Think of a sport, any sport. Chances are, you probably thought of sports such as football, soccer, volleyball, tennis, or even swimming. One sport that has flown under most people’s radar is roller derby. Senior Kalani Van Meter, however, is very familiar with this sport.
Common Sense sat down with Van Meter for a Q and A about her experience participating in roller derby:
Common Sense: What is roller derby?
Kalani Van Meter: Roller derby is a full-contact sport played on roller skates in an oval track. There are multiple organizations, but the main ones are the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), Men’s Roller Derby Association (MRDA), Junior Roller Derby Association (JRDA) and the United States of America Roller Sports (USARS). JRDA and USARS have both female and coed teams and there are thousands of teams under each organization. I currently play with leagues under JRDA and WFTDA.
CS: How and when did you get into roller derby?
KVM: My mom and I watched this movie called Whip It starring Ellen Paige (I highly recommend it). At the end of the credits, there was something saying “find your local roller derby team” with a website link. And then later my mom said “I think I just signed up for roller derby.” Next thing I knew, I was sitting in at her practices. When the adult team made a junior team in 2011, I was the first to sign up. That’s how I got into it and I’ve been playing ever since.
CS: Are you on a roller derby team? If so, what is it called and what was the joining process like?
KVM: I am. I currently play for the Philadelphia Junior Roller Derby All-Stars (PJRD) and the Free State Roller Derby’s Black Eyed Suzies. PJRD is a coed team with many different people and level of skaters and that’s just the juniors. FSRD is an all-female WFTDA team. However, both the adult and junior leagues in Philadelphia are nationally recognized teams with internationally recognized skaters. When I moved back to Maryland, I first started playing with a local team called Maryland Area Roller Sports or MARS Junior Roller Derby, but I quickly found PJRD and moved up to their all-star team after the coaches saw me play. There are tryouts for the A-team every season and everyone who was on the team prior is required to participate again.
CS: What do you like about it? What do you not like as much?
KVM: Roller derby is my favorite sport. It helps me get stronger and I love to watch it. But aside from the very physical aspect of it, the roller derby community is incredibly inspiring, diverse and accepting. It feels good to be on a team with such amazing skaters as well. There are few things that I don’t like about it and I’m ok with falling because that’s a part of the sport. But sometimes people can get seriously hurt, or there are negative players or coaches on teams we play. People also have big misconceptions about roller derby. I’ll get asked if I elbow or punch people in the face. That question is kind of a joke amongst derby players, because we all know that’s not true. Hitting with your elbow is illegal and can get you ejected from a game. And if I’m being honest, sometimes I get scared blocking bigger players on other teams. Also cardio. I’m not a big fan.
CS: Have you had any accomplishments or achievements with roller derby?
KVM: When I played with a team in Arizona, we went to the JRDA 2016 championships in Seattle. It was an amazing experience. This season with PJRD we are on track to go to this year’s championships in Loveland, CO. We are currently ranked fourth in the nation.
CS: Is roller derby common? Are you on the younger side of people who do it?
KVM: Roller derby definitely isn’t as common as, for example, this school’s sports. However, the culture surrounding roller derby is definitely expanding to become more mainstream, as more people are hearing about it and teams start to grow. But I’m definitely not the youngest. Junior derby ranges from ages seven to 18, but I’ve seen pre-school aged kids on skates at my practices and adult derby has no age limit. As of now, however, I am one of the youngest players on the adult team I play for.
CS: Where do you practice?
KVM: I go to two different practices. On Tuesdays and Fridays I practice at the Rockville sports complex from 8 to 10 p.m.. And on Sunday, I drive up to Philadelphia to practice with PJRD in a warehouse.
CS: How do you practice?
KVM: Basic practices consist of warm-up drills such as laps or stretches, followed by a core lesson about strategy, plays or footwork. PJRD uses each practice to work specifically on something important, like endurance, footwork or blocking. All practices involve full contact.
CS: Any advice for people interested in roller derby?
KVM: If you are interested in joining junior roller derby, please check out MARS Junior Roller Derby on Facebook or online. If you’re 18 or older and would like to play adult roller derby, please check out Free State Roller Derby or DC Roller Girls on Facebook or online. Roller derby is an amazing sport with a wide range of levels. Any local team would be able to teach you how to play, even if you can’t roller skate. So regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, or skill level, if you can roller skate, you can play roller derby.