Attack of the Killer Rollbots

Invermere's all-female roller derby team gets ready to take on Cranbrook in the East Kootenay league's first-ever bout

The Killer Rollbots warm up during a practice.

The Killer Rollbots warm up during a practice.

There’s a speech Chris Corey likes to make, and seems to give some variation on at least once a week, often towards the end of practice, when thigh muscles have started to ache and the edge of adrenaline has worn off enough to make the dozen or so girls around him aware of the latest bruises forming below the skin.

“You’re the Rollbots,” it tends to go, “because you roll through the pain and keep on going.”

Come August 27, Corey and the Invermere Killer Rollbots are going to have a first chance to prove it.

ROLLER WHAT?

If you’ve never seen a roller derby match, try picturing a good gritty hockey game played at the centre of a carnival. Tough-sounding alter egos like Puma Thurman and Missy Mayhem take the place of the names on drivers’ licences. Fishnets and striped knee socks are standard dress — as are knee and elbow pads, wrist and mouth guards, and a helmet.

During a bout, most of the team travels around an oval track in a group, while a designated member from each side, known as the “jammer,” attempts to score points by passing through the rest of the skaters as they help or hinder her, depending on loyalties.

Play is fast and furious. Bodies go flying. Screaming and cheering are highly encouraged.

“As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to do it,” remembers Hart Knox, known off the track as Shelly Lawrence, a lodging administrator at Panorama.

“Something about girls kicking ass just appeals to me. And the idea of organized chaos.”

But when Lawrence moved to Invermere, she figured becoming a derby girl was a wash.

“I thought it only happened in the big city,” she says. “As soon as I heard they were doing it here I thought, ‘I have to do that.’”

ON THE FAST TRACK

The Rollbots had their first team meeting in April, their first practice in early May. Depending on who you ask, it was either impressive, terrifying, or totally hilarious.

“We were a bunch of grown women who hadn’t been on skates since we were 12 years old at the roller arenas,” says Vivian Vengeance (a.k.a. Sharo Bakos, a stay-at-home mom). “But it wasn’t embarrassing to fall, because we were all falling down. We were all kind of on the same plane, helping each other out.”

Corey remembers it a little differently. Already well versed in derby — he coached a full season for a team out east, and his sister Tara has played and coached for six years — the Rollbots coach was expecting to start from the ground up when his prospective players showed up at the Invermere Curling Centre for their first training session.

“I figured there’d be a lot of jittery skating, people trying to feel out their wheels and start at ground level,” he says. “But these girls are athletes, and they prove it to me every week. They’ve progressed super fast.”

Watching the team practice it’s clear he’s not joking. Players who had never participated in a team sport, or who remember “hanging onto the wall all shaky” cut around the track, weaving in and out of fellow team members and taking or delivering hits, as the night’s drill requires. While there are still crashes and wipeouts — they’re built into the sport, after all — most nights they’re shrugged off with laughter and cheers of encouragement from whoever’s stayed upright.

“I think we’ve all come a long way,” says Fräulien Chaotic (a.k.a. Carla Schneider, who works at Black Forest Restaurant). “I never thought that starting in May we’d be bouting in August. Not at all. I was expecting one next year.”

Most fledgling derby teams will skate for a year or more before they’re bout-ready. The Rollbots are moving fast.

“From May 1, which was our first practice, to today, it feels like we’re a third year or fourth year skating team,” says Corey. “I’ve really had to come up with innovative practices to keep them motivated and challenged.”

Talking to the players, it sounds like it’s working.

“Our coach is fantastic,” says Bakos. “He pushes us, and he can tell from one player to the next what they need — do they need to be pushed or do they need to be coddled. He’s good that way.”

‘LIKE NOTHING THEY’VE SEEN’

Being a Rollbot means attending at least two of the three practices the team hosts every week, and as the team’s first-ever bout draws closer, they’re getting more and more intense.

Winning the bout is the goal, but the Rollbots aren’t the only team training hard for their first night with an audience. Cranbrook’s Mountain Town Maulers, the region’s other largest team, have been skating since the beginning of the year, though they’ve done so without a coach.

“They know what they have to do,” Corey says of the competition. “And I think they’re going to bring it. This isn’t going to be an easy bout.”

What it should be, however, is a lot of fun.

“I think it’ll be like nothing they’ve ever seen before,” says Lawrence, when asked what reaction she’s expecting to her derby debut. “I think they’ll be excited because it’s pretty amazing, actually.”

“It’s something new to watch,” adds Bakos. “It’s not hockey. It’s a new sport, and I think people are going to be excited about it.”

SUPPORT YOUR ROLLBOTS

• Ray Ray’s Beach Pub hosts a Killer Rollbots fundraiser Saturday, August 20. Broken Down Suitcase will provide tunes, and a portion of sales go to the team.

• The Bout: It’s Rollbots vs. Cranbrook’s Mountain Town Maulers August 27 at the Marysville arena at 7 p.m. Tickets will be $10, and information on where to buy them is coming soon. The Kimberley Bavarian Barbarians and Fernie’s Avalanche City Roller Girls host a shorter show bout to start the evening off.

* Andrea “Amperslam” Klassen is the editor of The Valley Echo, and a rookie member of the Killer Rollbots.

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