08 Oct

Derby Life: Bird Style

I last wrote about roller derby after bird try-outs. Because I’m the kind of woman who leaves you hanging for four months, I am only now coming back to writing about it. I think aspects of my life that focus on improving incrementally are difficult to write about. There’s no great climax like there is in a movie. In the end, it’s just a lot of practice. That is hard to turn into something interesting.

Anyway, I did make the birds. I have made the most of it, but in retrospect, I think I may have advanced prematurely. The first month or maybe month and a half of bird class was incredibly hard. I almost cried a lot of times (and one time I really did cry). I dropped out of the warmups (and I still do sometimes) because I felt like I couldn’t breathe anymore or because my quads/back/calves were burning. Actually, I talked to my coach one night and she leveled with me and said that I probably wasn’t quite ready to move up, but my work ethic convinced the coaches to let me anyway. That damn work ethic, always making trouble.

I think in June I was not truly ready to move up, but I am so glad that I did anyway. After a month or two, I lost my “baby giraffe” skating style (an observation from a fellow skater) and a teammate told me she felt safe skating with me (the implication: I was unsafe until then). By August, I moved beyond being a hazard to myself and others. I am sure I made 100 times more progress by moving up to the birds than doing another round of rec league. And for what it’s worth, I went to a few rec league classes over the last few months too.

A baby giraffe

Me, circa June

The last month or so, I have started feeling more confident about my skating. I’m not a beast yet, but I think I have recognized that I have the potential to be a little fucking beast. The best thing has been discovering what I’m good at: not getting knocked down. Once I stopped skating like a newborn foal, I found that I am very stable. I credit this to the two years of weightlifting I have casually engaged in and to being a larger-than-average human. Now, anytime I find myself sucking spectacularly at something, I try to remember that no bitch on the track can take me out. It’s a small comfort.

The thing is, I do suck at a lot of things. I am starting to suck less at some of them. When I started the bird class, I thought my biggest problem would be speed. It seemed like I couldn’t keep up in any drill and I was always the slowest one out there. I think I am still relatively slow if we’re factoring in endurance, but I am getting a little faster. We recently tested how many laps we could skate in a minute. I managed to roll out 5.5 laps, which is actually a respectable pace. Can I do that for five minutes (or, okay, two minutes)? No, but it’s progress. The first time we did that test in rec league, I think I skated 1.5 laps. That means from April to September, my speed increased by 5 laps/minute. That will probably never happen again!

At this point, I think my biggest issue is actually stopping. I can stop, but not fast enough and not accurately enough. My current nemesis is the tomahawk stop, which rather than trying to explain, I will refer you to this video. Being able to stop and change directions fast is actually more important than just skating fast when you’re playing. Unless, perhaps, you are a jammer, which does not seem to be my calling right now.

Probably the most telling for me in terms of perspective and feeling like I’ve made progress has been skating with newer skaters. Last month the bird class helped out with the rec league scrimmage. And last week, a group of new skaters joined the bird class. I could see the difference between where they are now and where I am now. My stride is more solid, I can skate close to people, block, and stop without drifting halfway around the track.

Bird class is twice per week, but the title of this post also promises “derby life.” Derby has already begun to take over my life. I’m not fighting it though; I figured it would be one of those things that is a life commitment. I’ve been volunteering at bouts, usually with setting up the track. I recently learned how to set up a track without any guidelines on the floor, which is a handy skill. It makes me feel like I could play derby anywhere. I’ve also been helping out at bouts and scrimmages as a non-skating official (NSO), which involves tracking penalties, scorekeeping, etc. Everyone says that NSOing is a good way to learn the rules. I sort of doubted, but it is helping me learn the penalties and what to pay attention to during games. Last weekend, my league hosted a tournament and I spent the whole weekend alternately NSOing and making sure the track didn’t get fucked up. It was a full couple of days.

WFTDA Track Dimensions

WFTDA Track Dimensions

Another side effect of derby life is that it is making me more committed to being a badass in everyday life. Well, my own definition of badass. I started learning Icelandic earlier this year. It’s possible that I might have naturally become more serious about it over time regardless, but the last few months I have been studying like crazy. It’s fun and interesting to me. Plus, I want to be able to do justice to the name Rosetta Stone. I’m also going to the gym more consistently and eating a little healthier. For example, I always want to get a Slurpee after practice, but I know it’s not actually going to do anything for my body (and that the 7-11 near our practice area is probably unsafe, but, okay), so I don’t.

If you’re still reading this, you may wonder what’s next. Well, as my coach has reminded us, birds isn’t supposed to be forever. My next goal is to move up onto my league’s B-team, the Folsom Prison Bruisers. They just held try-outs for the Bruisers in September, but I didn’t try out because I knew I wasn’t there yet. One of our weekly practices is combined with the teams, so I have a fair idea of what I would be getting into. I still can’t make it through their warm-up. Although, I’m told that most everyone feels like they’re going to die and it’s not just me. A 25-woman paceline is probably enough to make most women want to fall over.

The next try-outs are (I think) in January. I am going to be tomahawking my fat ass off between now and then. I think if I can master that, and keep improving my other skills, I’ll have a respectable chance of moving up.

Hopefully, I’ll stop being ridiculous and write about this at least a little more often. I had been thinking about writing more lately. Yesterday I received the best “write more!” sign that I could ever possibly get. One of the rec league skaters told me after practice yesterday that she had read my blog and it made her feel better about trying rec league. I was surprised that she had not only found it and read it, but that she happened to be in the same practice with me. I was both stunned and pleased to have made a difference for a new skater. So, if you’re new and you’re reading this (and you made it this far), here’s the truth: roller derby is fucking hard and it hurts like a bitch. Just keep working and you will definitely improve. That sounds cliché, but it’s true. Now, go skate!