Image: Freudian Slit in action. Image Source: Brett Sargeant, D-eye Photography
Roller derby is the only full contact sport almost entirely dominated by women, and that’s the way they like it. While men’s leagues are increasing in popularity, modern roller derby has always been created, owned and managed by women.
With a focus on DIY ethics, puns and big hits, roller derby is not your average amateur sport. It has strong roots in Australia, with leagues in many major and regional cities across the country. The national team first competed at the Roller Derby World Cup in 2011. The 2018 Team Australia squad, who will be competing at the World Cup in Manchester, England, has just been announced and Freudian Slit, of Canberra’s Vice City Rollers, was surprised, ecstatic and nervous to find herself on the list.
“I found out about roller derby the way a lot of people did: watching Whip It!” she explains. “It was love at first sight. I ached to be out there! I joined the fresh meat program in Canberra in early 2010 and have been skating with Canberra Roller Derby League ever since.”
Roller derby has a reputation for bruises and bloody noses, but Freud says it’s all part of playing the game, just like any other contact sport.
“The majority of my derby injuries had been small potatoes: joint or muscle strain. I won’t lie, after an intense game you’re definitely going to be sore because it’s a very high-impact sport! But the worst injury I ever received was a broken finger in my first game.”
In fact, Freud was a surprise addition to the national squad. In November 2015 she was diagnosed with a huge blood clot, which meant she would be off-skates for the rest of the season. The clot was the result of deep vein thrombosis stemming from the birth control pill, which Freud took without knowing about her family history of blood clots. Unable to compete in Australia’s biggest tournament, The Great Southern Slam, she thought that was the end of her World Cup ambitions.
“It was super frightening, as I’d never had an injury seemingly come out of nowhere before. It was also excruciatingly painful, like my skin was going to split because it couldn’t contain the swelling. I burst into tears when I was told at the hospital that I would spend a minimum of six months on blood thinners without playing contact sport and might not be able to play ever again.”
She attended the Great Southern Slam as the “rowdiest” cheerleader for the Canberra team. She eventually made it back to skating for the last game of the season, after rehabilitation in the gym and the pool and “only a tiny bit of angry-crying.” Out of the blue, she was offered a try out for the national team.
“I came away from the try out exhausted (and more covered in velcro scratches than I’d ever been in my life). I felt like at least I’d done my absolute best and left it all on the track.” A couple of weeks later, she received the news she had been selected in the Team Australia squad.
Despite the exhaustion, pain and expense, Freud says the supportive community and complex tactics make it all worth it. What roller derby lacks in commercial success, it makes up for in enthusiasm.
“What drew me to the sport, and continues to draw me, is that game play demands an exquisite combination of brutality and grace. You’ll see players getting floored by truly epic hits and also pull out astonishing and nimble footwork. It’s also a very cerebral game.”
For many of the players, roller derby is a revelation; an example of confident and competitive women that is sadly lacking from mainstream sports coverage. Freud identifies with the feminist values of the sport that are not only words; they are actually put into action.
“Derby has done wonders for my self-confidence. There’s a lot of ‘girl power’ rhetoric in society, but realistically I think it’s still rare to find places where women’s strength and aggression is celebrated. Derby doesn’t make me feel empowered, it makes me feel powerful. I think there is a hunger for that kind of expression of strength for women at the moment, which explains why derby enjoys such steady adoption and women’s AFL is being received so positively.”
Freudian Slit and the rest of the Team Australia squad are currently in training for the Roller Derby World Cup next February, where they will be on the hunt for another medal. You can follow their progress on Facebook at Team Australia.
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