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Page last updated at 15:48 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Sheffield Steel Roller girls are on their wheels

By Stephanie Barnard
BBC Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Sheffield Steel Roller Girls
The skates fit like a trainer for flexibility in the ankles

There are many non mainstream sports in the country and few receive any funding. Twice a week the Sheffield Steel Roller Girls get together and skate. It is a sport that is slowly growing across the country, with teams being set up independently to get into the phenomenon that is Roller derby.

Now this is an aggressive, full contact, competitive sport for women on wheels.

There are 14 people in a team. There are two 30 minute periods. The layout of the floor is oval. Five members of the team are on at one time. The idea is to stop one member of the opposing team from getting past and they skate around the oval floor. Points are awarded as certain players lap members of an opposing team. Basically they keep skating around in circles to score points. There is limited body contact so that means no punching!

Jane-Doe-Ago-Go (also known as Pauline) set up the Sheffield Steel Roller Girls in 2008. It is an over 18's team.

"I moved to Sheffield and wanted to meet new people, doing something fun. I was searching for sports groups and discovered a Roller derby on MySpace but there wasn't a team in Sheffield so I started a MySpace page for Sheffield and it took off from there.

"We started meeting at the roller rink in Sheffield city centre and just practised trying to skate and stand up on wheels. We put a few posters around the city and more people got interested. Eventually we found a venue to practise in."

The Sheffield Steel Roller Girls practise at Graves Leisure Centre at Meadowhead on Sunday afternoons and Tuesday evenings at Fir Vale Sports Centre. One of the issues of skating has been trying to find venues to practise in. Many places across the city hesitate in letting them use their venue because the wheels can leave marks on the floor.

Sheffield Steel Roller Girls
The aim of the game is to stop the opposing team member from passing the wall

And another more important issue - cost. The team is completely self-funded. Every month each member brings in their subs money, which covers the cost of the venue hire.

One of the quirks of the game is the choice of player names. Every Roller derby player across the world must have a unique player name.

Maid of Steel (also known as Jenny to her family) became part of the team through her fascination with it:

"It sounded interesting, even though I knew nothing about skating. I had never skated before and I'd never seen it before. I just liked the sound of it.

"I had only skated one time before in my life and it was skating down my parents' driveway and I wasn't able to stop! From starting with the Sheffield Steel Roller Girls I learnt fairly fast. Within the space of a couple of weeks I went from not being able to stand up to skating."

Unlike other competitive sports, Roller derby teams across the country talk to each other, often visiting rival teams and swapping tips!

The nearest team for Sheffield is the Leeds Roller Dolls and they often train alongside each other. In the Summer of 2009 they competed in the Sheffield Steel Roller Girls' first competition, a Yorkshire derby - South v West. Leeds won. Yet they still train together and encourage each other.

Witnessing a training session is a jaw-dropper. As I see the roller skaters practise, the whistle is blown and they throw themselves on to their knees, hitting the floor at high speed, luckily for them missing the concrete walls of Fir Vale Sports centre. But the vision of women falling to their knees at high speed isn't one I can witness without a cringe or a gasp. I wonder in a few years if they will be able to even walk to a training session. Maid of Steel explains why they repeat the exercise:

Sheffield Steel Roller Girls
Falling on both knees preparing for competition

"We practise falling a lot because when in competition you will fall. We try to practise falling safely and of course we wear very thick knee pads, often we have to double up the pads. And we avoid falling on your bum because that will hurt!"

The team is always looking for new recruits as they aim to get bigger within the Roller derby community. Jane-Doe-Ago-Go explains how the team have grown:

"It's taken just over a year to get a team up and running. We found it hard finding members. People think it is just students who make up the team but it isn't. We've also got teachers and other of professionals. Our oldest member is in her late 30s."

If you are interested in the Sheffield Steel Roller Girls visit their MySpace page. They are recruiting new members and also looking for referees, male and female.


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