You don’t have to be a star athlete to do roller derby but you do need to be hardcore.
Photograph by Tracey Sawatzky
Bailie Keller, the 24-year-old known in the roller derby world as “Hell ‘on Keller,” is rolling around a makeshift track on top of West Edmonton Mall’s Ice Palace. She smashes through a pack of four blockers – the defensive line that tries to stop a single skater, known as the jammer – in order to score a few points for her league’s all-star team, the E-Ville Dead.
Keller, wearing her team’s signature green jersey, was one of 14 skaters for the E-Ville Dead in the Canadian Nationals roller derby tournament at West Edmonton Mall in March. The Dead, part of Edmonton’s E-Ville Roller Derby league, travels around North America to several tournaments a year.
Roller derby is a natural fit for Keller, who’s played hockey and lacrosse. “I really love full-contact sports and the adrenalin [rush] you get from hitting people,” says Keller. Her passion for the sport has paid off, as she was one of three Albertans who made Team Canada for the first Blood and Thunder Roller Derby World Cup, held in Toronto back in 2011. Keller brought home a shiny silver medal from the event. “The Roller Derby World Cup was the most surreal and amazing experience I’ve ever been a part of,” says Keller. “I got the chance to play with and against many extremely talented athletes and some of the biggest names in roller derby.”
Keller, an accountant who lives in Leduc, became interested in roller derby after learning about the sport from a friend. “The team and the league have grown substantially since I started [five years ago],” says Keller. You don’t have to be a superior athlete to compete, which is probably why the sport is growing in popularity. While it helps to have a background in skating, there are plenty of ladies in the league who have never played sports before, says Keller. Anyone new to roller derby can take part in the league’s “Fresh Meat” program, an eight-week session where ladies learn to skate, in addition to other derby skills. The E-Ville league, which started in 2006, is for women 18 years of age and older and includes women of all backgrounds.
Roller derby’s more than just a chance to polish off your old roller skates – it’s a hardcore, competitive sport. “There’s a lot of broken ankles, shoulder separations, knee injuries – those are usually the worst – and concussions,” says Keller.
Keller’s had a few concussions, as well as some torn knee ligaments, but the thought of getting hurt never slows her down. “I just get in a different zone completely and I block out all my surroundings and concentrate on what’s going on and where my team is,” says Keller. It would take more than a concussion to stop Keller – she’s had the same fearless attitude her entire life. “I like to do things that push the limits.”