CT Roller Derby Brings Bruises and Bonds

Zoe Jensen


People ringed the roller rink in folding chairs, packed sideline booths, and dotted the far exterior on picnic blankets, all while gawking at the CT Roller Derby like the celebrity warriors they are. Crashing into each other, taking fly-high dives onto the wooden floor, moving ballet en pointe around collisions to speed skate around the rink, watching their bouts is seeing comradeship in its most brutal, beautiful, bruise-heavy form. As I too stood in awe of the most extreme falls right before my eyes, I wondered: how did these guys get so badass, and why did they keep going?

On a sunny Sunday evening in early April, the CT Roller Derby, comprising the All-Star Travel Team, the Yankee Brutuals, and the Cutthroats, participated in an interleague bout between the Iron Angels and the Widowmakers. The event took place at Roller Magic, a popular venue for many flat track derby games.

As a fan of the derby movie Whip It, I expected to hear many people cite it as their impetus for joining the league, but I was mistaken. Each person I talked to had a different reason for joining the sport. Florence Nightingmare joined the team two years ago at 52 years old because it was on her bucket list. Furious George is a lifetime skater. Insydious got into roller skating during the pandemic. Mags was the only person who cited Whip It as a push to try the sport but saw this as a natural transition after competing in figure skating as a kid. The league president, Parker Poison, had been skating since she attended the first Connecticut roller skate expo in 2004. After hearing a call for players at that first convention, she signed up with no previous skating experience.

You can visually see the team members' many paths to the rink. Some people wore fishnets and heavy eyeliner; others looked like pro-softball jocks. There were classic New Haven sportgoths and Hartford physicians off-shift. However, they all share a clear badassery. I saw people hit the ground head-first. I saw the players' calves pop off the bone, straining against others, all with wheels on. I saw roller skates kick into the worst possible places on players' bodies. I didn't want to be them at that moment, but I wanted to be as tough as them.

Furious George took so many tumbles that their partner and I, cringing in empathy, kept repeating in unison, "Are they okay?" Aidan, who had never been to a roller derby bout before meeting Georgie last year, now comes with a beach chair in hand to see their partner "kick ass."

The crowd was enamored to watch this Fear Factor sportsmanship on display. The rink was utterly packed, even at an inter-league bout. I was one of seven photographers capturing the intensity of a game. It's clear why sports photographers flock to this sport: proximity to the action, high-scoring games, and tender moments between closely-knit team players.

That seems to be the glue that holds these broken bones together: a bond strengthened through mutual pain and admiration. The players deeply care about each other. Furious George took some of the most intense falls of the bout, which, with their incredible strategy and agility, awarded them an MVP award from the league. Although no one likes it when their friend hurts, seeing one's dedication to the game reflected in others is heartwarming.

Although the Iron Angels won by just a few points, eking out the win in the last minute of the game, there seemed to be no hard feelings. It was an interleague bout, after all, and everyone wanted the opportunity to up their skill level. With the snacks, raucous crowd, and dome-shaped rink, it felt like watching gladiators showing the most intense sportsmanship, bravery, and strength that will ripple for generations.