Always wanted to travel the world with just a carry-on suitcase? Associate Editor Emma Macdonald…
I have a secret identity.
I drop the kids off at school with their healthy packed lunches. I go to my daytime job in a Barton office with a lovely view of Parliament House. After the kids go to bed, I might do some data analysis or discuss policy issues with volunteer groups. But on Sunday afternoons, Emma is too busy for family or work or volunteering. Instead, Fair Lee Fast puts on her hotpants and goes skating with Varsity Derby League.
Actually, I don’t often wear hotpants. I’m more likely to wear gym pants or cut-off jeans. Because roller derby is more about agility, strength, speed, endurance, and strategy than theatre. Although you’re welcome to wear hotpants if you feel like it. This is just one of the things I love about Varsity Derby: women and men of all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels getting together to work on their physical fitness and have fun. We’re an inclusive bunch.
Watching roller derby for season after season, I was in awe of the skill and fitness levels of their skaters. I saw ordinary women doing extraordinary things, like apex jumps to get in front of packs of skaters, scooting through gaps I couldn’t even see, and smiling and buying each other drinks at the after party despite being on opposite teams on the track. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
When I signed up to train, it was never to become a bout skater. What I wanted, right from the start, was to ref. All the benefits of derby, fewer risks. Refs skate every jam in the bout, unlike bout skaters who sub on and off between jams. They need to skate fast and avoid obstacles (like fallen skaters), but they also need to keep their brain switched on to spot complex rule-breaking. But unless a fallen skater accidentally lands on a ref, the refs never have to take contact or hip-check an opponent. Which suits my inner pacifist just fine.
I also want to ref because I’m female. Most of the refs in roller derby right now are men. There are very few men’s teams in Australia (although Varsity Derby League has a fantastic men’s team as well as competing in co-ed/non-gendered bouts). So for men who want to get involved on skates, being a referee is the only way. And for most women, bout skating is what they aspire to. And so, at most bouts in Australia, the ref shouting in a “respect my authoritah!” voice is male, and the skater being sent to the sin bin is female.
I love our refs, I really do. It’s a hard job. They spend hours watching footage and reading rulebooks and working on their own skate skills. Their aim is to be fair and keep the game moving, and they do a fantastic job. But with some of our male refs also skating in the men’s team now, and more bouts this year than usual for our women’s team, we’re going to need more refs. I’d love to see more women join Varsity’s Team Zebra and skate with the ref herd.
Women’s flat track roller derby is a community sport, run by skaters for skaters. This means that everything we do is important not just for our own League, but for the development of this sport globally. Our actions have impact. I want derby to be a sport where women are able to hold positions of authority, and the ultimate authority on the sporting field is the referee. I want to be part of keeping this sport safe and sustainable long-term so that other women can play a high-speed, full contact sport in an environment that is supportive of women’s diversity.
As a training skater, I have learned a lot more than just coordination, balance, and strength. (I still have no cardio fitness, but I’m working on it.) I am also learning to feel comfortable using a loud shouty voice (I usually only shout when the kids are late for school), and be confident in judging the actions of others. Being comfortable in taking up space and being heard in public is something I’d love to see more women do.
If this sounds like your kind of thing, come along to Varsity’s Fresh Meat info night. It’s 7pm in the Snug, upstairs at King O’Malley’s in Civic, on Friday 4 April. I’d love to meet you.