When I started Roller Derby I can honestly say I was the worst person on the track. And there was no lack of people saying “You can do this, you can get up and get out there. I know it’s hard now, but you will get it.” It was that constant encouragement, and there was nobody ever left out. It’s a sport that welcomed me! Everyone was built up and I loved that, that’s why I was really inspired.
Waxed floors. Elbow pads. Cheering fans. Mouth guards. Master of Ceremonies. Helmets. T-shirt giveaways. Aggression. Referees. Body checks. Play-by-play commentators. “Sneakers… with wheels.” Information ambassadors. Concession stands. UNITY. INCLUSION. Welcome to the Toronto Roller Derby, ToRD!
she.lace just gave you a condensed version of the sights and sounds you enjoy when attending a bout. Yes a “bout”, yet another word/term added to our vernacular during an endeavour into another entirely new experience. And…WHAT AN EXPERIENCE it was. Full disclosure, we were vaguely aware that roller derby was a sport. With that being said, we were completely unbeknownst to the fact that such a vibrant league was alive and well (and thriving) in the city of Toronto. So, allow us to provide the “Cliff Notes” version of ToRD at its essence:
-Women’s competitive flat-track derby league (largest in Canada)
-6 teams (4 Home teams, all-star travel teams & a developmental team)
-120 active athletes
-DIY organization that accepts, appreciates and supports “one and all”
The last point is vitally important for us to convey because the “for skaters by skaters” mantra is what forms the crux of the ToRD spirit. The “About” section of the ToRD website says it best:
“ToRD is powered by the skaters and each of these talented, ambitious, and energetic women are passionate about their sport and committed to its success on a local, regional, and global scale… our league is operated primarily by the skaters from each team, and we are proud to be an all-female operated organization.” This is what she.lace refers to as: Infectious Passion. We’re going to share an anecdote to exemplify…
Introducing “Viris” #1013 of the Smoke City Bandits, she.lace calls her Iris Bigornia our ambassador to flat-track roller derby.
Sidenote: Yes, you may have caught on that “infectious passion” is also a play on words for Iris’ nickname. Fun fact, “Viris” actually comes from her background in computer science/programming and tech.
Now, if ToRD was ever in need of a proud representer they should look no further than Iris. But that’s just the thing, she’s not an anomaly in that regard… ALL of the ToRD community are dedicated supporters of their league. Case and point, on the day we met up with Iris she mentioned that we could show up hours before her bout because she would be there helping to set up and help with whatever miscellaneous tasks that were required. When we talk about or envision or conceptualize how women’s empowerment takes shape, doesn’t this seem to hit the mark? Notice she.lace said “shape”? That may very well be the operative word in that last sentence. The ToRD consists of the young and the old, the big and the small, the short and the tall and everything in between. As Iris “Viris” Bigornia says, “Come one, come all.” Enjoy the video.
There’s one question that still might remain unanswered, how is the sport played? If you want a thorough explanation of the rules/regulations you’re going to have to check out an event in-person, you won’t regret it. In the meantime, we’ll run the risk of having “Viris” infect you a little bit more with her winning personality, Q&A:
Let’s play a game of word association. Give us the very first word that comes to mind for_ _ _Toronto Roller Derby.
How did you come across the Toronto Roller Derby, and why roller skating?
Iris: It was actually about 10 years ago, when I had an interest in roller derby and I said [to myself] I need another kind of competitive sport and something physical that I can do. And I’ve always wanted to learn how to quad skate. I’ve tried ice skating and I said “nope”, but quad skating “yeah, maybe.” It’s indoor and not as cold so that was my dream, actually, to learn how to quad skate. And, when I came into the league and saw the people and the community here I wanted to stay.
What is the Toronto Roller Derby?
Iris: ToRD is your “do it yourself” feminists. And, if you need something done or if you need help you call out on your community, you call out one your friends here. That’s, to me, first and foremost ToRD.
With this league being an incubator for supporting one another and uplifting each other…to Iris, what is women’s empowerment?
Iris: Women’s empowerment is definitely where you’re given the tools, you’re given the chance to do and be anything that you want to be… That just empowers women, you can do anything you want if you want to. And, here it is, ToRD is giving it to me!
Explain to us where we are and if you could also touch on the significance of tonight…
Iris: It’s the final game of the pre-season, we want more games… It’s sad, this is the last night here at The Bunker. In 2011, they hosted the FIRST Roller Derby World Cup which is amazing and we just had one this past January/February. It’s going to be sad. I’ve only been here 2 or 3 years but there are a lot of memories here in this Bunker.
Sidenote: The ToRD has found a new home at the Ted Reeve Community Arena in the East York part of the city.
In your opinion, what’s something that will fascinate first-time observers when they come to watch ToRD?
Iris: I feel that someone who comes here for the first time can see women of different backgrounds, ages, shapes and sizes and say “Yes, I can do that.” I think people might be scared of the hitting, but I can tell you that I wouldn’t be playing this game if I knew I was in harm’s way. We’re a safe league, we do make sure that everyone is safe.
We know you’ve been spending the last three hours on your skates, but what role do sneakers play in your life?
Iris: Yes, well sneakers are comfy and they get me around. You know what, lacing up these boots gives me a lot of joy. It made me nervous for a long, long time but I think lacing up and doing roller derby…these are my sneakers pretty much.
Sidenote: You never know what creative footwear masterpieces you might stumble across at a ToRD bout. This is what we call a perfect hybrid ⬇️, shout out to Nicole!
What’s your favourite thing about roller derby?
Iris: My favourite thing is definitely the people, definitely the people.
And what’s your favourite thing to do outside of roller derby?
Iris: Being with my kids, they’re my life. I love my family, my husband…that’s what I want to do too.
What do you think about what she.lace is doing by finding that middle ground between women’s empowerment, sneakers and art?
Iris: I think she.lace with what you’ve been doing, and featuring me, I hope people can listen and see all of these beautiful things… the diversity. And there are some many things out there you’re not limited at all, there’s so much out there that you can do.
We believe it’s fair to state that the word virus is disconcerting, you may even shiver in fear. Virus→ Infection→ Aliment/Sickness→ Subpar health, right?! However, that doesn’t mean you should be weary of the word infectious. A smile can be infectious. A laugh, personality, mindset, hug, energy just to name a short few can all be described as infectious. And, of course, PASSION can be deemed the same way. But not the kind of infectious that makes you sick, quite the contrary. The kind the builds you up and is healthy for your mind, body, spirit and soul. This is exactly what the ToRD offers and, perhaps more importantly, this is EXACTLY what Iris has accepted. Iris is more than just a brave woman who was seeking a physical activity to engage with in her mid-30s. She’s a proud mother of two, she’s a proud wife, she’s a proud Filipino-Canadian… she’s a proud member of a women’s empowerment network that gives her the renewed strength to be all those other great things she already is. When she.lace hopes we could all be so lucky to have this degree of infectious passion, you should now understand that these are well intended wishes. The ToRD ask a rhetorical question on the site that we believe summarizes things perfectly, Who is ToRD?:
“We represent a broad range of ages, body types, lifestyles, and backgrounds, and are committed to being inclusive of all walks of life whether they sit in the stands or join us on the track.”
What started off as two independent teams in 2006, has grown to a bustling league with 120 skaters, tons of volunteers and endless support. ToRD has been around for 12 years and the future looks promising (we need 11 more years so we can see Iris skating at 50). she.lace is ecstatic to have rolled across such an empowering community. May we forever remain “infected” by this VIRIS! We had to get in at least one 🌽pun 😉.