There's plenty of close-in action for those who enjoy roller derby. (Photo courtesy of Steven Dubas)

Fun, exercise and friendship beckons for roller derby athletes

Skaters gather twice a week at Davidson Hall in Smithers

Four years of practicing and building up a core of athletes is going to pay off when the Bulkley Valley Bruisers roller derby team hosts a home game.

“It will be the first time our team has enough of its own players to have a full roster. We’ve been training for four years to get there, and we’re so excited,” said team member Anne Bello of the 11 regular skaters and six newer skaters undergoing training.

There’s no firm date yet set for the game but it will take place next spring or summer and in Hazelton or Houston, locations where the Bruisers have also held practices.

In the meantime, team members from Hazelton to Houston travel twice a week to the Davidson Hall on the Smithers fairgrounds where they strap on roller skates and go to work.

Roller derby is a contact sport in which blockers from each team try to prevent an opposing team’s “jammer” from circling a track to collect points while assisting their own jammer to score. It makes the action defensive and offensive at the same time.

Players wear protective gear and in the best tradition of the sport, adopt nicknames fitting their own personalities and the contact nature of the sport.

Bello, for example, goes by Ann-Kri (pronounced as “angry” where the ‘k’ replaces the ‘g’).

“It’s been my nickname since I was a child. Ann-Kri is the most common way to shorten my real name (Anne-Christine) in the French speaking world where I come from,” she explains.

While roller derby has the obvious benefit of healthy exercise, the sport also offers camaraderie, something Bello says makes the Bruisers a big family.

“It’s also a great way to feel empowered. A lot of women who join don’t come from a sporty background, and it’s amazing to see people grow in confidence as they develop as athletes,” she said.

“Derby is a great outlet for stress, an amazing place to let loose and be the person you want to be without getting judged, and it’s also a really fun game.”

While the Bruisers can practice at the Davidson Hall over the fall and winter, the hall reverts to agricultural activities in the spring and summer and that means the team gathers in a variety of other locations, including the outdoor rink at Telkwa or at the Hazelton arena on open skate nights.

“The [Hazelton] arena has an impressive selection of roller skates for rent and has open skate hours for roller skating,” said Bello.

Residents of the area might have also noticed the Bruisers outside on the streets of Smithers and Houston.

When not skating in the Bulkley Valley, team members have travelled east to Prince George and west to Terrace to hone their skills.

Bello was just in Chilliwack with her former team when she lived in the Kootenays, the Dam City Rollers from Castlegar. The Rollers took part in a seven-game round robin tournament against teams from B.C., Alberta and the United States.

Another skater, teen Elise St.-Onge from Quick, whose derby name is Derby Devil, was in Alberta last month on a tryout trip for Canada’s national junior team. She’s been a Bruiser since she was 14.

“She did amazing on her tryouts, but we won’t know if she makes the team until the new year, as there are other tryouts to be held in the eastern part of the country, followed by some pretty hard choices for the coaches,” said Bello.

“DD says she had a blast at tryouts, and I think her mind was blown by all the talent present and the high level of play.”

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