Toronto’s latest athletic frontier features real hits, real heart
MAR 29, 2013 | BY NOAH VANDERLAAN
Toronto Roller Derby League is fierce competition in last weekend’s Quad City Chaos Tournament. All photos by NOAH VANDERLAAN
At the Bunker in Downsview Park moments before the derby bout gets underway, the bleachers are packed but there are a few suicide seats -- where one sits trackside and risks getting slammed into by downed skaters -- still vacant. Spectators crack tall cans and eagerly anticipate the most cutting edge extreme sport this city has to offer: roller derby.
On Saturday, March 23, Toronto’s Roller Derby League (ToRD) hosted the Quad City Chaos (QCC) Tournament. The event featured eight bouts over two days, bringing in teams from as far away as Columbus, Ohio. Athletes and audience members alike sported tattoos, piercings, fishnets, leopard print, face paint, and short shorts. There were local vendors, food trucks, and as always, plenty of trackside beers. The energy was infectious.
Back in 2006, Mea Culprit (who lives by her derby moniker) was watching an episode of Roller Girls on A&E when she decided that this was going to be her sport. Here was a diverse bunch of women, fiercely independent, athletic and strong, but also unabashedly feminine.
“Eleven of us decided to form our own team, the Toronto Terror. This was back when roller derby was basically unheard of in our city. We practiced anywhere we could, from inline skating rinks to hockey arenas, even church basements.”
When the Terror held open tryouts later that year, Mea was surprised to see 67 girls show up ready to roll. Exhibiting vast skills, nearly all of the skaters were invited to join and Toronto’s Roller Derby League began to take shape.
ToRD has grown into its own, quickly becoming the largest flat-track derby organization in Canada. The league has four house teams, two travel teams, a farm team, and a roster of over 100 active skaters. Each home bout held in the Bunker at Downsview Park was attended by hundreds of eager spectators there to witness the finest jams, checks, hits, blocks, knocks, bumps, and bruises ever seen on skates.
Playing in the Toronto Roller Derby League is no easy feet (pun intended). ToRD is owned and operated by the athletes themselves. The women on the track also serve on the Board of Directors and run all aspects of the organization. Joss Wheelin, co-head of PR and marketing, tells me “this league is for the skaters, by the skaters. We all work really hard with the end goal of playing as much derby as possible.”
That amounts to a lot of responsibility, but team members still find the time to grab pints and hang out off the track. The league hosts a vibrant social life, and Wheelin is enamoured with her derby girls: “It’s great! You meet people from different ‘hoods, professions and ages, all brought together by the love of the game.”
The event was a huge success, the first ever QCC Tournament sanctioned by WFTDA, North America’s governing body on Roller Derby. The tournament ended with Toronto’s all star team, CN Power, falling to the Rideau Valley Vixens 168-155.
Despite the home turf loss, the crowd teemed with satisfied local vendors, fans, family members, and friends. As Wheelin pointed out, “people come for all sorts of reasons, but when they leave they’re all blown away by the athleticism and strength of the girls.”
- Subtitle: Roller derby tournament checks into town