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Taking on the world with a pair of roller skates

Noni Phillips, left, loves the roller derby community as much as the sport itself.
Image Credit: TJ Chase Photography
April 25, 2014 - 3:10 PM

VERNON - When psychology student Noni Phillips puts on certain make-up, laces up her roller skates, chomps down on her mouth guard and hits the floor to kick some butt, she becomes someone else — an alter ego named Major Psyc Ho.

Roller derby, the fastest growing women’s sport in North America, is the UBCO student’s outlet from daily life as well as a way to keep in shape, cultivate confidence and connect with other women — moms, flight attendants, doctors, lawyers — who share the same passion.

“It’s such a break from your everyday life. You leave it all behind, all you’re thinking about is your team mates and the game,” Phillips says. “For myself, I developed a persona. The theatrical aspect of it is really fun, you get to show a different side of who you are.”

There's no shortage of interest in the Thompson-Okanagan. Players from Kamloops to Peachland are part of the Okanagan Shuswap Roller Derby Association. Phillips is with the Derby Dolls, and some of her teammates include Crash Code, Angel Cakes, Killer Bee Kini, FireCrackHer, Spank Moody, Lucy Brawless and Itsy Bitsy Bonecracker. Scared yet? You should be. Picture Amazons on roller skates. Booty shorts and fishnet stockings never looked so fearsome.

“Your first few games you feel like you got hit by a truck because you kind of do — there’s a lot of strong girls in there,” Phillips says. “Physically, you’re strapping wheels to your feet and pushing people around. You often end up on your face.”

The game consists of both teams racing around a track in the same direction. Points are earned when your designated jammer — essentially a human punching bag — laps the other team. Players must guard their own jammer while also thwarting the opposing jammer, simultaneously playing both offense and defense while the team “pivot” controls the pack. During those two minute jams, it’s all out warfare of pushing, shoving, yelling code words and attempting to knock through the other team like a collective wrecking ball.

“There are about 100 million rules around that to make it safer — where you can hit, how you can hit. Lots of NHL-like rules so you play a safe game,” Phillips says.

Still, concussions, broken legs, sprained ankles, not to mention a collage of bruises are common ailments of the derby girl. But those telltale marks often overlap with words like Derby Love tattooed to their skin.

Roller derby is probably the only time tights and short-shorts aren’t a faux-pas with helmets and elbow pads. Phillips says aside from being fun, the wild outfits are funcitonal too.

“Shiny leggings help you slide on the ground when you fall,” she says. “Smaller shorts are more aerodynamic and people can’t grab you as easily. You need clothing that’s going to stay in place — there’re no push up bras in derby.”

When Phillips emerges from the dressing room in her shiny tights and shin pads,she’s a bundle of nerves. Suddenly, like clockwork, everyone has to pee. As a warm up, they go out and hit each other as hard as possible. As they wait for the first whistle to blow, they hold an open stance, hands on hips, heads held high — the body language Phillips has learned through her psychology training represents confidence.

“We automatically do it,” she says.

Roller derby doesn’t just build muscle, it builds confidence in who you are, what you look like, how you approach the world.

“We’re all pretty comfortable in our skin. We’ve got moms, med students, a preacher’s wife. We’ve got really cool people in there that show you can be strong and successful.”

Christina Ferreira, known as Moxi Cru to her fellow derby girls, plays on an opposing team — the Sun City Sirens. The Kelowna event producer first tried roller derby four years ago. That inaugural practice was also her first time on roller skates. She’s been addicted ever since.

“Roller derby is very different from what everyone pictures it to be in the 70's when it was almost like wrestling. Then there was a phase where it was all about fishnets and booty shorts. Because of that a lot of people don’t take us seriously. But it truly is a sport,” Ferreira says.

While racy outfits are still embraced, she says there’s a general trend toward team jerseys as the sport becomes more established. She describes the game as a sisterhood. Even with women from other teams, there’s an instant bond.

“The cool thing about roller derby is it’s women of all shapes and sizes and backgrounds. There are stay at home moms, lawyers, doctors — it’s such a mix of people and personalities. People I’d never have met otherwise.”

Both Ferreira and Phillips will be playing at the Okanagan Smackdown at the Vernon Curling Club Saturday night. It marks the first roller derby in that city and the girls welcome you to come out, watch the games, and meet them afterwards.

“We’re always looking for fresh meat,” Phillips says. “Everyone is super helpful to new skaters. We look tough and intimidating, but if you’re going through anything you’ll get a hug, probably a smooch right on the lips too.”

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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