Rollerskating reporters meet the Hertfordshire Hell's Belles roller derby team
PUBLISHED: 07:40 06 September 2018 | UPDATED: 07:40 06 September 2018
I knew my career had peaked when I conducted an interview entirely on rollerskates, trying to take shorthand notes while wearing wrist guards.
My colleague Franki Berry (or, to use her skate name, Berry-go-Round) and I met the Hell’s Belles, Hertfordshire’s roller derby team, for their Wednesday night training session at Roller City in Welwyn Garden City.
Within a few minutes of strapping on my skates and knee pads, I had already come up with my skate name (Annearchy) and was excited to get started, even though in my previous skating experience I had never managed to let go of the side.
We were shown the ropes by intermediate player Elaine Cooper, also known as Elle Fire, and coach Murder (not her real name). To my surprise, I managed to stay upright long enough to skate a short distance, and my colleague Franki Goes to Rollywood was able to stop and get herself up from a kneeling position without touching the ground.
Roller derby is an extreme sport, which originated in America in the 1930s with predominantly female players. The Hell’s Belles Roller Girls compete nationally as a team, as part of Hertfordshire Roller Derby: the county’s first roller derby league.
Despite my fears it would be a bloodthirsty contact sport of the kind from which I normally run away screaming, the team was extremely welcoming and Elaine explained that players are only allowed to compete in the contact version of the game once they meet strict criteria.
Elaine told us how she was introduced to roller derby 18 months ago by her friend Lizzie (also known as Slam!be). She said: “I started in January 2017 on the Fresh Meat course. I was in my 40s and had my first child, and I’d put on weight and my fitness was awful. I wanted to be good role model and put physical activity back in my life.
“I intended to do 12 weeks and no more, and I finished Fresh Meat and got ‘most improved’. I was made a ‘Baby Belle’ and have been with them ever since.”
Roller derby games consist of two 30-minute periods, which are each made up of mini-games called ‘jams’. In a jam five players from each team are sent to the track, one ‘jammer’ and four ‘blockers’. The jammers must skate through both teams of blockers as quickly as they can, then sprint around the track to lap them and skate through them again. The jammer can then score points for each opposing blocker that they pass.
As novice skaters, we were not able to try and score points, but we did manage to skate to the middle of the rink to shoot some video. Or rather, Herts Ad reporter and skilled skater Frankly My Dear I Don’t Give A Slam was able to skate to the middle, while I had to hold onto Murder’s arm to make sure I actually moved forwards.
Despite a preconception that the sport is just for women, men are also encouraged to join. Elaine described roller derby as “one of the most inclusive sports there is”, open to anyone over the age of 18 regardless of gender, race, size or sexual orientation.
She said: “Roller derby is fantastic for fitness. It will improve your core strength, and it’s also incredibly good for mental health.
“I’ve not just got teammates, I’ve got something close to a family. Some of the more experienced players are like the older members of your family in that I’m very respectful around them and on my best behaviour, but most of them have become really good friends.”
As a person whose prior knowledge of roller derby came from the 2009 film Whip It, starring Ellen Page, I was amazed by how fun and inclusive the sport seemed, and delighted that the Herts league keeps up the American tradition of punny nicknames.
My colleague Gold, Frankincense and Murder said: “Having looked up roller derby before, I was worried it would be a bit scary and violent! But everyone was lovely and I was relieved to find out that there is no contact for beginners. I really enjoyed myself.”
To learn to play roller derby, anyone over 18 can join the 12-week Fresh Meat course starting Sunday, September 9. The league meets at Hemel Hempstead Leisure Centre from 1pm to 2.30pm on Sundays for general training, with the advanced team training on Wednesdays in Welwyn Garden City. Those who sign up to the course but are not sure if they want to invest in their own kit can have kit provided for them thanks to a grant from Dacorum Borough Council.
To find out more go to hertsrd.co.uk