Grit and Grace: The Essence of Roller Derby

Players pack in full force as both teams attempts to block the other’s jammer during an intense match.

Last Saturday, The Dalles Readiness Center was packed with fans from throughout the Gorge community, all gathered to watch the roller derby match between the Gorge Roller Girls and the Storm City Roller Girls. The first game began at 5 p.m. and the second at 7 p.m.

The Gorge Roller Girls are in their second season of play with the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), an international league with more than 400 active teams. Their team consists of the “Allstars” which serve as their main competitive team, and “Blood & Gorge” which is their B team.

So what is roller derby? In technical terms, roller derby is a contact sport played by two teams each with five members who skate counter-clockwise around a track, with four players acting as blockers and one player acting as a jammer; the blockers play defense while the jammer attempts to score points by lapping opposing team members. As with any sport, there are complexities that give roller derby a depth that only an expert could elaborate on with the appropriate accuracy, but even a first-time spectator can get the drift:

Roller derby, from the first whistle, is a physical chaos.

A mass forms between the two teams, blockers and jammers alike struggling to outmaneuver one another. Body checks fly and players fight to retain their balance atop four small wheels; some sprawl to the floor after a particularly hard hit.

When an opening emerges, the jammers shoot through and as suddenly as the chaos began, it stills. Order resumes across the track, a brief armistice descends as the jammers skate silently around the track and the defenders reform their packs. In this fleeting peace, players undergo a rapid series of analysis; the jammers search for upcoming weaknesses to exploit, the blockers anticipate the jammer’s path, and position themselves to intercept. As each jammer arrives, in the order they broke through, the ensemble of checks and balance ensues. It is a tumultuous display of athleticism and skill, and the crowd erupts.

Roller derby is an increasingly popular global sport, and one with significant presence in Oregon. There are dozens of teams spread throughout the state, including seven that are associated with the WFTDA. Games last through the spring season, meaning the Gorge Roller Girls will have more bouts, including at home in The Dalles; check out their website to learn more: www.gorgerollergirls.org.

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