Last weekend, a spectacular gathering of sportsmanship, community, and innovation came together for a weekend-long event in the most unsuspecting place. At a sports center tucked away in Bucks County, Feasterville to be exact, that’s 45 minute drive from the heart of Philadelphia, the roller derby community gathered for the 10th annual East Coast Roller Derby Extravaganza (ECDX) produced by Philly Roller Girls and the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA).
In just over a 48 hour span, 44 roller derby bouts were played across three different rinks providing non-stop game viewing. Athletes and their fan base took planes, trains and automobiles to get to the event- literally. The variety of accents and dialects that could be heard during the weekend were plentiful-and included travelers who journeyed from Canada, England, Australia and beyond.
For many, the Roller Derby strikes thoughts of the Ellen Page, Whip It, film. But for the hundreds of attendees that participated at ECDX, in addition to the thousands who listened to the bouts from home via online streaming, roller derby is a way of life.
As a disclaimer, I am not a roller derby player. Nor do I lack any coordination that would allow me to function on wheels.The sport appeared on my radar back in 2012, when my co-worker, Erica, began talking about her involvement with the sport.
Over time Erica (known as Double H in the derby world), became one of my best friends, and I began to hear all about this female-dominated sport that has been continuously growing around the globe. Through it, she shared about the amazing friendships created through the sport, and her own derby-themed love story. My 1st time watching roller derby was 2013, when she asked me to attend a bout she was announcing so that I could keep an eye oh her young son. While babysitting, I took in everything that was going around me. The derby names everyone goes by(some of them still make me blush), passionate fans waving handmade signs while screaming their hearts out, and women who willingly lace up skates to participate in a game where it is a strong possibility to end up with a bodily injury. Still even knowing that the impact looks worse than it actually is, I wince and get concerned when I watch Erica get knocked around on skates. Being a spectator of roller derby is not for the faint of heart.
Since that initial experience, I have evolved from derby babysitter to multimedia volunteer for ECDX. 2016 marked my 4th time at the event, making it my most engaged involvement. Throughout the weekend, I worked with the legion of ECDX volunteers who put their blood, sweat, tears and talents into the annual event.
Most, if not all, people who made ECDX possible sacrificed hours of their personal lives to bring the event to life- encompassing multi-faceted roles including photographers, announcers, referees, merchandisers, broadcasters, recreational planners, and maintenance. To say that their dedication to making the experience a memorable one is a labor of love is an understatement.
Throughout the weekend, I was able to work alongside another creative mind, an event volunteer and skater named Taco Cat, to capture video and photography. Each day, we worked on producing and posting short 30-90 second video clips for fans following along on Facebook. Additionally, we worked on producing Facebook Live reports throughout the weekend, all made possible by using an iRig microphone and my iPhone 6s Plus. You can check out some of my favorite shots and video clips below, and also by liking the ECDX Facebook page.
While I still am pretty hazy about what actually goes on during the game, it is impossible to not get swept away by the emotionally charged atmosphere that radiates throughout the rink and into the stands of fans. From the sidelines, voices are lost due to the intensity of cheering while others are literally shaking with excitement when their team is about to take the lead in the last 2 minutes of a bout. Players filled with determination to contribute to their team continuously bounce up and down from the ground as if the track was rubber. Being part of something bigger than themselves that is formulated by a collection of people who are equally as passionate, is what continues to fuel roller derby skaters when their body is covered in bruises.
But the best part about the roller derby community is something that is really hard to find as an adult- a community of acceptance. There is no stereotypical roller derby person. Athletes, volunteers and fans are diverse in every aspect- body type, sexualtity, gender, financial status, career experience, age, and race. Tolerance and acceptance flows freely, allowing so many of the devotees to have a niche in life. Every single person at ECDX had the opportunity to be their uncensored self without fear of judgement. This unique quality is what makes sense for the legions of people who volunteer to make events like ECDX possible in the WFTDA community.
There is a common phrase in the derby community ‘roller derby saved my soul’. After spending last weekend with the roller derby community-the truth in the statement is undeniable for every attendee.
I am grateful to the inspiration experience to support a community that provides both an amazing outlet for women athletes and community members to become empowered through their passion
To learn more about the roller derby community, and to find a league in your neck of the woods, click here!