Wheels of Fire

At our September meeting Lynn Huynh, aka Shaolynn Scarlett, talked to us about the hard work, excitement, adrenaline, skill, injuries and sisterhood involved in the sport of roller derby.

Roller Derby is a grassroots sport which is full contact sport on quad-style rollerskates. It has a reputation for being fast, furious and ultra-competitive but Lynn talked about also how it is also very inclusive. It’s primarily played by women and is a safe space which is very inclusive of LGBT+ players and also of women who start playing in their 40s and 50s. Lynn was very keen to stress that it is never too late to start!

Lynn has played roller derby for over a decade. She skated for London Roller Derby in tournaments in USA, Canada and Europe, being part of the breakthrough squad that was the first non-US based team to qualify and win at international level. She’s also been part of all of the England squads in the three Roller Derby World Cups that have occurred, and captained twice – winning the silver medal in 2014 and coming fourth in 2018.

While Roller derby had started in 1920s as speed racing on an oval track it gradually became a contact sport in the 30s and 40s. During 70s and 80s it was then televised and became more theatrical with great names and costumes. The modern incarnation of the sport which Lynn plays is credited with starting in in Austin, Texas in early 2000s, and it has grown quickly. London Rollergirls (as it was originally known) was the first team to be set up in Europe in 2006, and was responsible for growing the sport throughout Europe.

Lynn talked us through the basics of the sport and what to expect at a game. It sounds fast and furious – if you sit in a front sit you might spill your drink! We also watched this great explainer of the game. There is an element of theatre – people have great names, entrance music and some of the costumes look fantastic. Lynn also shared this full game with us for those of you who would like to watch it!

Lynn said she had played contact sport before but never skated before or been to the gym. She started by going to London Rollergirls sessions and the rest is history. She said it took quite a long time to learn and involved training multiple times a week.  

Lynn talked us through how she loves the sense of testing your own strength and power during the games and the sense of confidence you get in your body. Lynn’s experience leading the World Cup in Manchester sounded brilliant and surreal. It is fantastic to hear someone so passionate about their sport speak about it and be able to ask all sorts of questions like “is the film, Whip It, worth watching?” (Answer: yes of course but a bit glamourised as you would expect!).

We also talked about her training schedule and also injuries. For a fast and furious sport, roller derby can mean collisions, bruises and broken bones.  Roller Derby has got a really robust return to play policy with some of the emerging evidence around contact sport and concussion. Lynn has broken her leg three times and has undergone rehab to get back to skating at a high level. Definitely not for the faint-hearted! We also got some tips for bruises – use heat packs as well as ice and this magical tape which reduces swelling.

Lynn talked us through the issues with funding. It is a grassroot sport so players have to fundraise for costs associated with travelling for games or training. She talked about how there is a more formalised governing body now and some players also set up skate shops, coach as part of their career.

For those Belles keen to give it a go she talked about following London Rollerderby where they post details of their fundamentals course on their Facebook page. She has also offered to take us out for a skate or join us for a roller disco so watch this space!

It was great to hear such an insider view of a sport and scene which we didn’t know much about and also what it takes to train and compete at such a high level while fundraising and working full-time. The Belles are keen to go and see a game in real-life when the league resumes to witness the fun and intensity. Lynn also mentioned that since hanging up her skates to coach she has also been exploring female professional wrestling so we hope she’ll come back to tell us all about her new adventures.

Thanks so much Lynn!

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