Fast-paced sporting craze helping North East women get fit and active

Roller derby is a fast paced, full contact sport that is proving popular with women of all ages and sizes in the region

Kerri James playing roller derby
Kerri James playing roller derby

If you are bored at the gym and looking for something challenging to try, then roller derby could be exactly what you’re after.

The fast-paced, full-contact sport is played on roller skates and one session can burn more than 1,000 calories in just two hours.

Roller derby is a sporting craze that has been gathering pace in the North East for a number of years.

In 2009, Newcastle Roller Girls was established in the region, and the sport has seen an explosion in popularity over the past five years.

Women of all ages, shapes and sizes have been taking to their skates in record numbers, reaping the health benefits as they power around the track.

Four-and-a-half years after starting roller derby, Kerri James – aka Kalamity James – is three stone lighter, a shoe size smaller and says she’s never felt so confident about her body.

Throughout school, college, university and beyond, the 27-year-old from Heaton, Newcastle, was always a little larger than her friends, and hadn’t really done much exercise since giving up BMX bike riding, having never really found a sport she enjoyed. All that changed when she discovered roller derby.

After taking up the hobby Kerri, who lives with boyfriend Aaron Oliver, 24, found her clothes became a little looser and she liked what she saw in the mirror more and more.

“As I cut down on the alcohol because I wanted to stay hydrated and not be hungover at practice, more weight dropped off without me noticing and I was getting fitter and fitter,” the acting head of communications at Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust said.

Kerri James (front middle) with team mates Lone Danger aka Emily Potts (left) and Hit One Purl One aka Kate Allen
Kerri James (front middle) with team mates Lone Danger aka Emily Potts (left) and Hit One Purl One aka Kate Allen
 

“I was no longer concerned about the size of my thighs or my bum being too big; all that extra muscle was good for helping me knock people off track!

“I finally stopped beating myself up about the way I looked, something I did constantly in my late teens and early 20s.

“To up my game I started hitting the gym hard, going there most days when I wasn’t at practice in order to be better at roller derby, not to change the way I looked. But it did change the way I looked.

“Although my thighs and biceps grew, everything else shrank, and although I probably put back on some of the three stone I lost, this time it was muscle – I think my ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures speak for themselves, I look like I’m made out of dough in the ‘before’ one.”

Kerri is much healthier now than before she started playing roller derby.

“Having something to work towards, and having to rely on your body to be good at it, certainly makes you think about how you treat it, and how you fuel it,” she explained.

“Personally I think that Maria Miller, the Minister for Women, should lobby for it to be on the curriculum for every teenager. We’re worried about the negative body image of our teens; I guarantee roller derby would cure them of it.

“In roller derby, everyone is equal. Your larger size becomes your greatest asset on track, your tiny frame becomes your greatest asset on track, your super tall height becomes your greatest asset on track. The things girls get picked on for at school become their greatest strength in roller derby.

“What can be more empowering, or level the playing field as much, as seeing the living proof of the adage ‘your difference is your strength’?”

Roller derby is a contact sport played by two teams of five members roller skating in the same direction around a track. Game play consists of a series of short match-ups, “jams”, in which both teams designate a scoring player – the “jammer” – who scores points by lapping members of the opposing team. Teams try to help their own jammer while hindering the opposing team’s one.

Kelly Coates – aka Dollface Dynamo – started playing roller derby in 2011, but took a break after six months to get married and start a family.

She said: “Roller derby has exploded on to the scene in the last four years and it was a sport that I hadn’t event heard of until my early 30s.

“Newcastle Roller Girls was already well established by the time I started the ‘Fresh Meat’ intake in 2011.

“I played a few times for the Hinnies – currently ranked 55 of 260 in Europe – but I was only playing for six months before taking a break to get married, then our honeymoon baby arrived nine months later.

“At that time in my life I couldn’t commit, and I’m sure many doubted that I would return. I took a year and a half out in total and didn’t put my skates on once in that time.

“But, I said I would come back and I have. I’m six weeks into rejoining and still breastfeeding. I feel a little bit like a dishevelled superhero, but I must admit I’m quite pleased with myself.

“My fitness levels will take time to build up as roller derby is a high-impact sport – regular short bursts of energy are needed, similar to interval training but with the mental ability to think tactically and a level of physicality akin to rugby.

“It really is an adrenaline rush and very addictive, and even though I can’t dedicate 100% of my time to the sport, being a mum and playing roller derby aren’t at odds with each other.

“Coming back has helped me to work on my fitness goals like building muscle tone, improving agility, stamina and cardiovascular health, and to focus less on bouncing back into shape like ‘celebrity mums’.

“Roller derby has given me an appreciation of what my body can do. I can now honestly say ‘I appreciate my large thighs’ because they make me strong and fast on track and that’s an empowering thought.”

In the North East Emily Potts – aka Lone Danger – is head coach at Newcastle Roller Girls. She’s been skating and coaching roller derby for almost five years and has seen first-hand the difference it can make to people’s lives.

“People join us and they’re often a little out of shape and just looking for a new fun way to get fit, which it is, but they quickly get hooked and then find themselves getting fit so they can play more derby,” she explained.

Roller derby changes how a lot of women view themselves, being fit, healthy and strong takes precedence over dieting or losing weight.

Emily added: “Plenty of people have done our beginner course and even if it hasn’t been for them, they’ve continued with a different sport or a new exercise. I’m proud to be part of something that encourages women to get out there, try stuff and make positive changes to their lifestyle.”

For all that it’s fun to play, roller derby is a full-contact sport and it demands a high level of physical fitness, agility, strength and stamina. For people who want to give the sport a try, Newcastle Roller Girls run a 15-week ‘Fresh Meat’ course twice a year that takes skaters through all the basics, learning how to skate safely. After passing the course, skaters can join.

“At that stage you’ll just be skating once a week and learning the ropes, but for anyone who sticks at it and puts the effort in there’s plenty of opportunity to play for our travel teams,” explained Emily.

For those interested in roller derby who don’t want to skate, the league also welcomes sponsors, non-skating officials and referees. Details are at www.newcastlerollergirls.co.uk

Marie Roberts – aka Missy Pow Pow – vice captain of Newcastle Roller Girls, says she always loved keeping fit and playing sport.

“When I was younger I played football, netball and basketball,” she explained.

“After leaving school, then college, then university and going it alone in the real world, the time really dried up and motivation, at times, to be part of a club.

“But I still wanted to keep fit and watch my weight, which I was always very conscious of, so I dropped into the gym routine three to four times a week – 20 minutes treadmill, 20 minutes stepper and 10 minutes bike, then weight machines. I did this for about 10 years. Looking back now it seems so tedious.”

About two years after having her son, Johnny, Marie started looking for something new.

“I’d gone back to my regular gym sessions and was getting bored,” she explained. “That’s when I discovered roller derby.

“I did skate when I was younger, but just around the streets and occasionally at the roller disco under the Swallow Hotel in Gateshead. From that very first session I loved it. The skaters were great fun, and super confident. The time flew.

“Over the months I got better and better. At first I was only eligible to attend one session a week but when I passed my minimum skills I was able to go twice a week – it got harder but still I loved it.”

More than three years later Marie is still going strong, she said: “I know some people may say this a lot, but I don’t see roller derby as exercise, although it certainly is, burning around 1,200 calories a session.

“It’s the pure enjoyment factor that keeps me going back.

“I now weigh more than I ever did but I’m toned and have the confidence in my body and appearance that I always strived to get at those gym sessions, but never found.”

Emma Potts – aka Hooters #2820 - added: “Before roller derby, I was fat and miserable. I would never try new things, or go anywhere or do things on my own.

“Since joining Newcastle Roller Girls I’m much more confident and happy. I don’t care about being thin anymore; I just want to be fit and strong.”

More than two years ago, The Journal collaborated with Nova International to launch our Great North Fitness Revolution.

The campaign is challenging everyone to make a pledge to get active and make the positive changes that will lead to a better quality of life.

Newcastle Roller Girls train and hold home games at the Walker Activity Dome, on Wharrier Street, Newcastle. The team are always looking for skaters, referees, and non-skating officials.

To find out more about Newcastle Roller Girls, go to www.newcastle rollergirls.co.uk, tweet @NRGrollergirls or log on to www.facebook.com/NewcastleRollerGirls

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