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Roller derby: the sport that landed in Chile to destroy stereotypes

Roller derby: the sport that landed in Chile to destroy stereotypes

Posted by José Peralta on October 09, 2014

Five days a week, members of the Metropolitan Roller Derby League don knee pads, helmets and skates — as well as a fresh coat of makeup — in a bid to become masters of the roller derby: a high-octane sport where competitors beat each other black and blue.

Journalists, veterinarians and school teachers by day; roller derby titans by night — the league’s ladies unite a penchant for ramming into the competition with an unmistakable sense of sex appeal. To most of them, roller derby is not just a sport: it’s a way of life. Many have quit jobs and broken up with boyfriends claiming the game itself is a full-time love and job.

The Santiago Times spent a day with the girls from the Metropolitan league — the oldest in the country — to find out more about this allegedly aggressive, supposedly unfeminine sport making waves in the Southern hemisphere.

Roller derby fever in Chile

Roller derby made its way to Chile for the first time in 2009 with the movie “Whip It” — a coming-of-age tale about a young woman rejecting the glitzy world of pageants in favor of the down-and-dirty universe of the roller derby, Team Chile captain and spokesperson Marcela Aguilera explained.

“When the movie was released, a couple of friends and I got together to play it in a park and then said, ‘Hey, let’s do this’,” Aguilera, aka “Endorfina,” said.

The first official roller derby league, Santiago’s own Metropolitan Roller Derby Chile, was founded in April 2011. Today, Metropolitan boasts almost 100 members and, according to Aguilera, is one of the best leagues out of the dozen or so in the country. Many of its skaters play on Team Chile and have gone to compete abroad.

A female-dominated sport

According to Aguilera, the sport’s hyper-demanding nature, which offers no monetary compensation, explains its popularity among women.

“I don’t know what it is, but it seems women are more likely to do selfless work. And here, it’s all about giving. It’s dedicating your time and the only retribution you get is seeing how your teammates grow, how your teammates learn, watch your sport on the news, be recognized, etc.,” Aguilera said.

Everyone chips in, all for the sake of the game. Indeed, no chore is too small: from getting sponsors to cleaning the bathrooms, everyone participates. Roller derby also goes beyond the track as it is 100 percent self-managed by the players, meaning they have to organize the championships, get access to the courts, raise money to compete abroad and get sponsors.

“A lot of people in the world of sports are interested in roller derby because of the self-management,” Aguilera explained. “Here, the skaters are their own leaders.”

Some of the girls have even lost jobs and boyfriends due to their all-consuming devotion to the game.

“It takes a lot to be here. In order to become a roller derby player, the girls sacrifice their jobs, family and a lot of things just for the love of the sport, and they are committed to getting what they want,” first-timer Jimena Hurtado said. “That’s what I like about it.”

A derby catchphrase extolls that “roller derby saved my soul,” as girls are introduced to a sport that involves not only physical endurance but also a tremendous amount of teamwork. Indeed, the women’s sense of solidarity defies female stereotypes, Aguilera said.

“Everyone thinks that a group of women together will simply result in a ton of menstruation and infighting… and in the end it’s nothing like that, it’s pure collaboration,” she joked.

Team Chile coach Nino Rodríguez argued that another attractive asset of roller derby is its welcoming nature, uniting experts and neophytes alike. Among the Metropolitan pack, one could see women who had never laced a pair of stakes before surrounded by others who’d clearly levelled a few rink-side blows.

“There is no other sport that provides the opportunity for people from both ends of the spectrum; beginners and professionals, inactive women who start doing sports for the first time and ex-competitors who get back into the game in their 30s,” Rodríguez said.

The struggles

In addition to the taxing physical component — the girls must practice five days a week to remain in peak physical condition to combine speed, agility and contact-heavy aggression — the sport also takes its toll on a financial level.

Although Metropolitan has made impressive gains in a short period of time, there are many obstacles it has to overcome to position roller derby as a legitimate sport in Chile. One is to be recognized as a sporting discipline by the National Sports Institute (IND). The other is to be recognized by the US-based Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA).

Yet the women remain undeterred, even willing to incur debt in order to compete on an international level.

“We are getting into debt so that we can go to the world championship, but we are going to represent Chile, and that is really big for us,” Aguilera said.

Aside from legal and financial struggles, players also have a hard time finding the proper grounds to play on and equipment to play with.

“You have to look for equipment because it’s the most complicated thing to find here in Chile. The equipment for all the girls comes from outside because here there are almost no stores whatsoever, and everything is too expensive,” Hurtado said.

Past and future

Roller derby began as a female-dominated sport in the 1930s but shortly thereafter went off the radar due to lack of interest. It was not until the ’90s that it experienced a revival with the infamous roller “jams” — carnivals that circulated around the US putting on shows not unlike today’s wrestlemania. A decade later, a group of women from Texas decided to make the sport official by enumerating a set of rules.

Today, roller derby is undoubtedly on the rise in Chile. Last week, Metropolitan was invited by the WFTDA to become an “apprentice” and Team Chile is set to attend the Roller Derby World Cup in Texas in December this year.

“We’re among 30 countries going to the World Cup. That is not a small deal. And inside the international circuit of the Flat Track Derby Association, today Chile is an apprentice,” Aguilera said.

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