Words: Franca Mignacca & Gabrielle Béland
Photography: Franca Mignacca & Savanna Craig
It wasn’t until she turned 35 years old that Leann Brown laced up her very first pair of roller skates. She never thought of herself as athletic and it had never crossed her mind to try it. As she was scrolling through Facebook one day in 2016, she stumbled across an ad for The New Skids on the Block bootcamp and decided to sign up on a whim.
“I thought, ‘Ah, 35 is a reason to just buy skates and try this.’ I guess it was like an early midlife crisis,” said Brown.
Since then, Brown has been a regular skater at Montreal Roller Derby (MTLRD). Founded in 2006 by Alyssa Kwasny, known best by her derby name Georgia W. Tush, the non-profit organization became Canada’s first flat track roller derby league and counts more than 300 members today. In 2009, it also became the first Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) league outside of the United States.
The MTLRD has a total of six teams: one rookie team—Smash Squad—three home teams—La Racaille, Les Filles du Roi and Contrabanditas—and two travel teams—the Sexpos and the New Skids on the Block.
Their A-team, The New Skids on the Block, held their annual bootcamp on April 6 and 7 at the Centre Bruxelles in Montreal North. Over that weekend, established members of the Skids taught new skaters some of the fundamental skills it takes to compete in roller derby, like how to fall properly and how to block opponents.
Proceeds from Montreal Roller Derby’s merchandise sales, like team patches, are used to rent training space and fund the league’s travel games. (Photo by Savanna Craig)
Brown didn’t hesitate to attend the bootcamp once again. But improving her agility skills wasn’t her only reason for going back this year.
“My style is kind of brutal. I enjoy hitting and pushing through.”
-Leann Brown, better know as Leann T. Christ
Brown is known as Leann T. Christ around the rink. She is a self-proclaimed rookie, but she skates with both the Montréal Sexpos and Les Filles du Roi.
“To be able to hit Skids [team members] is a fun thing to do. And I get to do it often now because, as part of the festivals, we play against the Skids and we swamp them up,” she said with a laugh.
As a jammer, Brown’s role is to score points for her team. To do so, she needs to skate laps around the rink faster than the opposing team’s jammer, while avoiding opponents who try to block her way.
The sport has given Brown a new sense of confidence. She admits she was not a natural. But, as she practiced more, she felt herself improving, which she said was rewarding.
Roller derby requires balance and skill. However, Leann Brown, who goes by her derby name Leann T. Christ, said even those who have no athletic experience can participate. (Photo by Savanna Craig)
Brown said people shouldn’t feel intimidated to get into roller derby, even if they have no athletic experience or are unsure of themselves.
“This is really a sport that you can continue to do well into your 40s, and be very athletic and be very good at it,” she said.
As the mother of a young son, Brown said she appreciates the league has a babysitting program so mothers can bring their children with them to the rink when they practice. At its core, it’s an intersectional feminist league with a goal of making the sport as inclusive as possible, Brown said.
“This is a space that is accessible and welcoming […] This is why we call it the derby cult, because you really get close to everyone, and get so passionate not only about the sport itself, but the people in it,” said Brown.
New Skids on the Block
It was the roller derby scene itself that drew Alicia Biggley to Montreal. After skating with a roller derby team in Toronto for several years, she wanted to become more competitive and felt Montreal was the best place to do that. When she arrived in Montreal she was stunned by how large the roller derby community was.
“I took the leap and I moved on over to Montreal to play for the New Skids on the Block and that’s where I am today,” said Biggley. The Skids is Montreal Roller Derby’s elite team. They are ranked number one in the Canadian Roller Derby league. The team is composed of 20 fierce members who compete internationally.
Alicia Biggley, or Biggley Smallz, moved to Montreal so she could compete in roller derby professionally.
(Photo by Franca Mignacca)
Biggley, or Biggley Smallz, says she is proud to wear the neon colours that characterize the team. As their name suggests, they are highly influenced by 90s pop culture. Biggley herself started out as a “90s rollerblade kid.” Around seven years ago, when Biggley was 25 years old, she stumbled across a pair of roller skates in a thrift store and decided to take them for a spin.
“It kind of made sense to me,” said Biggley. “My background came from football and then I was also an avid rollerblader. So, if you combine those two I feel like that’s just perfectly roller derby.”
Biggley says the team is now bigger than ever before and has players of all levels and backgrounds on it.
Run by volunteers and staff workers, all of the organization’s proceeds from ticket sales, merchandise, drinks, and special events are used to rent the training space and fund away-games. Since the beginning, their golden rule has been “for the players, by the players,” a saying that rings true to those who are passionate about the community they’ve created.
“I guess something that’s really nice about roller derby is the community. It’s all diverse and it is more acceptable on many levels,” Brown says. “Different sizes, ages and shapes can bring something different and have different skill sets.”