Roller derby athletes from Calgary and Lethbridge earn lead roles on Canada's junior team

·4 min read
Junior roller derby athletes attend a practice in May 2021. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)
Junior roller derby athletes attend a practice in May 2021. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)

As a teenager, Jenna McLean read a lot of Harley Quinn graphic novels, where she'd see the DC Comics character whizzing around a roller derby track.

The sport intrigued her, and she started doing some research to see how she could get involved, even watching footage of high level players to learn what she could.

Then, after watching Whip It, the 2009 film focused on roller derby, she was hooked.

"The general vibe of the sport was really interesting to me because it's so tough," she said. "It was just like a whole new world."

McLean became a jammer — the player who scores the points — and is now a team captain with the Calgary Roller Derby All Stars, going by the name "Ferris Bruiser."

Earlier this month, she found out she had been chosen by the Junior Roller Derby Association of Canada to act as assistant coach on the national junior roller derby team.

"I'm super excited and proud of myself for accomplishing that … I'm still trying to like, wrap my head around it," she said.

Steph Hansen Photography
Steph Hansen Photography

Joining her as assistant coaches are Raina (Raina Terror) Owen from Saskatoon and Christine (Freddie) Manders from Waterloo, Ont.

The team's head coach is Caroline (Coach Meow) Reimer. She's been coaching the Lethbridge junior toller team, the Wipeouts, for 10 years and also acted as assistant coach for the 2020 national team — but the pandemic caused the cancellation of that year's tournament.

"It's a combination of exciting and terrifying at the same time," Reimer said in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener. "It's a huge honour to be able to fill the boots of the predecessors that went before me. But I'm excited to get working with my assistant coaches and start selecting a team."

WATCH | Earlier this year, athletes with the Calgary Roller Derby All Stars returned to the track:

Later this fall, the coaches will hold tryouts in Ontario and Alberta, open to all genders, to create a new team of players from ages 12 to 17. They'll be travelling to France in July 2023 for the Junior Roller Derby World Cup.

"Since COVID happened in 2020, many of the kids that had made that team have what we call 'aged out.' So we'll be looking at a whole new group of kids coming into this," Reimer said.

"We're definitely on the world scene, and as more World Cups occur and people see the teams that are coming, I'm hoping that will drive some confidence to come out and support us."

How it works

The new team will likely include some Alberta players, Reimer says, as more young people in the province pick up the sport.

"Alberta's probably the hub at this point of derby in Canada," she said.

Obviously, the sport is played on roller skates. Teams of five skate around in an oval — on either a flat or a banked track — trying to score the most points.

One player acts as the jammer. They try to get around the four blockers on the opposing team, who are physically attempting to stop them. A jammer scores points by lapping members of the opposing team.

"It's intense sometimes. I mean, I'm a pretty short person, so a lot of times I'm going up against people that are like two to three times my size," McLean said.

"It can be really scary sometimes, but it's also just like a lot of fun.… I just love skating really fast and doing cool footwork to kind of get around people and just seeing people's reactions."

Lethbridge Roller Derby Guild
Lethbridge Roller Derby Guild

Teams have two minutes to score as many points as they can in what's called a "jam." Those combine to create two 30 minute halves.

"I think it's important for people to know that we aren't just an unconventional sport that fiddles around in the curling club a couple times a year," Reimer said.

"We definitely develop athletes and people who wouldn't normally play sports."

'We accept everybody'

The inclusive nature of the sport is one of the reasons why both women enjoy it so much. It's a feature of roller derby they want to emphasize with their incoming team.

"We accept everybody and every body … anyone can do it. You just have to have the heart," Reimer said.

"The kids need to understand that they need to play smart, they need to play safe. You gotta have fun, and that's the way you're going to win."

Lethbridge Roller Derby Guild
Lethbridge Roller Derby Guild

The program in Lethbridge is continuing to grow, Reimer says, with about 40 junior athletes in the league right now. Registration for their fall intake began this week. Calgary Roller Derby also has a junior program.

For those who make the national team, the coaches will be focusing on building up confidence, comfort and excitement, McLean says. One of her biggest hopes is that the team enjoys competing on the international stage.

The World Cup will take place July 28-30 in Valence, France.

"I'm just really excited to get this show on the road and go to France and see what junior derby looks like in 2023," McLean said.