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‘Rugby on skates’ rollin’ into Korea

When it comes to full-contact sports, roller skates might not be among the essential kit that first comes to mind. But roller derby, soon to hit Korea for the first time, is no ordinary kind of sport.

“Roller derby is a full-contact, all-female roller sport,” explained Elizabeth Egeland, one of the four founding members of Republic of Korea Derby, Korea’s first roller derby league.

“There are generally five girls on the track from each team. The way I like to describe it is rugby on roller skates.”

Originating in the U.S., the sport is seeing growing popularity worldwide, with leagues growing up in over 20 countries, including Japan and Singapore. Until now, however, the sport has had no organized presence in Korea.

Egeland, who goes by “Goldie Shocks” on the rink, played for the Chicago-based Windy City Rollers for four years before coming to Korea to teach English. Bringing her skates with her, Egeland was hoping to join a league here. When she discovered there weren’t any, she decided to form her own.

“I ended up meeting three other girls who were ex-derby girls themselves. We decided it was time for Korea to be introduced to roller derby,” she said.

ROKD has been practicing at rinks across the country since February, according to Egeland. More than 40 women have signed up, and Egeland hopes that competitions will begin in about a month.
The women of Republic of Korea Derby. (Jennifer Nicole Driscoll)
The women of Republic of Korea Derby. (Jennifer Nicole Driscoll)

“We are in the process right now of getting equipment and skates for all of our girls. Unfortunately there … are no skate shops in Korea, so we have had to order all of our skates online,” she said.

A counter-culture as well as a sport, roller derby employs a taste for the theatrical, with players adopting outlandish monikers and donning punk and burlesque-inspired costumes. ROKD counts “Minnie Mo’ Comin” and “Jody O’Crash” among its crew.

The basic rules involve two teams skating in formation around a rink, with designated players on each team attempting to lap the opposing teams’ players.

Body parts above the thigh, excluding hands, forearms and head, can be used to block players, making for a physical game full of knocks and falls.

“I have had a shattered elbow and a torn PCL (knee ligament), so there is some risk to it. But we do wear full safety equipment. We are training, and do train before girls are put into contact situations because you have to learn how to fall and to block just like you would in American football or rugby,” said Egeland.

ROKD has yet to decide on the exact makeup of teams, but Egeland said that there will likely be three or four, possibly based in Seoul, Busan and Daegu. The group is having an open celebration for its launch on April 2 at Dolce Bar in Cheonan from 9:30 p.m.

“We have skaters from Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Cheonan, all over the place. We kind of skate our way across the country.”

For information on ROKD, visit the ROKD Republic of Korea Derby Facebook page or rokdrockinandrollin.blogspot.com.

By John Power (john.power@heraldcorp.com)
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