The skates are laced, helmets fastened, knee and elbow pads secured in place—and fishnet stockings donned.
Yes, the Fort Frances roller derby team is determined to show their grit once again with a handful of bouts on the horizon.
“I am so stoked,” Toni Cupp, one of the team’s newer recruits, said about the July 23 bout for the team that will take place at the Delaney Arena in Thunder Bay.
“I just so want to play,” she enthused. “The practices are fantastic, but I’d really like to play a game.
“I saw my first game a couple weeks ago in Thunder Bay and now that I’ve seen it, I’m so excited,” Cupp added.
“We are so going to beat them!”
It will be the first real match for the team, which formed just over a year ago, since they lost their inaugural bout here last fall against a team from Winnipeg’s Roller Derby League.
“I think that in September we had only been around for four months, and [that bout] was to see what we could do and see what we could do here,” reasoned assistant coach Kelly Caul.
“And now it’s like we’re ready,” she stressed. “We’ve practiced for over a year now [and] we’re ready to give it our all now.”
Training wasn’t without difficulties for the team—dubbed the “Fort Freak Show”—which had to find a new practice location once the ice went in at the Memorial Sports Centre here.
They ended up moving out to the old Barwick curling rink for the winter months.
“The space in Barwick wasn’t big enough for hitting, so we’ve been working on endurance a lot and getting our stamina up,” noted Caul.
“And becoming more of a team, just in general,” added coach Aurora Doerksen, noting that when they first started the squad last year, many of the girls didn’t know each other.
“We’re growing as a family, basically.”
Besides endurance, the team also has been working on both positions and strategy.
“That’s the biggest—learning your position, what you’re supposed to be doing, how you’re supposed to do it, and do it effectively,” explained Doerksen.
“It was a challenge just being in such a tiny space,” conceded Crystal Caul, who helped form the team last year and is one of its more experienced members having played in the past for a Thunder Bay derby team.
“I’ve seen every single girl advance in their skating skills, definitely,” she remarked.
“We’ve gotten to do a lot more strategizing because we weren’t able to actually skate on a track,” Crystal Caul added. “And we’ve seen more girls recently just start to come out, so that’s awesome.”
“A lot of girls actually improved over the winter even though it was a small space,” agreed Karen Mitchell, who has been on the team since its start last year.
“We’ve learned skills, and we’ve got a couple new girls in January and you’d never know they were new now.”
As well, the squad has travelled to Duluth, Bemidji, Thunder Bay, and Winnipeg to check out other teams.
“I kind of have my idols, so to speak, on different teams,” noted Mitchell, saying the trips were a chance to see what other groups are doing, what moves they’re using, and what skills can be brought back with them.
“It’s always amazing because there’s always different skaters in a bout that just stand out to you because they have a quirk on a skill that you’re teaching, and it really clicks in your head and you say, ‘I’m bringing that back,’” said Kelly Caul, noting it’s also an opportunity for the coaches themselves to talk and learn from other players.
And district derby fans won’t be disappointed—the local team will be facing off here against Thunder Bay in a bout slated for this September.
As well, they’re working to co-ordinate a scrimmage between themselves, Sault Ste. Marie, and Thunder Bay in Terrace Bay.
“Just getting out there, the crowds, it’s kind of like very euphoric with the crowds screaming at you,” Mitchell said about what she’s looking forward to with the matches while encouraging other women to come out and join the team.
Practices are held every Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the ’52 Canadian Arena. A “fresh meat” session is planned for the June 29 practice for those interested in learning more about roller derby.
“I joined because it was just a great way to meet people,” said Mitchell, who hails from Winnipeg originally.
“I’ve lived here for five years and didn’t know anybody, and it was just a great way to get out and do something [and] great exercise,” she reasoned.
“I wanted to kick some [butt],” chuckled Cupp on why she signed up for the team back in January.
“When the league started, I would have been here then but I was pregnant,” she noted.
“They won’t let [play if] you’re pregnant. Imagine that!
“So I had to wait until the baby was a couple of months old until I was able to play.
“But I wanted to be here from the beginning,” Cupp stressed. “I love derby—I remember watching it when I was a kid back in the ’70s.
“I love the team, I love skating, I love beating the crap out of people, swinging them around, knocking them down,” she added, also urging other women to join the team.
“It’s so much fun—you get out all your aggression,” Cupp said. “You forget about everything while you’re here.
“You’re just skating, there’s nothing like it.”