Ever wanted to know how to set up a roller derby league that will still be going from strength to strength seven years later? Well, I did, so I spoke to Demi Lition, the founding member of the Kent Roller Girls as they celebrate the league’s 7th Birthday this weekend.
So, can you tell me a bit about the story of how Kent Roller Girls came to be? What made you decide to go for it in the first place and how many people turned up for the first practice?
I started skating in summer 2008 with Leeds Roller Dolls and moved back down south in late 2009. Stubbornness / stupidity meant that I refused to leave LRD and continued travelling back up every Sunday for a 2 hour practice so I could stay with my team! I managed around 6 months of the 500 mile round trip before I realised that I was just spending way too much time and money when I could just transfer to a closer league. Initially, I was going to transfer to London Rollergirls and started attending their sessions but realised quite quickly that I wouldn’t be able to make enough sessions to ever be able to skate for them, so starting a team in Kent was the only way to carry on playing.
In May 2010 I set up a Facebook group thinking that maybe within 6 months I would have enough interest to start looking at halls and I’d have a load of time to start figuring out how the hell you start a roller derby league! A couple of people had attempted starting leagues in Kent before but had never got past the “setting up a Facebook page” stage. Within 24 hours I had 400 likes and 30 people message me and it all became a little more urgent! Luckily the guys at The Pier Sports Centre in Herne Bay were on board with me hiring their hall for this crazy sport they’d never heard of and we managed to set a start date! The sports centre hosted a lot of skating events already and had their own skate shop along with tonnes of hire skates so we ended up in the best place possible!
The first session we had 17 people, possibly only 2 of which had been able to skate already. No one really had any idea of what roller derby was and I’d never done any sort of coaching before (or really spoken in front of groups of people before) but we all muddled along and people got hooked!
Obviously there’s not much in terms of money and funding out there for roller derby, so what do you think has enabled the league to keep going for the last seven years?
In the early days a lot of the hall hire came out of my own pocket (and the pockets of other people in the league) as our numbers were never consistent and we couldn’t always cover the cost of training. We held a lot of fundraisers in the early days to make sure that wasn’t a problem for too long (and to pay everyone back!) and that really helped us to keep going. These days its mostly monthly dues that are covering all costs and helping us grow the league. Continual recruitment and regular open days have really helped keep those numbers up!
We always have plans to grow the league though so we’re always looking to raise more through home games, merch sales, fundraisers and sponsorships. It’s a never-ending quest!
How important has it been for KRG to set up a rec league?
The formation of the Rec League has been crucial in keeping KRG running and bringing up new skaters into the main team. We used to have a fresh meat programme which put a very limited time period on when you had to pass your skills by and if you didn’t, you had to wait until the beginning of the next one. The Rec League lets everyone progress at their own pace and its less pressure then having to pass within a certain time. And if you have no interest in playing full roller derby and just fancy learning skating skills every so often, its there for you too!
Our Rec guys are the most enthusiastic, supportive group of people I have ever met and I love seeing their progress each week. They cheer on each other’s achievements, pick each other up when they’re down and are the best support system for each of our members. They’re all awesome!
What are you most proud of looking back over the last seven years of KRG?
This is always a difficult question, because there is just so much that we’ve achieved. Being promoted to Tier 2 in British Champs last year was amazing, and there have been a lot of games we have surprised people on. I do always look back at our first game and am amazed that we actually got to a place where we looked like we knew what we were doing! We were out there and we were playing roller derby!
Mostly I’m proud of the fact that we have managed to get 100s of people on skates! People who may not have ever thought about playing a team sport and who may not have exercised in years are taking this sport seriously and looking to be the best they can. And they’re doing a bloody ace job of it!
How do you think roller derby has changed in the years since KRG first began?
Ha! So much has changed! Roller derby is being considered as way more of a sport these days, less about the spectacle of girls in fishnets beating the crap out of each other. These skaters are athletes. They train harder than ever before and the level of derby and athleticism these days is incredible!
The rules have obviously changed a huge amount – no more minors, knee starts, poodling, two whistles (and trying to drag out that 2nd whistle) – and we all learned how to actually slow the game down instead of just whizzing around hoping to hit someone!
What would you like to see for the league in the next seven years?
Apart from world domination, that answer will always involve the word “Warehouse”! I would love for the league to have their own home. Somewhere we can base everything and skate whenever we like! I think it’s achievable within that time, but it’s just going to take a lot of hard graft!
Having our own home would mean we get to run a lot more beginners skate sessions and introduce so many more people to a life on 8 wheels!
If you would like to join Kent Roller Girls or possibly even buy us a warehouse then do drop us an email at email@example.com. You can also follow us on Facebook, just click here to get through to our page and give us a ‘like’ to stay updated or follow us on Instagram.
Kent Roller Girls are proud to present CartoonAPalooza, a Rookie Women’s Sevens Tournament – 26th August, 10am–7pm at the Bay Sports Arena, Herne Bay.
Six 90s cartoon themed teams made up of seven skaters each go head to head… there can only be one winner!
We are inviting rookie skater’s to join us on track to take part in this awesome event. All players are guaranteed 3 games, the entry requirement is that you are rookie level (eg. played 0-7 bouts) and are minimums skilled passed.
Tickets are £20 each (includes the price of your team shirt) and will be available from our online store from 9am, Friday 9th June.
Want to come and watch this exciting event? Spectator tickets will be coming soon – keep your eyes out here and on our Facebook page for details!!!
“January was six months ago, so it’s kind of weird to talk about New Year’s resolutions, but this year mine was quite simple really. I just wanted to be happier, so one of the first things I did was that I quit my gym membership.
If you enjoy going to the gym then I am genuinely very happy for you. Some people really do, but for me I just felt it was something I was doing for some kind of end result rather than because I actually liked it in any way.
Also, it was just a waste of money because with two young children I hardly had anytime to actually go. I joined thinking I could do crazy things like getting up super-duper early and going before the school run, but that never really worked out because my husband can’t do any morning school runs. I went a few times in the morning before work or on my way home if I’d done an early shift, but I was just totally exhausting myself. Squeezing a knackering workout into the edges of my day was not making me feel good and I think mainly because I was not having fun, at all, in any way while I was there.
I even tried a session with a personal trainer to try and help motivate me a bit more. It was slightly humiliating at the initial assessment. We went to a little corner of the gym where there were some scales and a battered looking desk in an alcove. On the wall of the alcove were several motivational posters with pictures of muscly looking men on them, jogging next to flaky looking women wearing full make up and a push-up sports bra.
She weighed me and I winced at the number. I was at least two stone heavier than before I started having children.
I think she may have measured me a bit around the belly and the thighs as well and also we had to go through this massive form together about what I eat, how much alcohol I drink and how active I am during the day. She asked me if I already did any other sports.
‘No,’ was the answer.
‘I mean, I used to go running quite a bit,’ I said. ‘I wanted to try rugby a while ago but I was always pregnant or breastfeeding so I thought it might be a bit dangerous for me and I used to do long distance running, but I don’t really have the time now and it’s just difficult fitting it in around the kids and stuff so . . .’
I looked at the picture of the wall of the woman jogging. She didn’t look like she made any excuses about not fitting runs in.
She also looked like a total knob.
‘And what are your aims?’ The personal trainer asked me. ‘What do you really want to get out of coming to the gym?’
‘Mmmm . . . well . . . I just want to feel like . . . sort of . . . I just want to feel a bit better I suppose. I want to feel stronger and just like I am moving around a bit more. I dunno.’
I stared off into the middle distance. I couldn’t quite say what it was that I wanted to achieve.
‘Do you just want to get your body back?’ She asked me.
I looked at her.
She was so young and slim and beautiful and her eyes held the brightness of the kind of human being who gets at least seven to eight hours unbroken sleep a night on a consistent basis.
‘My body back?’
‘Yes, you know?’ She sort of motioned towards the extra weight I was carrying around my middle. ‘Do you just really want to get your body back? Like . . . erm . . . do you just want to look like you did before you had kids?’
‘Erm, I dunno. I don’t think I can really do that and also, I just . . . I just want to be stronger and just feel better, you know? Like, when I am running. It’s just . . . I just feel happier.’
‘So you don’t really want to work on your problem areas?’ She asked as if I was completely insane.
I thought about my ‘problem areas’ and what they had been through over the last few years of pregnancy and miscarriage and childbirth and breastfeeding. I thought about my body and what it has done in the last six years of my life, how it has grown and birthed and fed and held and washed and dressed and chased and tickled and played with two new human beings who have come into the world and have been sustained in this world through my body. My body which has swelled and shrunk and contracted and drooped and got up again and again and again
and again in the night to the sound of crying.
I looked at the personal trainer and realised that the gym just totally, absolutely sucked.
‘Okay, I said. Let’s work on my problem areas.’
A few weeks later I stopped going to the gym. It was boring and knackering and the music was the worst and most annoying music you have ever heard in your life. I just couldn’t fit it in around the kids and eventually it became a real waste of £25 a month.
So for my new year’s resolution I did something that I had been meaning to do for ages. I phoned up and quit. It felt great.
So, what if I told you that now, six months down the line, that I am more into sport than I have been in years? That actually now, some of the best hours of my week are when I am exercising and that those are the days I look forward to the most in the week?
We got my daughter some roller skates for Christmas this year. She didn’t ask for them, she just wanted surprises, but I remembered a few times when we had been to jumble sales and she had seen sets of second hand roller skates she could have bought with her pocket money but they had never been the right size for her.
I also remembered how one night when we had been on our summer holiday, this kid whizzed past us on a skateboard with light-up wheels and it just totally blew her tiny mind.
I kind of knew that she was going to love the skates we had got her, even though she hadn’t asked for them. I shopped around and found some good quality ones, the best that we could afford, with light up wheels which flashed different colours when you rolled on them. I found a kid’s skating class I could start taking her too and watched you tube videos about how to roller skate.
When she opened them on Christmas day she was over the moon. She put them on and immediately fell over and cried.
But we went out to the local parks on dry days and to some local kids skating lessons and slowly but surely she found her balance and picked it up. Soon I was jogging to keep up with her and realised I’d probably have to get my own skates too.
When I say have to, the truth is that helping her learn to skate had really made me want to put skates on my feet again too. I hadn’t been on roller skates since I was about seven but it just looked like so much fun.
I started looking around for some kind of adult skating lessons to go to or something so that I could learn how to roller skate without holding hands with (and possibly taking down) a five-year-old at the same time. In my googling, I found out about a local women’s roller derby team; the Kent Roller Girls. I had no idea what roller derby actually was, but I was vaguely aware that there was a film about it with Ellen Page in and that it was mainly a female dominated sport. From what I could gather looking online, it seemed to be a cross between a race and a rugby scrum but on skates.
Yes, I thought.
This is something I am going to try.
I went along to a recreation league session on my own. I had emailed ahead and found that it was ok to turn up to this as a total beginner. At the recreational league they teach you all the minimum skating skills that you need to be able to play roller derby. Once you have passed these you can try out for a team. I didn’t know anyone there and none of my friends wanted to come with me.
I’ve got to be honest and admit that I felt like a bit of an idiot. Just before I went into the leisure centre I thought,
‘What the fuck am I actually doing? I am an overweight mum in my thirties in a pair of leggings that have holes in and one of my husband’s old t-shirts and I am about to go and learn a sport which looks a lot like knocking people over whilst on roller skates. It is obviously going to be only for 19-year-old sports science students with a background in speed skating or something.’
Also, I remembered this time when one of my husband’s friends found out about parkour and decided he wanted to give it a try and so found out about a local group on the internet, but when he actually turned up to do parkour with them they were literally all twelve-year-old boys who wanted to leapfrog over concrete bollards and stuff.
I was a bit worried I was going to look like a twat.
Luckily for me, I don’t find looking like a twat to be that devastating though. I mean, just in this last week I have ended up accidently going out for the morning in my husbands slippers and turning up for the school run one afternoon with a piece of human poo smeared across my knees (it wasn’t mine btw) so it’s become a sort of default for me.
Anyway, I went in and people were really friendly and said hi and they were not all fifteen years younger than me. Someone got me kitted out with some skates, a helmet and various pads. I had to sign a waiver, put in my gumshield and then I could get started.
Within the first five minutes I was having a lot more fun than I had ever experienced at the gym. The first thing they taught me and the few other newbies who were starting that day was how to fall over. We didn’t even have our skates on yet we just had to run and then kind of knee slide across the floor on our pads. It was awesome.
We did some fitness stuff and got our skates on and then by the end of the first session we had learnt how to (kind of) stay balanced skating forwards and how to stop a little bit. We had also laughed a lot and fallen on our arses loads. I’d had a really good time. I enjoyed myself which is kind of weird considering I had been exercising.
The thing is, how often is exercise just sold to women as something they need to do in order to look a certain way or lose a certain amount of pounds. How often is it just a punishment rather than a pleasure?
Often, what’s sold to women is a way of exercising that has nothing to do with sport and everything to do with making women feel like shit about themselves.
Roller derby to me is the opposite of that. It’s about being a strong and powerful team of women working together and even in the recreational league that I go to, people are always so encouraging to each other and willing each other to do well and to progress.
I felt hooked from my first session of roller derby. As an adult who rarely gets a chance to switch off, messing about on roller skates feels just as much fun as it did when I was seven and me and my friend would skate up and down the pavement outside her house. It has given me a reason to spend some time away from my house and partner and children for a couple of hours each week. It has been awesome to try something totally new and to learn to do something as a total beginner.
I couldn’t quite get out what I wanted to say to that personal trainer all those months ago but I think I am starting to get it now. She asked me if I wanted my body back and I guess that I did, just not quite in the way that she meant.
She wanted to know if I wanted my body back looking like it used to but I just wanted my body back to feeling good again, feeling strong and well and doing stuff.
I don’t really want to work on my problem areas or lose weight. God knows, it’d be great if someone could wave a magic wand and make me look 21 again as opposed to a knackered and overweight mum of two in her thirties, but the thing is, I am a knackered and overweight mum of two in my thirties and if my ‘problem areas’ aren’t that much of a problem for me than they’re not really problem areas anymore are they? They are just ‘areas.’
It was bewildering to the personal trainer to encounter a woman who was not at the gym with the main intention of altering her appearance, of slimming down and smoothing over the ‘problem’ parts of her body.
At roller derby I don’t feel like my body is a problem, not at all. In fact, I’ve been amazed at what my body can actually do when I give it the chance and at what it can learn even though I am not in my teens or my twenties anymore.
Sport doesn’t have to be about changing your body or looking a certain way, but unfortunately this is the way that it is so often packaged up and sold to women. Perhaps that’s the way a lot of people enjoy exercising, I dunno. All I know is that it got to the point for me where looking different was not important. I wanted to enjoy myself. I wanted to have fun. I wanted more happiness in my life, not more self-punishment or guilt.
And physically, I wanted to be stronger, faster, and more able to chase my two-year-old around the park. After years of hardly any sleep and sitting down for hours feeding babies I wanted to feel less like a sack of aches and pains at the start of each day and less out of breath when I go up the stairs fifty million times a morning looking for stuff my daughter needs to put in her book bag for school.
I’m sure there is a place for the kind of approach of the personal trainer that I had a session with, you know, starting off with what you want to change about your appearance and then exercising accordingly, but can you imagine how much more fun it would be to play an actual sport instead? What about a dance class? What about hockey or football or netball or rugby? What about roller skating or rock climbing or basketball or anything really that is actually about enjoying what you are doing and champions what you are able to do as opposed to just trying to be slimmer?
Anyway, if you can relate to what I’m saying then I’d encourage you to try something new like I did. You always feel like a knob turning up to something for the first time but it can be so good to have a crack at something new. Trying roller derby has been just what I needed and I have met an amazing group of women too. Women of all ages, shapes and stages of life.
I thought I’d be the only Mum there when I first turned up. I thought I’d definitely be the only person over 30 and overweight. I thought that since I couldn’t even roller skate at all I would be laughed at and people would wonder why I was even there. Walking through the door for the first time was hard, but now I wouldn’t miss a week’s training.
And I was wrong about who else would be there. I wasn’t unwelcome or out of place. It’s such an inclusive sport. From what I have seen so far, there’s a space for every type of body shape on a roller derby team.
Anyway, I could go on about roller derby for ages and I’m not even going to attempt to explain the rules of the game or the fact that there isn’t even a ball. You should watch this video instead about women in sport. It’s got roller derby in it and an awesome poem by Maya Angelou.”
Story behind the name & number: Name- I was struggling to find a name for a long time! A couple of the girls from the team and I went out for a drink to watch the World Cup. During our night out, someone took what I can only describe as an awful picture. I told her to delete it as it made me look manly. She laughed and called me Trevor. Several weeks later I was still being referred to as ‘Trev’ on the track and I knew I’d never shake it (thanks Killa Knightly).The ‘Trauma’ part related to my line of work (A&E nurse at the time).
Number: the number for me held a lot more significance than any name. Just 2 months before I began learning to play roller derby, my Father was murdered. I wanted somewhere to channel my anger and frustration. Instead, I found a second family. Dad died on the 29th November 2013 and that’s the day that changed my life. Without it though, I would never have found Kent Roller Girls. Without them, I might have been in a worse off place. 💛🐎
Jammer or Blocker?: Blocker but always happy to try a jam or two 🙂
Favourite derby move: Chasing the jammer and Hooking them!
Derby role model: Demi Lition. I don’t even need to say why. None of us would be here without her.
Why roller derby?: wrong question, we should be asking why not? It includes everyone. Do you like Star Wars? Or punk rock? Or are you a bit short? Do you think you are overweight? Who cares? Roller derby certainly doesn’t.
How did you get involved with KRG?: after the loss of my Dad, two of my friends (Sammy and Amber) encouraged me to give it a try. I’m very glad I went.
What goes through your mind before a game?: a bag full of nerves!
Your favourite derby moment so far?: Winning at the Championship Playoffs and moving up to tier 2!
Your favourite WFTDA team to watch?: Gotham or London
What’s your day job?: Nurse
What do you like to do off the track?: Martial Arts, long dog walks, I also like studying mother subjects like psychology.
How has roller derby impacted your life?: I could have spent a life time in bitterness and anger after having such a massive part of my life taken from me. Instead, I found an amazing bunch of people who held me up when I was down and celebrated with me in my successes. Nothing can replace what I lost, but Kent Roller Girls have filled a pretty big gap. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has held my hand in my journey and I love each and everyone of those Crazy Horses.
We narrowly missed out on their first victory in tier two of the British Roller Derby Championships on March 4th, when we played SWAT Roller Derby at our home ground, the Bay Arena, in Herne Bay.
We invited the Lord Mayor of Canterbury to come and open the game, who not only got involved in blowing the ceremonial first whistle, but was later seen cheering on our girls in gold from the stands with 200 other supporters.
The final score was close with only 34 points separating the two teams, the majority of which was scored in a 6 minute period when Kent suffered from multiple penalty trouble. Thanks to everyone that came along to cheer on the team! There was an amazing atmosphere in the Arena on the day and it was great to see so many faces enjoying roller derby on our home turf.
We now have two months time to regroup before we take on the London Rockin’ Rollers in the next game of the series. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for details.
Here’s a shocking fact – two million fewer 14-40 year-old women than men play sport regularly. TWO MILLION!
However, over 20 of those women, shook off any fear of judgement that might have held them back from participating in sport and came along to the Kent Roller Girls open day last week to try the extreme sport of Roller Derby for the first time.
Often, time and cost can be barriers to participation in sport (recreational league is £5 a session on a pay as you go basis), but with loan skates and protective gear available the only restrictions were those people placed on themselves about whether they wanted to give it a go or not! The THIS GIRL CAN campaign is being run by Sport England and funded by the National Lottery has local partners to help promote uptake of exercise in women and as a result Kent Sport came to vist the team to see what they were all about and hear their stories.
One participant, Abi Oborne said, ” I bought my daughter some rollerskates and thought, actually, I quite fancy giving that a go…so I looked around and found out about Kent Roller Girls.”
The team runs itself, with the more experienced members, giving up their time to coach the beginners from scratch. “We teach people how to fall safely to start so that takes the fear out of it. Then we put the skates on them, end encourage them to get rolling, which is when the fun really begins!
“Recreational League Derby gives women a chance to have some time for themselves to see how well they can learn and adapt to a new set of skills, whilst having fun and being supported in a friendly environment,” said member Serena Gilbert, 39 ” We have women from a size 6 to 22, from under 5ft tall to nearly 6ft, it’s about whether you can give it your all, rather than how big or small you are.”
This sport is also about what you can do to be useful to the team, both on and off track, as everyone also helps by doing what they can to promote the teams games, act as officials, design tshirts and posters or write funding bids for support to buy new uniforms. Committee member Danielle said “Everyone has another non-derby life and some of those skills can come in handy when setting up a league – which could be anything from the person who organises the insurance and the rate of the hall bookings to someone who arranges to send a teammate a signed birthday card.
“It was great to have Kent Sport visit us and help raise the profile of what we are trying to do as a team – to be empowered and to empower others”, said team founder Demi. “I’m sure we found some future superstars at our Open Day, whether they go on to play in the team or not I hope that everyone found a bit of superhero in themselves – just by being brave enough to start something new.”
Thank you to everyone that donated to our collection for Oasis Domestic Abuse Service and their clients.
We visited the Oasis shop in Margate on Saturday 4th March to hand over your generous donations. Everything you donated will go to help those in need, who often have fled their home bringing few their belongings with them.