Croydon’s Charlotte ‘Polly Filla’ Ulett embarked on her roller derby journey just three years ago but today she skates into Texas to make history in the Blood & Thunder Roller Derby World Cup.
The 23-year-old played football most of her life but a knee injury derailed her efforts and she stumbled into ‘derby’ when seeking to maintain her competitive spirit.
As a novice skater Polly, as she is fondly known, was intrigued by this unique sport and developed a passion which has propelled her to a remarkable World Cup appearance within 36 months.
She said: “This is a really big deal, it has always been far away in the future but now it’s finally upon us it’s very exciting. It’s all I can think about.
“I’m thrilled to be travelling to Dallas and to have the opportunity to play with some of the originators of the sport will be a massive honour.”
— Croydon Roller Derby (@CroydonRD) December 4, 2014
There are not many sports where you see speed, athleticism and violence combined with hot pants, face paint and roller skates but derby is different in every way.
In essence derby is a full-contact women’s sport played on quad roller skates on an elliptical track similar to a velodrome.
There are five per team, with the main objective being to assist your jammer (points scorer) to skate around the opposition team scoring points for each person overtaken.
“It’s cool but it’s really fierce. You can come into this thinking you are going to do it as a hobby but you’ve got to throw everything into it or you’ll get the shit kicked out of you,” Polly explained.
Over the next four days the skating world comes to a standstill as the showcase event in Dallas grips its followers with 30 teams, including Polly’s West Indies side, vying for glory.
There are no roller derby teams in the West Indies but the World Cup team is made up of women who skate in the UK and America who have West Indian heritage.
Polly’s Dad is Jamaican and this has given her an extraordinary opportunity to take part in a global event which will be watched closely by its cult-like following.
“We don’t really get to train that much because of geographical barriers but this is going to some experience – the World Cup is as good as it gets,” she explained.
She funded the transatlantic trip saving up her wages from her fundraising assistant role at JK Rowling’s charity Lumos.
Polly was overwhelmed by the support which she received from her club team mates at Croydon Roller Derby Riot Squad.
The club, formed in autumn 2009, began with limited facilities – skating where they could and often braving the harsh weather training outdoors at plaza St. George’s Walk.
Only five years later they now train in Pulse Health and Fitness in Carshalton and are ranked 23 out of 336 in Europe, a phenomenal achievement from humble beginnings with just five skaters.
The squad has quadrupled in size and now have a second team, aptly named the Vice Squad, and their meteoric success story is mirrored by Polly’s amazing journey.
Polly, who is rookie coach and responsible for coaching future stars, praises her team mates who pour their heart and soul into the success of the self-sufficient league.
The skater describes their ‘vested interest’ in success and said: “Everything we do here is run by the skaters for ourselves.
“Everyone is in a different department be it public relations, marketing, coaching, merchandise or design.
“It’s all done in house. If people stop putting the work in it won’t happen anymore and we won’t have a league.”
Charlotte’s team mate Agent Cooper describes the thrill which is gained from competing in derby and just why the Riot Squad is such a fast-emerging force in south London.
Agent Cooper said: “When people come to see us they often think because we’re from Croydon that we’re going to be like Millwall on skates but we’re not and we’re very good at what we do.
“You can kick the shit out of someone and then cuddle them after.
“The crazy speeds which you reach makes it feel like you’re a fighter pilot in Top Gun.”
— Croydon Roller Derby (@CroydonRD) November 25, 2014
Cooper believes derby offers many women the opportunity to take part in a different type of sport and release stress in a positive healthy manner.
The bar worker laughed: “I don’t think I could find the inner strength to keep serving beer to abusive drunk guys if I didn’t know I could go out and skate afterwards and beat people up.”
Comparisons with American Football and rugby are somewhat accurate but also way off the mark and Polly admitted there’s no benchmark to compare it to.
There is a trendy underground vibe about derby with roller skates, music, fan interaction and fun which will rekindle your love of 70’s disco and contact sport.
Charlotte carries the hopes and good wishes of her team all the way to Texas but her journey was very nearly scuppered at the eleventh hour.
She left her kit bag on the train only a couple of days before setting off but thankfully realised just in time, grabbed it and ran back off.
The West Indies are in a group with Sweden, Japan and Chile and open their campaign with a bout against the Swedes just after 8pm tonight.
With many live streams available live online, be part of a surreal journey and tune in. If nothing else it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Picture courtesy of John Lauber, with thanks
Video courtesy of Roller Derby World Cup via YouTube, with thanks