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Let the good times roll

The Wairarapa Roller Derby League at a fresh meat practice run. PHOTOS/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

Roller derby is about a lot more than putting on rollers skates and banging into people. GIANINA SCHWANECKE find out how empowering the sport can be.
Above and below, players practise a jam.

By day, Sarah Nelson could be serving you at a coffee shop or be a busy home executive, but come Wednesday evenings and weekends, she is a tough blocker or jammer for the Wairarapa Roller Derby League.

The league has been around for about 18 months in its current form, and Nelson, also known by her Derby name ‘Sgt Sparx’, said the sport had given her greater confidence both on and off the track.

“I’m quite a shy person. I never would have applied for the manager role at my workplace [JA Russell Ltd].

“Derby teaches you that you’re stronger than you think you are.”

Fellow derby player Char Sigvertsen, aka ‘Champain,’ has had a similar experience.

“It makes you very assertive and you take that into your life. It’s empowering,” she said.

Sigvertsen started playing a couple of years ago, after watching her sister play for the Levin Whenua Fatales.

“It’s so worth it. It’s a very addictive sport,” she said.

For both, it’s about empowering and uplifting each other.

WRD is non-discriminatory, welcoming people in all sizes, shapes, ages, genders and cultural backgrounds.

It has about 12 members, eight at competition level, ranging in age from just 13 years old to people in their 40s.

“No one is left behind,” said Nelson.

Sarah Nelson, ‘Sgt Sparx’, and Char Sigvertsen, ‘Champain’.

Roller derby is a contact sport played by two teams with five members roller skating counter-clockwise around an oval track.

Identifiable by stars on their helmets, ‘jammers’ are the only team members able to score points by lapping opposing ‘blockers’ – jammers must be fast and mobile on their feet.

Blockers attempt to prevent the rival jammers scoring points, while also clearing a path for their own jammers – they use their hips, shoulders and torso to prevent jammers getting through.

‘Bracers’ help guide the blockers and have to be adept at skating backwards.

Games are called bouts, and have two halves that are 30 minutes long, with each is broken into jams which last about two minutes. Penalties are issued for cutting the track or illegal hits and players spend 30 seconds in the penalty seat for each incursion.

To help explain all of the above, WRD runs a 12-week training course with A grade player and coach Shardey ‘Souljah’ Witoko, teaching skaters the basic skills required to bout.

They consist of stopping, ploughs, t-stops and knee taps among other skills in their ‘fresh meat’ intake – currently in its eighth week.

To play in the league games, ‘freshies’ must pass the minimum skills test which includes a written rules test.

Injuries, such as broken bones, sprains and bruises are common.

Nelson said one of the main barriers to the sport is a fear of getting hurt.

“As you get older, you get more fearful of falling. You have to step out of your comfort zone.

“Feel the fear and do it anyway.

“But bruises are a badge of honour in this sport,” she said.

For many others, the hardest part about getting into the sport is approaching a team.

“You push yourself and train hard. You only skate as well as you train,” said Nelson.

Sigvertsen said there was a “massive” roller derby community across the country, allowing players to build relationships and learn from each other.

“I’ve played netball my whole life and I’ve never seen this kind of support.

“What happens on the track, stays on the track and we’ll still hang out with the competition after a game.”

For many, the attraction is choosing your roller derby name.

For Sigvertsen – ‘Champain’ — it was simply a case of using an online search engine and finding one which felt like a good fit.

“You can choose your own name, but the team has to agree, and it has to fit,” she said.

‘Sergeant Sparx’ came easily to Nelson because of her background in electrical wholesales.

“Sometimes names don’t stick.

“It can be embarrassing though, because you forget people’s real names.”

WRD, which competes as Valhalla Mafia, has a handful of games planned for the season.

Their first will be on April 13 at the Upper Hutt Rollerskating Club when they take on the Remutaka Roller Derby Team.

The game will start at 9.30pm with entry of a gold coin.

More information about the team can be found on their Facebook page, facebook.com/wairaraparollerderby/

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