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The Black River Rollers strike a pose. Photo: Nora Flaherty
The Black River Rollers strike a pose. Photo: Nora Flaherty

What's so great about roller derby?

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Roller derby has a surprisingly long history: It first emerged as a contact sport in the late 1930s; started broadcasting on TV in the late '40s; and had a bit of a TV revival in the '80s and '90s.

The sport as we know it today is mostly an all-female, woman-organized amateur sport. This most recent incarnation got its start in the early 2000s, in Austin, Texas.

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These days, Roller Derby is well established (but if you're not familiar with the sport, here's a handy link that answers the question "what is roller derby?") There are teams in most major cities in the US, many in other countries. The sport even has its own movie - 2009's "Whip It."

The North Country wasn't exactly at the forefront of the sport's comeback but these days it has several teams, including in Plattsburgh and Essex Junction, VT.

The women that play this sport are housewives, and military captains, and doctors, and lawyers, and teachers...It's everybody in the world that plays this sport.
In Watertown, it has the Black River Rollers, a team that's about four years old, and features an interesting combination of North Country natives and transplants, and military and non-military members. Nora Flaherty headed out to one of their practices recently to talk with some of the Black River Rollers, and take some photos.

Here's what a few of the ladies had to say (listen by clicking above!): 

Sarah Parker-Ita (Darth Veda), English instructor, Jefferson Community College.

"One day, I was driving…and saw a sign, a big sign that said 'roller derby tonight', and my husband and I said 'oh, we'll go,' so we went, and we watched our first bout, and I said, 'If I could learn to skate'—'cause I'd never roller skated before, I'd only ice skated—so I said, 'if I could learn to skate, I could probably do that.' So the next available practice I showed up, and here I am.

"I played hockey all growing up, and ever since then I haven't really done anything super athletic, so when I started playing I was immediately hooked. It was a real challenge for me because I was super out of shape, so it was a real challenge for me to get back into shape, and get to where I could stay in one practice without throwing up in the middle of practice, but I eventually got there, mostly. Now I love skating with the team, I really love the game itself, it's really intense and really awesome, I love getting rammed into and being able to give it right back. I love giving whips to people, and kind of cruising around…."

(more below)

Photo slideshow, the Black River Rollers. Photos by Nora Flaherty

Amanda Christ, 22, (Shinagami #512), from Austin, TX, manager at GameStop

"My husband is in the military, so we got stationed up here. If it weren't for derby, this place would be pretty boring, so it definitely adds the only spark to the North Country for me. I played softball for 11 years, did track, basketball, all kinds of stuff. Sports was my always thing and  then I got out of it obviously out of high school, not many adult-based sports, and I found roller derby and I was like, 'how do you do that?'

"I just like the social aspect of it, really, and it's a great workout and you get to hit people legally. Most of the time people join derby when it's a crossroads in life. A lot of people are [going through] divorces, or just moving somewhere, don't know people, don't really have a way to express themselves or feel lost, and then you find derby and you kind of regain your self-identity. So it's really nice to have something that makes you feel strong and empowered and that you're doing something really unique and really cool."

Nicole Lee (VishousLee) 31, from San Francisco, Calif, Fort Drum civilian employee, general manager, trainer, and head referee, Black River Rollers

"I started roller derby on a whim, it was just something I'd heard of on the radio when I was at work one day. I decided was going to go out for it, I'd never been part of any sport in my entire life.

"We've actually been in the area skating for three consecutive seasons, so anybody that doesn't know about us should want to know about us, because it's literally the most exciting sport in the world if you actually watch it. The women that play this sport are housewives, and military captains, and doctors, and lawyers, and teachers, and stay-at-home moms. It's everybody in the world that plays this sport, so It's just nice to have our community have our back."

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