Meet Shaniqua Goodridge. She’s a recent graduate from the Honours BA music program at Brock University, and a current student in the Education program at York University, as well as a seasoned roller derby athlete. In this interview she shares about her experience in roller derby, what the future of the sport looks like, and everything you need to know about trying roller derby for the first time.
Shaniqua has always loved sports. Growing up in Barrie, Ontario, she played volleyball throughout elementary school and started wrestling once she got to high school. At age 16, when she moved with her family to Niagara Falls, Ontario, she was disappointed to find that they didn’t have a city wrestling team like she had hoped. She continued to wrestle at school, but thanks to her mom's friend, she was inspired to try roller derby outside of school. She continued to play while she was at Brock and now hopes to join the Toronto Roller Derby All Stars team.
How did you get interested in derby? Its not typically something you think of right away when you’re thinking about learning a sport.
My mom had a friend who played in London and I adored her. She was so talented. I looked up to her so much and then I started exploring teams in Barrie and Niagara Falls. I just had to go for it!
Were you a true beginner when you started? Or did you have skating experience beforehand?
I did have experience on roller skates. There's a roller skating place in Orillia called The Roller Skating Place. My mom used to take us there, so I wasn’t a newborn giraffe on skates (laughs). I could stand and skate around when I first started, but then getting used to the actual derby skills was… an experience!
I can imagine. Were there other sports or skills that helped prepare you to play roller derby? For example, did you have any experience ice skating? And is there any sort of parallel there or are they really different?
They’re different in that on ice skates you’re balancing more, and on roller skates you're standing trying not to slide back and forth. It’s a bit tough to describe, but there’s definitely a transferable skill. You’re not using your feet, but more of an extention of your feet.
Well that’s good to know. So if any readers out there are already hockey players that might be an easier transition?
Yeah! We have a lot of hockey players actually that turn to derby. Figure skaters too. And they’re just amazing, they’re so fluid on their skates.
What is your favourite part about roller derby?
For me just being on my skates in general is my happy place. I can just go for a skate, tune out the world, and just be happy for a little bit. It’s a great outlet, being on the track with a bunch of women who care about you and are there to have fun. Everyone is so caring. It's like a little family. You have different groups of people - older people, people who are retired, 18-year-old kids, and everyone from all different parts of life coming together with their love for derby.
It’s so unified, empowering and it’s just a great time!
I have heard before that there is a really unique kind of culture around derby. That it's really inclusive and fun. It's good to hear that you experience that too.
Yeah! Literally no matter where you come from, what your background or beliefs are, you'll be welcome at Derby. We have super religious people, like this one woman I’m thinking of, she is older, she’s super religious and she rides a motorcycle and she’s all about derby. And then you have the LGBT+ community, and you have all types of minorities and backgrounds, and it's just amazing.
That sounds really fun. I think I want to try!
You’re a part of a competitive team, but what kind of league do you play in?
So with roller derby you have The Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association (WFTDA) which you can kind of relate to the NHL. So like athletes who play in the NHL, people who play under WFTDA compete for world spots. And even if you don’t play under WFTDA you can still play with other leagues. You can play anywhere you want, there are leagues all over the world. Most leagues in North America hope to get WFTDA membership and have a team on the WFTDA ranking list, but even if they do and the team is not super competitive, they will be much lower on the ranking scale than the more competitive, professional teams that work to be in the top spots.
So you just left Brock, so now are you going to keep playing with your Niagara Falls team, or are you going to join a new one in Toronto?
I did quit the Niagara Falls team, The Garden City rollers a couple years ago, and I would just play in the summer in Barrie with the South Simcoe Rebel Rollers when I came back. Now I am hoping to join the Toronto Roller Derby All Stars team because they are under WFTDA and they skate competitively and I want that so bad!
That’s amazing and it would be so cool
Some of our readers probably don’t know much, if anything about derby. I only know a little bit about it from talking to you, and some of my preliminary research. Could you just outline the goal of roller derby? You have your two opposing teams, but what’s the objective?
So you have two teams, four people from each team go onto the track at time and they’re blockers, then you have a fifth person from each team and that’s the jammer. The jammers have to race around the track in 2 minutes and each person from the other team that they pass is a point. And then whoever has the most points at the end of the entire game wins.
And Are you a blocker or a jammer? Or does your team rotate?
I do everything. There’s also a third position which is called a pivot, and they’re a blocker, but they can also take the jammer position if the first jammer wants to give it up to them. And yeah, I do everything.
That’s great! So you’re sitting pretty for the Toronto ALL STARS team!
I hope so!
Do you participate in any tournaments? Are there different tournaments for different skill levels?
There is actually. Every year there is a Fresh and The Furious Tournament for any skaters who are new to roller skating - anyone who has been skating for under 2 years. Every league, from anywhere can send their “fresh” skaters. They form teams and they’ll do a round robin tournament. It’s a really fun day.
It sounds fun. That way you get to meet all sorts of different people not just the players from your team
One of our primary goals at SeeWhatSheCanDo is to provide women and girls with positive representation in sports media. Did you have any role models growing up or as an adult that have really inspired you to get out of your comfort zone and try something new? I know you mentioned earlier your mom’s friend that got you into roller skating, but did you have any others?
I look(ed) up a lot to my teachers/educators for music related inspiration, and also people who were in grades above me that I saw succeeding in things that I didn’t think I could do. The same goes for sports, just seeing people older than me doing really well at them. Especially my teammates, who can juggle the challenges in their normal lives, and still bring so much talent and commitment to derby.
There was a girl on the wrestling team at my Barrie high school who was incredibly talented with the sport and I wanted to be just like her, and she always told me to just keep trying. When I found derby and noticed there was a travel team (a team that travels and plays competitively), I was instantly fixated on getting onto that team and watching the ladies who were already on it play.
I don’t remember exactly when I first heard about Freight Train, but seeing a fellow visible minority be famous in the derby community makes me incredibly happy. The derby community is definitely very inclusive but you still don’t see a whole lot of BIPOC representation, and to have a very well known, successful, sponsored skater, be a woman of colour, really makes me not want to give up and reminds me I CAN actually do it.
There are a few female influencers on Instagram that I follow that are super buff and really inspire me:
Demi Bagby (demibagby)
Happy Happy Tuesday! This week we’ve got a 10 min partner HIIT workout comin at you from ya girl and queen @brittnebabe 👑 Just posted a follow along workout on my YouTube so grab a friend and let’s gooooo!!! Link in bio :) 10 MIN HIIT 1️⃣ 40S High Knees / Squat Holds 20S Rest & Switch 2️⃣ 40S Push-ups / Situps 20S Rest & Switch 3️⃣ 40S Lateral Jumps / Mountain Climbers 20S Rest & Switch 4️⃣ 40S Twisting Knee Drives / Jumping Lunges 20S Rest & Switch 5️⃣ 40S Push-ups / Squats 20S Rest & Switch Ahhh partner workouts are SO FUN!! For real Brittne I frikin love you and we were vibin allll day 😂💕 don’t forget to switch things up and make some gains! Love you guys ☺️ Come train with me 💪🏼 @demibagbyfit @gymshark @gymsharkwomen
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Serena Abweh (rena_serenaa)
They're always training and posting motivational things. And that’s so great, it really helps to push me. And of course Freight Train (ahsinity). I really look up to her a lot!
Yay. Another clip. 😃Movements might be off in comparison to the music. I had headphones in...🤷🏾♀️ #tinishainreallife #rhythmskating #rollerskating #rollerderby #derby #derbylife #rhythmskating #adultskate #skatelessons #playlandskatecenter #rollerrink #patinaje #patin #riedellsuperstars #jamskating #derby #funfitness #patin #riedellsuperstar #austin #sk8life #itsmyskatenight #riedellskates #skatethestates #sk8 #rollerderby #skateinstructor #riedell #sk8lyfe #funandrollerskates
A post shared by Freight Train (Tinisha Bonaby) (@ahsinity) on
Roller derby was under consideration to be added to the summer Olympics this year as a roller sport, which I’m sure you know, and that’s very exciting. What does a typical match look like and what is the hierarchy of professional athletes? I know you mentioned that there’s a list of all the teams under WFTDA so is it like the top 20 teams are the most competitive? Or what the structure there?
You can go online and look at the WFTDA rankings 2020, and it’ll tell you the teams, their scores, and their rankings. It would be amazing to have derby in the Olympics. I don’t know why it isn’t yet as we have rules, safety, and everything in place. It's one of the most put-together sports but we just don’t have that platform. We’re not even on TV! We should be though. In my opinion derby is one of the most entertaining sports to watch.
And are there international competitions?
Yes, there are. The WFTDA World Championship was held in Montreal last year and I wanted to go so bad! Montreal Roller Derby actually ended up coming in 9th last year, and Rose City Rollers (from Portland, OR) came in first.
Note: According to the WFTDA official website There are currently 451 WFTDA Member Leagues on 6 continents. WFTDA-charter teams compete for mathematically calculated rankings, and at the end of the Competitive Season (February 1 – June 30) are seeded into postseason tournaments (WFTDA Continental Cups and International WFTDA Playoffs & Championships) based on those rankings. More info about tournament structure, rules and ranking can be can be found here and here.
Are there different rules for different skill levels?
There are different rules but they’re mostly for the junior skaters, like the under 18s.
It sounds like a fun sport to watch. I just moved to Fredericton NB and I’ve been looking for stuff to do to keep active and make some friends, so maybe I should see if there are any roller derby teams here and if they’re getting started up again.
They’re everywhere. You can find leagues on WFTDA site in their league finder. And, here's a great resource for finding roller derby leagues in Atlantic Canada.
Fredericton ladies, there's a roller derby league in Fredericton called the Capital City Rollers for any Fredericton gals out there interested in giving roller derby a try! You can find their website here.
So I read that historically derby was super theatrical, and the focus was more on the theatrics than the actual sport. But now it’s more of an actual sport where you compete to win right?
I know that there used to be a lot more dramatic and dangerous moves that they would try to do like whipping, where you pull someone and then throw them so they would go around quickly, or like jumping over people. Sometimes it happens where you have to jump over someone who fell but its not very common anymore. Same with going under people’s legs, it's more about the sport now and the actual competition than it is about the looks and theatrics.
But a fun tradition that has stuck around is the derby names right? Does everyone choose their derby names or do you give each other derby names?
We definitely pick our own. But if you can’t think of one, your team can help you or you can go on a derby Facebook page and say I want it to resemble this … and people will come up with great names. I’ve helped a few people with theirs, I came up with “abraca stab ya” which is a funny one and a girl used it and loves it. It’s just fun. It's like an alter ego.
What’s your derby name?
I’m Rainbow Brat.
I love that. Historically derby has mainly been a women’s sport?
Yes. It's definitely a female dominated sport and I think that makes some men nervous to try it. We always need refs, so often men will train to be refs and go through all of the same process of learning to skate, fall, and stop, and then continue on to learn how to ref. You have all the same techniques and skills but then you also learn all the rules. Its really cool. I love my refs!
Derby isn’t just for women. There are coed and male leagues now too. They’re not as popular, but it’s something that derby has been trying to get into more recently - to be more inclusive, especially of non-binary and transgender folks. You can compete with co-ed leagues too which is a bit different but still a lot of fun. They’re really nice, everyone is just there to play derby and have a good time.
What some people may not know about roller derby and roller skating in general is that it was actually tied very closely to the civil rights movement in the United States, being one of the very first sports to eliminate segregation, and it still holds a special place with the black community today. You personally have been a part of organising peaceful protests as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, a kind of second wave civil rights movement. How has that affected you? And would you say that movement is still tied to the derby/skating community?
I honestly don’t know much about that. I have been reading some articles to familiarize myself with rollers skating being tied to the civil rights movement, but from personal experience, I believe we have come a long way with inclusivity and roller skating. I’ve been lucky enough to only face one discriminatory debate in the derby community, wherein a referee referred to a visible person of colour as “black”, rather than their actual jersey colour. Rules have been set in place from WFTDA since then to hold people accountable for their actions but that’s what it always falls back down to; the individual. Racism is taught, and as long as it’s being taught down through generations, racism will still be around. Regardless of what community you’re in, there’s no telling if there are also racist individuals within the community.
With the retro vibes that have been in vogue in the last few years, and the skaters that have been having a moment on Instagram and TikTok recently, have you noticed a rise in the popularity of roller derby or roller skating in general in the real world or has it been mostly the same?
I feel like there’s more publicity about it. For me its always been around. When I go to the roller rink and there’s a bunch of people there. Rollery derby could use more publicity to generate interest. People tend to get interested once they've been exposed to it.
You mentioned that you went to the roller rink in Orangeville when you were a kid, I actually spent my 13th birthday there as well. Do you know of any recreational roller rinks like that one in your area? Or somewhere where new skaters could go to practice or just for fun?
There is one spot that I know of at the Hamilton Waterfront called Pier 8. In the winter they host ice skating, and in the summer they just have the pad so you can roller skate. It is kind of difficult to find good spots to roller skate because you need a really smooth pavement, or it can mess up your legs with all the shaking. There’s not too much around but there are a couple rinks. A lot of places don’t want roller derby because they think we’ll scuff up the floors. Once you find a league that has a spot though, then you just go there.
I guess if you were just going to practice skating you could just find anywhere that’s smooth pavement like a basketball court or something.
Yeah basketball courts are good, even tennis courts, or outdoor hockey rinks in the summer. Even like a newly paved road.
Well here in Fredericton, for those who have never been, there are all kinds of paths through the city, and most of them are crush and dust gravel, which probably wouldn’t be ideal but the main paths are paved and I’ve seen a few girls skating there. So if there’s a paved walking path or something that could be a good option too.
What would you say to women and girls interested in trying roller derby? Do you have any advice or recommendations for getting started?
Try it. There’s no harm in trying. You can definitely handle it. Your body can handle it. We all have to take time to learn things, and if you don’t give yourself the time to learn things, then you won’t get anywhere. So if you want to do it just give yourself the time to try it and maybe its for you. Maybe it’s the thing you’ve been looking for forever.
I’ve heard that derby can be pretty dangerous, have you ever had any major injures? What kinds of safety measures are in place so that people don’t get seriously hurt?
I’ve never been seriously injured. I believe the most common injury would probably be sprained ankles or in new skaters maybe head injuries if you fall backwards. But it's not something you see at every game. It is a contact sport, so I’ve seen people snap tendons or break ankles and such but it’s the same risk as any sport really. It's more about the people, their technique, and how easily they’re injured. Some people just get injured more easily than others, especially when you have the age range that we do. We wear knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, mouth guards and helmets. Some people wear visors so that their eyes are protected, but it's not an aggressive sport. Most people are playing it for the technique and the strategy, and people aren’t out there to hurt you. There are a lot of safety measures in place and everyone is really respectful of other people’s abilities. If you’re new to skating, no one is going to body check you into the boards. No one does that.
Yeah it's all about helping each other right? Back to the atmosphere we were talking about earlier, everyone is there to have fun and everyone is there to help you get better. It's not like a super competitive “one person has to be the best” kind of sport it's about working together as a team.
What would you say to someone who wants to try derby but doesn’t know how to skate, or is afraid of getting hurt?
Join a league. They will teach you! You literally show up with your skates and say "hey I’ve never been on skates before" and they have designated trainers who are there to teach you how to skate, fall, stop, and stand. You'll also learn what to do if you feel like you’re going to fall. You'll learn everything right from the very beginning, and they will help you work your way up!
Do you have any brand recommendations or resources where new skaters can get good quality equipment?
You have to find what works for you. There are lots of different brands, but they all fit differently. Roller skates are different weights and they sit on your foot differently so you really just have to try a few and find what works best for you. I currently skate on Riedell’s, but I need to get new skates.
Are there any stores near you where you can buy roller skates? Or do you have to order them in a rink, or online ?
There are a lot of online stores. There’s a physical store in Barrie called Rumbling Rage. It’s difficult to find in person shops but a lot of online stores will mail you out a pair that you can try on and if they don’t fit properly you can send them back no problem.
When you go to a derby rink, can you just give it a try, or do you have to sign up for a given amount of time?
It depends on the league, usually its monthly. Some leagues do a trial period where you can come check it out and if its not for you then that’s fine. It's pretty standard that if you’re not enjoying yourself you can just leave at any time, you just have to pay for the month that you’re in.
How long of a window would you give someone before they decide if derby is for them? How long before it gets really fun?
Before its actually fun? Its all fun!
I mean if you’re struggling and frustrated every time, it may not be fun to start with!
I would say it's different for everyone. I know some people went through fresh meat several times before they were ready to compete, but it depends on the person and their own comfort level. No one is going to force you into something you’re not ready for. Maybe give it 6 months or so before you decide if its for you or not.
So when you sign up to do derby for the first time and you’re going to rink where a team practices are there different teams for each level or is it all the same team that works together?
It depends where you go. If they have enough people to make separate teams, leagues will have a travel team which is a competitive team that will go around and compete and they’ll have a couple house leagues that compete amongst themselves. Its different everywhere but anywhere you go, if you’re not ready to compete you don’t have to.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers? Or anything else you’d like to share about roller derby or trying new things?
Just try it! That’s something I’ve been working on the last couple years is just trying things. There’s no harm in branching out. Especially with derby they will support you and they won’t push you past your limits. If you’re not ready to move on to the next step, just say so. They're not there to make you fit a certain outline. You can move on when you’re ready or step down. It's completely up to you and what you want to do.
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