Thunder Bay Roller Derby League Celebrates Milestone
By Olivia Levesque
When you think about sports culture in Thunder Bay, you probably think of cold hockey arenas or cross-country skiing in the winter months, lush green soccer fields in the summer, or Lakehead University varsity sports. But really that’s just scratching the surface. Thunder Bay’s sports scene is as diverse as its people, with leagues like the Thunder Bay Roller Derby League (TBRDL), which strives to diversify sport experience in the city while building up the community that surrounds it.
The TBRDL was founded 10 years ago in February 2010, and is a part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association in Northwestern Canada. In its formative years, the league’s home base was the basement of the old Eaton’s building on Red River Road, where players would practice on three different types of flooring—less than ideal when you’re wearing quad-skates. ”They’re like sneakers on wheels, basically,” says Kate Beaulieu, captain of the Elle Capones, about roller derby equipment (which is also known to include colourful and unique uniforms). Now, the TBRDL has its own warehouse for practicing, with the necessary space for the full-contact sport. Games (traditionally called “bouts”) are held at Delaney Arena in the rink’s off season. In the last 10 years, the league has grown to house three teams: the Elle Capones, Grizzly Madams, and Babes of Thunder, which is their travelling team. The Thunder Bay Junior Roller Derby League, which started in 2016, is aimed toward youth ages five to 17.
Roller derby itself is actually quite old, with origins dating back to the banked- or sloped-track roller-skating marathons of the 1930s. In Thunder Bay, the sport operates on a flat track, where both teams designate a jammer. The jammer scores points by lapping members of the opposing team, called blockers. But the jammers can only gain points if they pass blocker while upright and in bounds.
“As a former varsity athlete, roller derby has given me that sense of kinship and desire to work hard at a sport again,” Beaulieu says. She has been with the TBRDL for just over a year, and says it’s a great place to have fun and foster friendships. She didn’t know much about the sport before she started with the league, but was able to jump into things quickly thanks to the “Fresh Meat” training sessions, which teach basic skills and game play rules over a span of 12 weeks.
Don’t let terms like Fresh Meat, jammers, and blockers fool you. While the sport might be rough and tumble in nature, Beaulieu says the league is focused on providing an inclusive space, so everyone can feel comfortable and empowered while playing. And while Roller Derby is predominantly female sport, Beaulieu says anyone is welcome to join in.
Now the that TBRDL is surpassing the ten-year mark, Beaulieu says the league has their eyes on the future and are hoping to continue to build up their numbers as they get ready for training season. “We are always working to get bigger and better,” she says. “We basically want a larger base of skaters so we can get more competitive too.”
This month the first Fresh Meat information session of the year is taking place on January 5 at 2 pm at 650 Harold Crescent, and training will begin on January 26. For more information on how to join the league, email firstname.lastname@example.org.