Sport

At times, roller derby can be contact sport with dress-ups, but you won't get ShortStop in a tutu. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: CHRISTINE MURRAY

Belle on wheels: ShortStop, 29, roller derby skater

ShortStop is a jammer in the Canberra Roller Derby League for the Black ‘n’ Blue Belles. In December, she will skate for Team Australia in the Roller Derby World Cup in Dallas, Texas. 

Richard Cooke You’ve got quite a cult following in roller derby.

ShortStop I’m not good at self-promotion stuff. I’m quite a shy person, so I find it a little weird.

RC As someone who presumably never thought they’d have a brush with fame, what does it feel like?

SS I feel quite privileged. I sort of think of it as being a role model, rather than having a cult following. We have little girls and boys come up after the game, and they ask for your autograph. That’s pretty special.

RC Without blowing your own trumpet, why do you think it’s happened?

SS I’m not quite sure. I’ve asked a few people this question. I think people enjoy the way I skate. My style probably makes me stand out a bit, and being small and competing against slightly stronger-looking women, from all different backgrounds and shapes and sizes. You’d think a little lady probably couldn’t match it in speed and strength, but I go to the gym a lot, so I can. 

RC You were almost named Australia’s greatest female athlete, is that right?

SS That was very interesting. I think a teammate of mine nominated me, but I didn’t actually know until someone posted on my Facebook wall. I was really honoured that she’d nominated me. Because roller derby is quite a close network, everyone sort of got behind me and voted. It came out pretty close; in the online voting I was top.

RC What is it that makes roller derby unique?

SS I think being a full-contact sport that’s geared towards women. We do have men’s roller derby in Australia –I think we have three or four leagues around Australia and then there’s one in the USA – but it’s founded on a female culture. That’s what has attracted a lot of people. 

RC How did you first encounter it?

SS I used to work for my dad in an architecture firm, and one of my friends who worked there had started the sport and asked if I wanted to come watch her for a “friends and family” bout. I think this was in 2009. Then when I saw her rolling out, I was like, I have to do this. You get to roll out on roller skates, and you get to choose a name and you get to dress up. It looked like a lot of fun.

RC When you chose a name, did you realise you’d be choosing an alter ego?

SS Not really, no. I just thought it was kind of signing up to the roller derby culture. You got to choose your name and look cool.

RC Do you feel like a different person when you’re ShortStop?

SS I do sometimes hide behind the ShortStop thing. It’s kind of good because I am shy; in public people don’t really know me unless they’re like a big fan and they know me without my uniform on. But I don’t feel like I’m any different from, say, when I’m at the gym or at work. I just have a different name when I’m on the track.

RC It seems like Canberra in particular has a really strong roller derby culture. Why is that?

SS I think it’s because we only had two leagues in Canberra, so a lot of people know each other. When you go to Sydney there are leagues pretty much popping up everywhere. The fan base only supports the team close to them or the league close to them, so they don’t really branch out. But Canberra’s so small and friendly, everyone knows everyone.

RC While it’s becoming more athletic, there’s still an element of theatricality to roller derby.

SS When you start there is. In our league you dress up in fishnets and have tutus. But I didn’t wear a tutu. I don’t do tutus. As our league has grown, it’s gone more towards the athletic side. I still think with the newer leagues popping up they are drawn to theatrics because that brings in the crowd. In our home games we do tend to sort of ham up the entertainment side, so we’ll do epic rollouts. That’s when the players are introduced. You can choose a theme song and you roll out and have actions or whatever dance movement. But when we play for the rep side, it’s pretty much down to business. We have two different sides, I guess.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 11, 2014 as "Belle on wheels". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.