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

As pandemic-related restrictions loosen, many people across 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 is Durham Region Roller Derby’s Angela Kinghan, who some people in the derby community might know as AK 47.  

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

DURHAM REGION – When the pandemic hit, Durham Region Roller Derby (DRRD) thought they were lucky because their home track was in a dry pad, which means they could skate all year round because no ice gets put in.   

“We were lucky enough to be able to schedule a game on Feb. 29, right before the pandemic hit,” said AK. “We were able to get in one game scheduled as a triple header, so all of our teams got to play, and it was fantastic. Everyone was so happy. It was great, and then it was two weeks later, the world shut down.”  

They didn’t cancel anything initially because, like everyone else, they kept hoping it was a short-term precaution.   

“Our second game would have been May 26,” she said. “I was like; it’s still going to happen, it’s still going to happen.”  

That game got cancelled too, and the last scheduled game in June.  

“We had to admit that we weren’t getting our summer season finally, but we were still hoping that it wasn’t going to be that long, and because we don’t have ice, we could schedule a winter game,” said AK. “We were going to get a winter game. We held onto hope for a good year.”  

The teams were doing virtual practices, trying to stay in shape and doing bonding games online.   

“We were trying to keep everyone engaged, and then after that first year, it got a little bit harder,” she said. “With outdoor stuff being allowed, we moved to trail skating. Many of our skaters turned to park skating and discovered a love of ramps and all that scary stuff, so they still found a way to stay on skates, and it was great.”  

They tried to keep up on social media engagement so that nobody forgot about roller derby during the two-year break.   

“We were hoping we would make it back because I know a lot of leagues didn’t survive the pandemic,” said AK. “Whether it be they lost skaters, they lost practice space, or they lost funds.”  

DRRD has been struggling to get our members back. Before the pandemic, they had three teams, the Atom Smashers at the competitive level, Motor City Madames, were B level, and the Drrd’y Farmers were the farm team.   

“Since coming back, we do not have enough to field more than one team, so we have chosen to skate under DRRD in any games we go into as our league until we have enough,” she said.  

The good news is that when they opened up Derby 101 to new skaters, interest was more significant than expected.   

“We had 31 people sign up, and they have all been coming consistently,” said AK.  

Roller skating boosted in popularity during the pandemic because it was a sport people could do while respecting social distancing.  

“You could do it alone,” she said. “There were tracks and parks, and it was a way for people to get out. When we would skate, people would say, ‘quads, I remember those when I was younger.’ It was great because it was nice to see so many people that loved it.”  

It got so popular many companies were sold out of most recreational skates, not derby skates, because they couldn’t play.  

Many veteran skaters haven’t come back to the sport, said AK.  

“A lot of them were struggling because we went from having three practice nights to one, and it’s on a Sunday night which doesn’t work for everybody,” she said. “As much as they love roller derby and playing, they are like, ‘when do I get to play? When do I get to have a game?’ It can be very discouraging to keep practicing without knowing when they get to play the game that they love so much.’”  

AK has booked a game for the new crew of derby 101ers on Sept. 10, Back to Cruel against Kingston Roller Derby.  

“So, they have something to look forward to, and the vets know that there is that possibility, so I’m hoping they will start coming back,” she said. “I know they love the sport. It was hard because they were having trouble seeing it would be the same again, well, maybe not the same. It was going to be something different, and nothing was wrong with that. We have so many fresh faces that we haven’t had in so long in roller derby and roller skating.”  

She said the new skaters off a chance for a new future for derby.   

“The sport has so much space to grow because we have new people who have never been a part of it who can bring new ideas and suggestions and even a new lifeblood to it,” said AK.  

She tends to take on many of the jobs for DRRD with enthusiasm.   

“Right now, we don’t have the bodies, so I’m not just the PR and media,” said AK. “I’m also temporarily taking the head of our bouts role. We’ve already done one scrimmage with our sister league Peterborough Area Roller Derby. “  

The scrimmage was the first opportunity for some skaters who had never gotten a chance to play in a game before the pandemic to understand why veteran skaters love roller derby finally.  

She said seeing how happy skaters were to play made her feel like she didn’t care if she played as long as everyone else got the opportunity.  

AK works in the Toronto District School Board, and years ago, one of the parents of her students came in, and she had a black eye.  

She asked the parent what happened and was told, “it’s not what you think. I play roller derby.”   

“I was like, ‘Is that a thing still?’” said AK.  

She was asked to go but didn’t like to mix work with her personal life.   

“I needed a boundary because I don’t need my parents seeing me outside work and realizing I’m a person,” said AK. “So, at the time, it just wasn’t going to work for me.”  

When she moved back to Durham Region, she was shocked to discover DRRD.   

“A friend of mine was dating a skater, and he connected me with her,” said AK. “She sent me all the information for the Fresh Meat group, and at the time, I was at a point in my life where I needed to try something new. I used to roller skate. It will be fantastic.”  

As soon as she put her roller skates on at her house, she promptly fell backwards.   

“That was when I learned you must stay low and bend your knees,” she said.  

There were 25 or 30 people that started with her. By the second week, there were 20, the third week maybe 15, and she thinks only six or seven are left from that group now.  

AK found a sense of belonging in roller derby.   

“I am not what people would think of as an athlete,” she said. “I’m too short for basketball, don’t run very fast, and I can honestly say I’m probably not that athletic, but when it came to roller derby, it didn’t matter how tall or short I was. It didn’t matter if I was skinny or fat. I could do the job I needed to do. I was a blocker, and I was good at it. I can stop people because, again, it didn’t matter my size. Something about the inclusivity of the sport and how it was very positive, and I found it very encouraging, just kept me coming back.”  

When AK started, and even to this day, she said she had a bad habit of what they call in roller derby, kicking your puppy.   

“When I couldn’t do something, I would get agitated and then it would be worse,” she said.   

The trainer shared an audio clip that AK has passed to new derby 101ers.   

“It’s about how if you were training a puppy a new trick and they couldn’t do it, would you kick them? No, you wouldn’t,” she said. “You would keep encouraging them, and you would keep working with them. You wouldn’t give up. You would keep trying, so why don’t you treat yourself the same. So, when someone is feeling discouraged, we always say, don’t kick your puppy.”  

Because you want to encourage it, you want to foster that positivity, and to me, that was what I needed in my life, and that’s what I want to encourage more people to have. No matter how bad it might seem, it doesn’t matter your size. You can do this. You have to keep trying.”  

AK encourages people on the fence about trying something new to give roller derby a go.   

“It doesn’t hurt to try new things because it could be one of the best things, don’t get me wrong, derby is expensive, and it costs us a lot of money, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.,” she said.  

People interested in discovering more about roller derby can contact DRRD through Facebook, Instagram or email 

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