Part 6: Derby Time
Sometimes it seems like fresh meat moves so quickly, but then I think back and realize that it has already been over two months. We practiced with a team for the first time—the Death Track Dolls, a team I have a personal attachment with—and we started hitting. This is a critical moment, because I think this is the moment when people begin to get weeded. There will be a divide between those who enjoy the sport and want to be a part of it, or at least follow it, and then there will be those who will want to play. Who won’t stop until they are rostered and bouting.
And that divide has already begun. Just over 50 skaters left, still more than half, and at this point, it’s safe to say that this will be a huge graduating class. I’ve been surprised by some of the people who have made it through this far, those whom I’d pegged early on as not being into it enough: those women who hadn’t seen bouts or couldn’t skate a lick. And there are groups forming in the pack, friendships being forged; there is a comfort and a familiarity among many of them that I’m sure some outsiders would find hard to believe has formed in just over two months. Sitting down at the Hangar bar directly after practice during those beautiful moments when you feel invigorated and healthy and fresh and that beer probably tastes like the best beer you’ve ever had in your life (IE: before the pain kicks in), when everyone is relaxed and talkative, sharing already-formed inside jokes and talking about the upcoming bout, we feel very much like a team, not like the group of strangers that we actually are. Although physically we’re all wound up with adrenaline from practice, time seems to move a little slower in those moments, and everyone can sense it. Whether they know it or it not, these women are changing their clocks to derby time.
Derby time is as much a state of mind as anything else, tied-in, in large part, to the early evolutionary stage of the game at which we have all entered. Derby time is the reason why 2003 can be viewed and discussed as “ancient history.” It’s the reason why teammates who’ve known each other for a season can have the intimacy of childhood friends. It’s also why we can look back with nostalgia and talk sentimentally about the “simpler days” of derby before 2009, those fun-loving, hard hitting, fast-moving days before The Great Leap Forward (see Nerd Meat Part 8). Derby time follows the same calendars and clocks as the real world, but for rollergirls (and for those of us swept up in their wakes) to achieve some sort of sustainable life-work-derby balance, it is often necessary to cram 30-35 hours into a 24 hour period or slip an extra day or two in between Thursday and Friday (especially in those weeks leading up to bouts).
Although the explosion of derby in eastern Canada began as far back as 2006, everyone in this part of the country synchronized their watches to derby time on April 19, 2008 (a few months later, at Roller Con 2008, a Canada East vs. Canada West bout synchronized derby time across the country). At 10:00 am on April 19, at Arena St. Louis in Montreal, Hammer City’s Steel Town Tank Girls lined up against ToRD’s Smoke City Betties in the opening bout of the inaugural Beast of the East, and the sport in this country has never been the same. It was this moment when the fates and futures of the all of the leagues in this region became intertwined. It was the expansion of the sisterhood that had already begun in every league and in those few inter-league bouts that had already occurred (and at the Betties D-Day tournament two years prior). It was the launching of a trajectory of competitive growth that continues to this day.
Tournaments like this all over North America (and now the world) have become essential in the development and evolution of the sport. It is an opportunity to share strategies and evolve as a community. At that point in the development of Canadian roller derby, though, it was still all about learning the sport, and the Hamilton Harlots were still very much leading the class. They would dominate the early rounds with crushing victories over ToRD’s Gore-Gore Rollergirls and Bay Street Bruisers before knocking off Montreal’s Les Filles Du Roi 59-28 in the semi-final. Despite the Harlots dominance, 2008 also represented the first stages in a power shift in not just eastern Canadian roller derby, but roller derby in this country. Prior to the start of the season, Hammer City had expanded to a third team, the Death Row Dames. Predictably, the Dames were eliminated early, falling to the visiting Devil Dollies from Queen City (Buffalo). One of Canada’s original teams, the Steel Town Tank Girls trounced the Smoke City Betties in their opening bout. In the quarterfinal they lined up against Montreal’s La Racaille and its breakout star, the Iron Wench. In a nail-biter, Montreal’s hometeam pulled off a thrilling 32-30 victory to knock the second HCRG team out of the tournament.
The final four consisted of the Harlots and all three of Montreal’s hometeams. While the Harlots would eventually (and convincingly) hold off the challenge from the Montreal upstarts, 55-18, Montreal’s success in the tournament would represent a taste of what was to come in the future. If you talk to the skaters about that tournament now (and the subsequent Beasts as well), they talk about how much of a bonding experience it was; a celebration of derby. It brought all of the eastern Canadian skaters together into a fully unified community for the first time.
Although I’ve more or less been running on derby time since just a few weeks after BOE 2008, I’m only now beginning to discover that there is a sort of derby time that exists on the track as well. I discovered it in those moments early in a practice when you’ve managed to get your skates on before anyone else and you get the track all to yourself. Within a few laps, the world beyond the track begins to blur, turns into a freeze-frame version of life that looks a little duller and moves a little slower than the one you’re experiencing.
Derby time is the reason why–even though it’s only been a few years–I can’t remember what life was like before I discovered the sport, and why I now can’t imagine a life without it.