Athletes zipped through Coliseum Park on roller skates Wednesday morning to warm up for the 82nd birthday of roller derby, the high-contact sport born in Chicago.
World Roller Derby Week begins Sunday with a birthday party at 12:30 p.m. in the park, 1466 S. Wabash Ave.
Sunday also is the anniversary of the sport’s debut — Aug. 13, 1935, at the Chicago Coliseum, which once stood at the site of Coliseum Park.
Chicagoan Leo Seltzer is credited with creating the sport. At one point, its weekly broadcasts were seen coast-to-coast, and a 1972 Comiskey Park match drew a crowd of about 50,000.
The week also includes a blood drive, and will culminate in a retro-style roller derby match in which teams wear classic jerseys from the sport’s heyday. It will be Aug. 19 at the Fleetwood Roller Rink, 7231 W. Archer Ave. in Summit.
Among those skating will be Elizabeth Perez, a 26-year-old Avondale athlete for the Midwest All Stars who was handing out flyers Wednesday morning.
Perez said the sport has become more athletic, and all-women teams have grown in popularity.
“There’s a saying in the sport that ‘roller derby saved my soul,’ and it’s true,” Perez said. “Four years ago, I was bashful and afraid to talk to anyone. Now I’m not afraid to speak my mind, I’m more confident and doing things I never imagined being capable of.”
Perez said the sport also got a boost from the 2009 release of “Whip It,” a roller derby-themed movie starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore. That’s how 16-year-old Sofia Hernandez, a Chicago athlete for the Northern Illinois Junior Roller Derby and the Midwest All Stars, got into the sport.
“The movie inspired me,” Hernandez said. “There are people as old as 55 or as young as me, and we’re all on equal level. It’s empowering.”
Deominique Holbert, a 21-year-old North Side resident, stopped to watch Hernandez skating in Coliseum Park Wednesday morning while walking through the South Loop.
“There’s a great energy to this sport and I like the girl power aspects,” Holbert said. “I didn’t know the sport started in Chicago, and now I’d like to go this game.”