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When female and gender diverse youth strapped on their roller skates at the Charlottetown Roller Derby track, they were known only by their catchy nicknames: Rebel Rebel, Star Trek, and Lucky Charm, to name a few.

But the experience didn’t just give them a cool new nickname: it also gave them confidence, a love for recreation, and a safe space where they could celebrate who they are – all while breaking down barriers they normally face when accessing sport and recreation opportunities.

Charlottetown Junior
Roller Derby, PEI

The group was able to participate in roller derby as part of the Building Inclusion: A Learn to Roller Skate Initiative, which was made possible thanks to funding from the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association’s Reaching Each and Every One: A Community Sport Intervention program. This program, which was funded by Sport Canada’s Community Sport for All Initiative, seeks to remove barriers and increase sport participation rates for equity deserving groups across Canada.

Julia Hartley, president and coach of Charlottetown Junior Roller Derby, says the organization saw a need in the community for the project, and that this funding helped youth overcome barriers to accessing sports like roller derby.

Learn to skate participants

Many people in the PEI town faced barriers to participation due to the cost and transportation arrangements, Hartley says. The Building Inclusion: A Learn to Roller Skate Initiative reduced those barriers through access to loaner equipment, free programming, volunteer carpooling, and other travel supports.

“A good setup cost for roller derby or skating equipment can cost as much as $300,” Hartley explains, adding that the program’s volunteer carpooling and other travel supports helped participants overcome barriers to transportation.  “There was one participant who lives 50 km away from Charlottetown, and we found a way to include them.”

Hartley adds that the 12-week program engaged female and gender diverse youth aged 11 to 17 – many of whom are 2SLGBTQQIA+ and can benefit from sports in a safe and friendly environment.

“In society, there’s two genders – you’re either on the girls team, or the boys team. But our program was different, and celebrated gender diversity. It also allowed participants to engage with other youth, and build their self-confidence,” she says. “This program has helped them overcome challenges, like learning to skate. This teaches them that they can overcome other challenges in their life. Many of our participants were very timid on their first night, and eight weeks later, they’re getting their skates on and just ripping around and trying new things. It’s been really great to see that progression.”

Hartley adds that the program’s participants also developed a passion for sports and recreation throughout the program.

“It’s all about building a lifelong love of recreation, by developing skills and confidence to enjoy sports and physical activity throughout life,” she says.

Hartley says she is “doubtful” the program would have run without funding – especially since the organization has faced financial challenges post-pandemic.

“If we had been able to run it, we wouldn’t have had nearly the number of participants which really contributed to its success,” she says, adding the project attracted 12 participants. “The more people you have, the better it is.”