Roller Derby has been around since the 1930’s but has only recently made it across to the UK—and it’s spreading fast! This female dominated game has leagues all over the world and is even under consideration for the 2020 Olympics.
In this full contact sport two teams of five players skate in the same direction around a track. Each team has a ‘jammer’— the ‘jammer’ scores points by making laps around the track and the objective of each team is to block the opposing ‘jammer’.
WLM recently met up with west London mum, Courtney ‘Bette Noir’ Welch one of the founders of the London Rollergirls:
Tell me a little about yourself…
I am 38 years old and I grew up on the west coast of the USA in Oregon and California. My career has been focused in internet consulting and development in the role of project manager. I moved to London 5 years ago with the intention of working here for a few years and then going home, but I met my British husband and here I am now with a 19 month old daughter and a West London family life!
What part of west London do you live in?
I live in Brackenbury Village, which is between Ravenscourt Park and Hammersmith.
How long have you been skating and in the London Rollergirls?
I was one of the founders of London Rollergirls. I played derby in California and I knew I wanted to move to London so I helped start the league back in 2006 while I was still living in the USA. I officially moved over in the spring of 2007 and have been skating full time with LRG since then.
Did you do any other form of sports before becoming a Rollergirl?
I was a fairly active child, running around, biking, swimming and rollerskating. I also grew up with 3 brothers so we played a lot of sports games in the back garden. I played “soccer” competitively in my early teens.
What drew you to this sport?
It was definitely the combination of roller skating (which I have always loved) and the dramatic flair. When I started roller derby, there was definitely more emphasis on the theatrical qualities and the fun outfits – which I also found appealing. Nowadays the athletic and sport takes focus – a natural progression and also hugely compelling. Well yeah, and I am also pretty competitive, so team sports appeal to me.
What athlete or person inspires you?
I am never able to answer this type of question! I can’t really say I have one role model that sticks in my mind. I will say that there are women I know who play roller derby at a highly competitive level and still manage to have children and families and careers. They definitely inspire me and leave me a bit in awe as to how they do it all at such a strong level.
How has the roller derby taken off in the UK? What are your hopes for the league?
Roller Derby has taken off like wildfire in the UK. I am astounded that we have gone from 1 league in 2006 (us) to over 75 active leagues in the UK at the current time. It’s definitely viral, all you need is a few gals in a new town to hear about it and *boom* a new league sprouts up. I think it really appeals to women in the UK to have this amazing outlet to get involved in a seriously competitive and exciting sport – and the quick growth is a real testament to how much they end up loving it.
As for London Rollergirls – we continue to have big plans. We were the first league in the UK, and the first league accepted into the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) outside of North America. We are currently ranked as one of the top 20 all star teams in the world – which is a huge achievement given most of the top competitors are in the USA and we are a bit isolated from that. In last years WFTDA East Region Playoff our All Star Team (London Brawling) started as the bottom 10th seed and ended up in 5th place – which was a precedent setting performance. We want to take it even further, and hope that soon we can represent a new European region at the WFTDA Championship tournament.
We would also love to continue to grow our audience and fan base. We put on some amazing and fun events, and the more people who can enjoy this, the better. We strive to be a family friendly event, and we would absolutely love to see more and more kids in the audience. Some of our favourite moments are when we have had a group of girls and boys attend our bout for a birthday party.
What does your child think of you being in the Rollergirls?
My daughter is only 19 months, so I don’t think she is quite at the awareness level to understand that mummy is a rollergirl yet. But she does find it highly amusing to see me skating around, and stares and stares at me. I often dress her up in team colours and mini-rollergirl outfits when she comes to our events and she loves to ham it up in them.
What has being a Rollergirl taught you?
I have always been a confident and strong person, but being a rollergirl has really solidified this. I have a better self image, and have learned to love the power that my body has. I have learned that I can really tough it out and not just give up when things are hard. And it’s not just about physical stuff either – after all we don’t just skate, we run the entire business and league. I have learned that I have a drive to create something amazing, and to keep working at it to strive for more success. I think this has helped me in my career outside of derby as its made me more confident in my leadership and management skills. Even though we are living in 2012, we women still often struggle to find our way in the corporate world that is forever dominated by men, and it of course only gets harder when we have children. I really feel that if I didn’t have the experience and drive that has been strongly reinforced by being a league director and founder, I would have less of that strength and confidence in my “real” career.
Where do you and your family like to hang out in west London?
We love our little neighbourhood of Brackenbury Village – aka “The Brack” – and we probably eat at Raouls on Hammersmith Grove WAY too much. We head over to Ravenscourt Park all the time, as it’s such a little gem with everything in a small local package. Sunday pub lunches are usually had at the Angelsea Arms or the new Hampshire Hog on King Street. Shopping still sees Westfield as a must, but I love strolling on Chiswick High Street too. Of course, being American, I cannot stay away from Whole Foods on Kensington High Street for very long!
How hard is it is to become a Rollergirl? Is there specific training and tryouts to become a member of a team?
Its not as easy as it used to be! As you can probably imagine, with the growth and interest levels in roller derby there are tons of ladies in London who want to join up. We used to have an open league and anyone could join with no skating skills. Now we require people to learn the basics of skating before they get involved in derby. We actually run a recreational league as the entry point for new skaters now, and then we hold occasional tryouts for ladies to make it into the main league.
It does take a large time commitment to be a skater. Within London Rollergirls, we have 3-4 training sessions a week depending on your level. The minimum amount of practice you could expect to attend would be 2 league practices a week, with an additional team practice once a month. The ladies on the all-star team might spend 4 or 5 nights a week either skating or doing gym training. And of course, everyone pitches in with the work that helps keep the league running.
As you can imagine, this time commitment is not always baby or family friendly. It’s definitely harder to be in the top competitive level when you have to worry about childcare and extra time commitments. Having a supportive spouse helps! (aka Derby Widows)
But there are always different ways to get involved, even if people don’t have enough time to be an active skater. We are always looking for non-skating officials and referees. And we even have our own volunteer cheerleading squad called The Jeerios.
Or hey, anyone is welcome to be a fan!
For more information on the London Rollergirls please visit: