“Five Strides On the Banked Track: The Life and Times of the Roller Derby” by Frank Deford
Roller Derby, History
April 8, 2014 – re-release in electronic form. Originally published in 1971
4 ½ of 5 stars (outstanding)
When I found out that a book on the Roller Derby was going to be offered by NetGalley, I was very happy. To find out it was written by Frank Deford, one of the most prominent sports writers and a member of the National Sports Writers Hall of Fame, well, that just made it even better. The book did not disappoint as it was a well written, fascinating look at history and players, both male and female, of the Roller Derby.
Many people over 50 will recall when Roller Derby was a staple on television, several nights a week in some places. It was part sport, part show, but always entertaining. The sport was developed in 1935 by Leo Seltzer, initially as a skating endurance contest. It later included contact thanks to a suggestion by legendary sportswriter Damon Runyan. The sport took off from there, becoming a spectacle that would have troubles during World War II and then take off when television helped beam it into households.
Deford weaves the history of the sport into stories about the lifestyle of Roller Derby skaters. It is a unique lifestyle that can harden people and they seemed to form their own convent. It was common for skaters to become romantically involved and get married while on the road. Some of the stories are inspiring, some are somewhat sad, but all of them paint a picture about what the life of a Roller Derby skater is like.
The only drawback of the book is that there is no update on what became of the skaters Deford portrayed in the book. Since the book has been re-released as an e-book, that information would have been a nice touch to let fans who watched these skaters know what happened to them. Deford’s writing makes the reader really connect with these performers as they are really just regular men and women who were eking out a living on the “banked track” as was commonly stated. One big difference between these athletes and those of today – there is a lot of junk food eaten by the skaters as they are on the road, and nearly every one of them smoked cigarettes. Can you imagine LeBron James or Russell Wilson lighting one up as soon as they hit the locker room?
Overall, this is a very good book for readers who have never had the chance to enjoy Deford’s writing, for readers who remember the spectacle that was the Roller Derby, or for those who just enjoy human interest stories.
I wish to thank NetGalley for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Did I skim?
Pace of the book:
Very good, as the history of Roller Derby is told in a brief but complete manner. The stories and interviews with the players are interesting and humorous as well as a little poignant.
Do I recommend?
Yes, whether the reader is old enough to remember when Roller Derby was a television staple or not. The book is an interesting look at the past with some lessons and observations that are still relevant more than 40 years later.
Book Format Read: