Cindy Stopper has earned her handle. By day the young entrepreneur goes by the name Christine Richards, owner of Agnes Jean boutique in downtown Squamish. By night she transforms into Cindy Stopper, a dauntless vixen on roller skates hell bent on protecting her own. Richards is one of the original members of the Sea to Sky Sirens, the region's first and only roller derby team.
"I joined because it looked super fun, it always looks like everybody is having a good time so when I saw that it was happening in Squamish I decided to sign up and get involved," said Richards, who had never tried skating before trying out. "Some girls have a lot of ice skating experience, some have none but there is lots of help available through the team and you get better as you go along."
In a game the objective of each team is to ensure one skater (the jammer) gets through the defensive fray, gaining points for every lap they make. At last Saturday's sold out roller derby tournament, held on the polished concrete of Brennan Park's off-season ice rink, Siren jammer Honey Badger (AKA Genevieve Medrano, co-owner of Diamond Head Fish Market) showed tenacity amidst the knocks of her opponents.
"I'm not as big - as a blocker I'm not as effective as the bigger girls so that's why one of my better positions is as jammer," she said. "It can hurt a few days later but at the time there is so much adrenaline and everybody knows you have to commit, you have to be tough out there."
Facing off against Nanaimo's Harbour City Rollers the Sirens pulled together a fantastic last half, closing the point gap significantly before losing 124 - 167. Despite the loss, camaraderie between the two teams was high - one of the key attractants for players like Richards.
"Of course you want to win but at the same time, even when it's all said and done, you're congratulating the other team and pointing out what the other team did great and then you all go out for a beer afterwards," she said. "There is never any animosity and that's what I love the most, everybody helps each other out."
Despite the sportsmanship, it's not all sunshine in the rink. Decked out with mouth and wrist guards, helmets, and knee and elbow pads, roller derby athletes are prepared to skate hard, defend their jammer and block the other team at speed. While outright violence is against the rules, it is a contact sport played on hard surfaces that leave a mark. Because of that, each team member has to pass a standardized skills and written rules test administered by the Women's Flat Track Derby Association before being able to compete, which helps keep players safe from themselves and each other.
"It is a contact sport so it happens but I think it looks a lot scarier than it is, there are injuries for sure, but that happens in all sports that you play," said Richards with a laugh. "I've never done a contact sport before, and have never been involved with one so that was probably the biggest obstacle to get over, was learning that I could hit the other girls."
The Sea to Sky Sirens was founded by Mala Justed (Shannon Handley), who tried to get a team together in 2008. It was a few years before it took off, but she now has 15 team members and eight in training. As the fastest growing women's sport in North America and games taking place all over the province, it's clear it's here to stay.
"As far as the audience goes, it has all the elements of a super entertaining sport to watch - it's really great to be able to come out and see women compete in a sport that requires athleticism but at the same time there's an element of showwomanship and a little bit of glitz," said team captain Meg U Miserable (Megan Daly). "At the same time you're seeing women who are training in a sport and are tough and not afraid of contact and taking some hard falls and as an audience I think that's pretty fun to watch."
The next Squamish tournament will take place at Brennan Park on July 2. For more information or to join, go to http://squamishrollerderby.yolasite.com or the team's Facebook page (under Squamish Women's Roller Derby).