709 Derby Girls Sarah Pegrum (left) and Jacinta Pittman (front right) demonstrate roller derby moves along with Laura Churchill (rear left) and Ashley Critch-Dunne (right). — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
While the Eagles sing about having seven women on their mind over the Jack Byrne Arena sound system, the 709 Derby Girls have a few more ladies on their radar as they roll down the rink.
The 10 derby girls are taking it a little easy on this day because they only have the back half of the arena to play with.
Still, the speed and skills shine through — along with the spills — as Tracie (Fang Tasia) Boudreault and a couple of others go down.
Jammer Jacinta (Rainbow Fight) Pittman of Vaders Vixens zips in and around the pack with Never Sweets captain Ashley (Venus de Molish) Critch-Dunne close on her tail.
At six-foot-two, Critch-Dunne has previously broken Pittman’s nose — unintentionally of course — despite being Pittman’s “derby wife,” the player committed to accompanying her to hospital should she need it. She’s also broken the ribs of a player who declined to continue with the sport.
But despite the knockdowns and occasional injuries, the girls are all the best of friends, addicted to the derby and the outlandish costumes, some of which — tarty get-ups and fishnet stockings — would make a 1980s-era Cyndi Lauper proud.
The derby girls are clearly having fun, but they’re also taking the mock bout seriously, even if it’s an impromptu corner performance at the public skating session in Torbay.
Meanwhile, a crowd of skilled roller skaters, several of them seniors, has stopped making laps and lined up to watch.
The 709 Derby Girls are grateful to the Jack Byrne Arena and appreciate the patience of the recreational roller skaters.
But they need a home of their own.
The group started up early this year and have nowhere to hold their bouts.
The venue they have practised in — the Virginia Park School gym — is not big enough and they’ve had no luck finding a site.
The derby girls want to become a proper league.
“I would hate to see this sport stagger because of everything we hope to achieve and that we are already achieving,” president Terri Maxwell — a.k.a. “Cemeterri Jane” — said during an interview in a coffee shop.
“Virginia Park has been amazing to us. They have accommodated us every possible way they can. It’s just we do need a larger venue and we have found that anytime we have contacted the city has just been met with a wall,” she said.
The roller girls say they initially got a positive response when they approached the Mews Centre on Mundy Pond Road, but that was eventually nixed by the city.
They practise at Virginia Park and at the public skates at Jack Byrne Arena. But that will soon end when the ice is laid in for the winter.
The derby girls contacted all of the schools in the city and Virginia Park was the only one that said yes.
The idea for a local roller derby came to Maxwell when she saw Toronto band Cougar Party perform locally and discovered links to the derby culture.
From there, Maxwell endeavoured to learn to skate, along with several of the other “forefathers” who signed up at the start.
With varying degrees of expertise on roller skates, they learned the skills together.
“Some had their gear on upside down. Some people had thier helmets on backwards,” said Pittman, an original member who learned about the fledgling league from her tattoo artist.
She’s played sports all her life — soccer, basketball, hockey, figure skating — and now coaches the “fresh meat,” new recruits to the derby.
“I thought it sounded awesome. … I knew nothing. I just knew I wanted to sign up,” she said.
Fourteen of the originals dropped out for various reasons, but the group has picked up 14 more.
“I think the biggest surprise for people was they were like, ‘(You) dress up in fishnets and skate around pretty.’ And then you actually have to do endurance things. It was a lot of shock to some people that, ‘I have to do things to get in shape? This is actually a sport?’” Pittman explained.
“Virginia Park has been amazing to us. They have accommodated us every possible way they can. It’s just we do need a larger venue and we have found that anytime we have contacted the city has just been met with a wall." Terri Maxwell
“It’s a really hard sport. You’re doing laps and you’re hitting each other. There’s 10 girls on the track at a time. … They just thought it was play dressup.”
While the derby is recreational now, the league hopes to become competitive and attract teams from elsewhere for bouts. They want to have half-time shows and get charities involved.
“We can’t just practise in an elementary school and then just be, ‘Alright we’re going to have a bout at this full-size arena’ and we show up and not even be able to fathom how big the track is. And our refs are not going to know what to do because they can’t get outside the track where we are now,” said Pittman, who attended a boot camp in Edmonton this spring.
“We’ve gotten as far as we can with Virginia Park and we still want to continue practising there.”
The derby girls follow league rules that include not hitting with elbows, no hitting on the back or the head.
Still, the sport can be tough, expecially since it requires being able to balance on wheels. One woman broke her leg and didn’t come back.
There are five players from each team on the track at a time. Four are blockers, who start off first. Two jammers — one from each team — have a delayed start and score points by breaking through the pack. The rounds can last up to two minutes — the lead jammer can call it off at anytime. There are two half-hour periods.
Despite the roughness, the girls are all smiles at the end of a bout.
“Derby has just been amazing. It has just transformed all of us. I have seen people from the first day I met them to who they are now — it’s a complete transformation,” Maxwell said.
“The confidence has gone up. We don’t know who we hung out with before roller derby. We all knew we had friends, but it’s just the 709 Derby Girls.”
The skaters range in age from 19-38.
“Most of us have nine to five jobs which are mundane, and we’re mild-mannered,” Maxwell said.
“We can let loose. We can relieve some tension, be empowering, because it is all girls working with each other for each other, looking out for each other’s interests, even if you get your nose broken or whatever.”
Critch-Dunne was mortified when she broke Pittman’s nose.
But Pittman had her nose broken before, in basketball, and wasn’t alarmed.
“You go around (and) literally kick the crap out of each other — hit each other, knock each other down and you are trying to stop the other girl from getting through, and it the end of it, it’s all hugs and, ‘That was amazing,’ and ‘Good job,’” Pittman said.
Back at the Jack Byrne Arena, psychologist Sarah (Tazzy Devil) Pegrum describes her attraction to the sport as “great camaraderie,” and a chance to get active and work out stress.
“We all get along and it’s a really fun sport. It keeps you active,” added Lisa (Lulu Sour) Doody.
Restaurant manager Jillian (Helen Killer) Thorne has been attracted to derby culture for years.
“This was the first opportunity moving back to St. John’s from Ottawa. There was a real organized derby culture where I was at,” she said, adding she hadn’t been on roller skates since she was five.
“I hadn’t been roller skating since I was 12,” said Kim (Maximum Kimpact) Sword, an assistant store manager and student.
“I skated when I was a teenager, but it’s been, like, 15 years,” said hairstylist-by-day Beaudrault, sporting a bright green fake mohawk on her pink helmet.
“So I picked it up again in May when I decided I wanted to be a derby girl.
“I broke my wrist on tryout day.”