“That’s not to say that everybody is that cookie-cutter weird kid from high school that dressed in all black and didn’t talk to people,” she said. “There will always be a few of those, but you’ve also got real estate agents, stay-at-home moms, professors, nurses, bankers. So many different walks of life but all more than willing to be inclusive and expressive and free to be ourselves. We can go an let our freak flags fly.”
People can contact Kingston Roller Derby through Facebook, Instagram, or www.kingstonrollerderby.com.
“If anyone wants to be a derby player or just want to be a fan, we love fans, reach out,” said Ashteroid. “Ask questions, volunteers, sponsor or whatever. We are always happy to fold you into our community, even if athletics aren’t necessarily your thing. Even if you want to be a fan, it’s usually liquor-licenced, so we’re usually a really good time. It’s a good place to hang out for a Saturday afternoon.”
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