April 10, 2012 • In web :: Features
Pump Up the Jams
Emily M. Keeler looks at the passion that fuels Toronto Roller Derby.
Walking onto the track, the first thing you notice is the women are taller and faster on skates. Much faster. They bump and pass each other, and in the last jam the crowd is screaming, cheering, and pumping their fists. Margaret Smackwood blocks an opponent; her teammate Viktory Lapp overtakes the pack. It looks like they've done the impossible, that they've got this in the bag with only a breathless 25 seconds left in the game. The stands are erupting and the crowd is practically feral.
At the Toronto Roller Derby season opener last month The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, or the D-VAS, split their team in half to play against each other for the first of the night's two bouts. When I asked the team's co-captain, Margaret Smackwood, if it would be weird to play against her teammates, she shrugged. “Yeah, we practice against each other all the time. And at parties, someone usually ends up hip-checking someone else. We can't help it; we always end up making contact. There are always hits.”
It was the hits that interested me when I approached Smackwood for this piece. When she's not on wheels her name is Meghan MacDonald, and, like me, she works with books and publishing. The literary world may be where our paths originally crossed, but it was her occasional bad ass Derby tweets that intrigued me. When I met with Smackwood at a coffee shop I couldn't keep myself from telling her how intimidated I was by the Derby girls. She laughed. That's how almost everyone feels at first, she told me. These skaters are made of some seriously tough stuff.