Moar Derby = Two Times the Derby!

Roller Derby Rough Sketch

SO: this week I’ve been thinking about roller derby. Not that I hadn’t been doing so before, but my enthusiasm has jumped 20 levels, if that’s even possible. I miss being on quad skates and I can’t wait for practice tomorrow. I don’t remember the last time I was so excited about a physical activity. My muscles aren’t in pain when I sit down and I miss that. It’s raining right now and I don’t have a way to get to somewhere that I could skate on outdoor wheels; otherwise I’d be all about the skating.

Aside from how much fun I had with drills last weekend, which were mostly practicing some basic agility/jamming exercises and learning some hitting and blocking skills, something clicked last weekend, besides my random foray into backward crossovers. All of a sudden things were easier. Not physically easier — it’s not possible to get endurance out of nowhere, and the derby stance still feels unnatural and grueling — but somehow, mentally easier. The sensation of being on quad skates was no longer confounding or necessary to think so much about.

I’m told that the same thing happened for me when I started ice skating — all I remember is my first time on ice skates, which consisted of me hanging onto the birthday girl’s dad’s hand for dear life and liking the attention — that all of sudden I took to the ice and it was easy. Not that I was good, ever; it was that suddenly I didn’t have to think about the difference between wearing ice skates and tennis shoes. Here’s hoping that this feeling continues, and that it will get easier to keep pushing myself harder and longer.

Oh, also, MOAR DERBY:

When I was on a plane up to Seattle a few weeks ago, I spent a good deal of my flight scribbling about my first three derby practices. Aside from being extraordinarily physically taxing for me, it’s also been a strenuous mental workout, which shouldn’t have surprised me, given all of my ice-skaing-baggage, but managed to anyway. If you keep up with this blog, chances are high that you will become sick of me comparing ice skating and roller derby; I know I already have. Anyway: I’ve typed up these thoughts and reflections from a few weeks ago and now they are here. Yeay!

Freshmeat #2 Write Up

Though it wasn’t what I’d anticipated getting out of Reckless Rollers, joining the Rec League has been a great opportunity to evaluate and attempt to understand why and how I do the things I do.

At first, before I’d ever been to a practice, I decided that, come the first weekend in July (which is the date I thought that freshmeat tryouts would be), I’d try out for the league. I’d browsed a few freshmeat derby blogs and had seen that since some folks were having trouble with forward crossovers and tamahawk stops and that those same folks were getting onto league teams, that I would be able to go to a few practices and maybe a freshmeat intensive class, and get onto a team.

Hah. Hahah. Hah. Hah! Maniacal laughter all around.

The first practice of Reckless kicked my ass — I may have a leg up when it comes to learning footwork on quad skates, like crossovers and crossing my legs over cones and even tamahawk stops, but my endurance is non-existent and I’m slow, almost always the last one to finish everything, somewhat as an attempt to pace myself because I do get so fucking tired so easily, but also because I’m not naturally lithe or quick or agile.

It took me until today to realize that not having the endurance or the agility or the lithe-ness or an ass that looks good in gold lame booty shorts is OK.

So far the realization that I don’t have to be The Best Skater Prodigy Girl Thing Person Crazy Pants is a relief. No one is judging me; my job in Reckless is to show up, work my ass off and try. Nothing more, nothing less. And yeah, maybe someday I’ll tryout for a league team — Reckless is certainly giving us the tools to be on the fast track – hah – to try out if we want it and work for it – but there’s no expectation of perfection and no expectation of Being The Best Right Away.

Which brings me to my next question for myself — why on earth do I have expectations like this for myself? Before the first practice last week (as I type this, now last month), I’d been on quad skates once, not counting the few times I wore my new skates in our kitchen and disasterously attempted to cook in them. One time. And yeah, OK, I was able to stay upright pretty well, thanks to 15 years of competitive ice skating practice, but still: there seems to be something self-defeating with setting up expectations of excellence without even knowing what would be involved, and what my skill level was at. BAD is REALLY GOOD.

I think it was during my first drill at practice last week that I realized how different things were going to be from anything I’d done before: the last team sport I participated in was synchronized ice skating, which, depending on what year your’e talking about, had anywhere between 14 and 28 skaters on the ice at once. It’s actually a really competitive sport, but at the level of skill the time I was on skated… Well, we tried. Synchro is nominally popular on the west coast, and even though we qualified for nationals every year, we’d place dead last behind almost every other east coast team; we were theNew Directions version of synchro — no auditions necessary, come one, come all, come for all reasons and all skill levels, so long as you paid up. Only it wasn’t particularly OK for skaters to be less than OK: I remember our coach constantly telling us that we were only as strong as our weakest skater, and that was never an opportunity to work together but a moment to glare angrily at whichever skaters she’d deemed weak. After every routine or drill there’d be nothing but angry insults about our performance. I remember my leg muscles freezing up because she’d spent so much time haranguing us.

So while I wasn’t exactly expecting a repeat performance of my synchro team or coach, I wasn’t exactly expecting much else, either.

Practice started with the new girls clustered around each other, nervously waiting for someone to make the first move. New people always cluster, no matter what the occasion. But the first drill was different: we’d lined up in rows of five, each skater placing their hands on the small of the back of the skater in front of her… then the skater at the back of the line pushed the rest of the skaters around the track, no help. Five laps, or whatever you could manage.

It was terrifying when it was finally my turn — what if I fell and tripped someone else? (I actually did fall twice during this drill, once for reasons I’m not sure of and once because I couldn’t quite stop in time to avoid skaters that had fallen in front of me). What if I wasn’t able to push hard enough? What if everyone laughed at me because I was so incompetent? I was so worried that I hadn’t paid attention to anything but my fears and suddenly it was my turn. Gah! I managed three laps; at some point, during the first lap I noticed folks from another line next to us, cheering our line on — cheering me on!

Maybe it’s silly to make such a big deal out of a small thing like cheering, but I can’t think of anything else I’ve ever done that folks are so unrestrainedly supportive of each other. Particularly when shit sucks or you’re not perfect at something – I got cheered on the most when I fell that first day for simply getting back up again and into the line. The folks that knocked over all the cones in my favorite drill so far got cheered louder than the folks who did it perfectly, not because it’s better when you don’t get it right, but because the only thing that matters is that you keep trying and don’t give up.

That concept, that realization, s is seriously blowing my mind.

It’s also by far the hardest thing for me to actually practice for myself. Yesterday (three weeks ago now as I type this) we did speed trials as a pack, attempting to do 25 laps in 5 minutes, pushing (literally, not figuratively) (OK, figuratively as well, I guess) the skaters ahead of us from behind. Maybe it’s because I thought we were going to do 20 laps, not 25, but by lap 19 I was ready to be done, and nearly fell over when I heard “Pack it up! 5 MORE!” shouted out. Worst feeling ever.

Then when our coach announced that we’d be reversing direction and doing 25 more I nearly cried. I’m in seriously bad shape, and 25 then 25 laps in good derby form (knees way bent, center of balance way forward in almost a squat, the farthest thing ever from ice skating posture) fucking kills me. It embarrasses the crap out of me to struggle with something that seems so simple: just keep going, and keep up.

So on one hand, I’m embarrassed as fuck because I’m so tired that I’ve got non-functional noodle legs and I feel like somehow, despite the fact that this was my third practice and my fourth time ever on quad skates, that I should not struggle with it, that it shouldn’t be this hard, and that being sick and not being able to exercise should have no effect whatsoever on my endurance, right?

And on the other hand, the pack has to slow down for the slowest skater — and, according to my bad memories, the weakest or the slowest is the worst, and is fucking things up for everyone else. And being worst means people will point and laugh, and asking for or needing help is bad, too.

So I tapped out after five laps in the reverse direction. It’s been two days (two days plus three weeks) and I’m still furious with myself for not trying hard. The bleeding blisters, my other reason for stopping, feel like an excuse. And yeah, tired legs mean higher chance of falling, and yeah, falling in a pack means a chance of tripping people.

But lying to myself is ridiculous. Good intellectual reasons aren’t the same thing as needing to stop. I wanted to stop because I was scared and embarrassed.

The more I think about it, the more it seems like my reasons or excuses for stopping and the skills that I need to keep going all come down to trust:

Trust in myself to be as safe as I can be, and accept the consequences as safely as I can if I do fall.
Trust our coach that she’d tell us not to do an exercise if we’re not capable.
Trust the pack to do willingly what it is supposed to do – wait, slow, push each other, support each other – without anger or meanness. I mean, I’m not angry at folks when they knock over cones, and when I was skating at the front of the pack for a while, I wasn’t mad that we had to slow down. The contrary, actually; I didn’t want anyone to get left behind. So why was I so sure other people would feel differently?

Recognizing the difference between my own internal, misplaced expectations and fears and fobiles and the actual expectations of our pack and our coach.

Our pack. It feels weird to use ownership terms for something I’ve done 3 times, but there it is. Our pack, my team.

So that’s my new goal, in addition to bulding my endurance over time: trust.

*A really quick derby sketch by me. I’ve been playing around and experimenting with a new process using ink and illustrator. Not sure how I feel about the result, but here it is anyway.


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