Odds are you haven’t heard of Roller Derby and if you have, it’s almost certainly not quite what you think it is. Roller derby is a full-contact sport played on quad roller skates that has seen explosive growth over the past eight years. The sport was reborn in the early 2000s when a group of women in the US took it to the flat track and dragged it into the modern era. It’s often fast, always hard-hitting, and is entirely played by women.
It all started here 5 years ago, when Indy and Shenika, who are both Americans and were teachers at an international school, decided to start a Roller Derby team in Egypt, considering that they were both Derby players back at their hometown in the US. They started by telling their friends, family, and colleagues (including Susan, one of the current coaches on the team) and eventually a small team was assembled with a mix of both Americans and Egyptians. The team was named CaiRollers.
“Indy and Shenika travelled shortly after and left me and Susan in charge. We started then a new team which was composed of almost entirely Egyptians, which is our main target, and some of our players now have completed 3-4 years with us” says Nermine Abi Aad, one of the coaches of the team
Of course, in the first phases of everything new, there have to be some obstacles along the way. The biggest issue that CaiRollers faced was the finance and funding issue. The gears and skates are too expensive as they are ordered from the US. Another issue is the debacle of finding a smooth and soft surface to play on, and finding indoor places because sometimes it’s either too rainy or too sunny, that’s why sometimes the training has to be cancelled.
Roller Derby is completely a team sport, played on an oval track about the length of four badminton courts. On the track at any one time are four blockers and one jammer from each team. It’s a point-scoring sport, and the jammer is effectively the ball. The basic premise is to get your jammer out of the pack of blockers and around the track while preventing the opposition jammer from doing the same.
It’s a full-contact sport and knocks happen, but they try to be as safe as possible. The players wear helmets, mouth guards, knee, elbow and wrist pads; you can’t target the neck, head or anywhere below the knee. It’s physical, but not aggressive. “Whoever watches us play from the stands would think it’s a really tough game, but once you play it, you will definitely want to stay” Nermine adds. The Roller Derby community is great and everybody hugs and high-fives at the end of a game.
Players engage in the field under derby names (pseudonyms) – CaiRollers include striking names such as NoFearTiti, Lady MacDeath, Blaze, and Titan I am. This world of Derby can seem at odds with a serious sporting endeavour, but it all adds to the unique experience of watching and taking part in Roller Derby, and is in no small part responsible for its success and appeal. Derby has been about women since its start, and this is as much part of the appeal for the skaters as it is for the fans. In countries where women’s sport is generally marginalized and female athletes don’t come close to getting the recognition of their male counterparts, a sport that’s as physical and competitive as any on the planet that happens to be dominated by women has obvious appeal. It is also worth mentioning that anyone over 18 can join the team. Nermine furthermore illustrates: “We have mommies in the derby team. I am 36 years old. It feels amazing to play at such age in a sport you like.”
Roller Derby is breaking the mold. From the beginning, Roller Derby has broken the acceptable boundaries of who gets to participate in sports and what it means to be feminine and masculine – and its “do-it-yourself” and “for the skaters, by the skaters” ethics has fostered a wide-ranging inclusivity in the sport. It is the spectacular coming-of-age sport that should grasp everyone’s attention, including the wide sports-loving audience here in Egypt.
Going Deep gives its full support to everyone at CaiRollers, and hopes they will thrive, reach their goals, and one day represent Egypt at the World Cup. Go CaiRollers!