When I started playing derby, I would not have been brave enough to visit a practice with the #3 ranked league in the world, but last week, that’s just what I did. I was supposed to join Bay Area Derby Girls (BAD) for a skills practice on Tuesday, but travel complications resulted in me missing that. Having flown across the country with skate bag in tow, I wasn’t willing to fly home without using my gear, and that left me one option: Scrimmage with a bunch of skaters who are 100% capable of kicking my ass.
Let me tell you — I was terrified. I got dropped off at a warehouse in Oakland a little after dark. I saw some women who I guessed were skaters going into the building and called out for them to wait up so I wouldn’t have to wait outside to be buzzed in. Inside, although the space was completely new to me, the atmosphere felt right. Couches lined the outer apex of the track, and a couple of well loved Persian-style rugs provided a place to sit down and gear up. The usual derby conversations were happening — who’s here, who’s not, and the eternal question: What’s that smell?
I recognized a few faces of people I’d seen in WFTDA broadcasts or famous derby photos, yet I couldn’t remember their names. I tried to seem confident and to remember that these skaters are just like my league mates, but there’s one key difference: These were not my league mates. They were strangers. Very strong strangers.
A little small talk while gearing up was enough to settle my nerves for a minute, but then I set foot on the track. Unlike the dusty wood floor where we practice or the terrifyingly slick painted concrete at another local rink, the sport court at this facility felt hard and grippy, and I had no idea how to compensate for that. My stops felt jerky and clumsy. That was going to be a problem. I’m pretty sure my fear was written all over my face. Luckily, a really nice skater introduced herself, started chatting with me, and helped me remember that even if I performed terribly, these people are just fellow humans and would probably not eat me alive.
Soon, scrimmage started, and I tried to quickly learn the bench procedures of my temporary team, Berkley Resistance. I think I did it all wrong at first, but they were kind enough about clarifying. As with all scrimmages, this one went quickly, but this time I remembered a few key moments that were exciting and educational. Early on, I realized playing as though these were my own teammates wouldn’t work because BAD has a different play style than I’m used to. After a failed attempt at backwards bracing (not disastrous, but not super effective either), I let my pack know they could yell at me or push me in order to put me where I could be useful. I started asking questions when I had time and listening to the bench chat as much as possible. I plan to ask my teammates about a few specific scenarios and how I could have done better, but mostly, I keep replaying the mental reel from that night to absorb everything I experienced.
After scrimmage I was happy to join an off-skates workout, since traveling had thrown off my usual exercise schedule. I learned a lot about squat form and how to improve my core strength during this second hour. But the time flew by, and before I knew it, it was time to get going. I only stayed two hours, but I’ve been reliving them for the past several days.
After skating on Thursday night and flying home Friday, I was dying to play in our Saturday night bout back in my beloved Charm City, but snow and ice made the roads unsafe, and the game was cancelled. I didn’t even realize how much I was looking forward to the game until I felt the disappointment of cancellation. I got the news on my way to the arena and had to turn around and go back home. I stopped for groceries and fought the urge to hip check all the other shoppers.
Some of the best news out of this is that excitement about playing has now officially overshadowed the fear. That doesn’t mean I won’t feel the fear anymore, but it’ll be different. I think skating with such a high level team and dealing with the nerves around that helped put the home season into perspective. Playing with my own team on a floor we literally built together in the city we call home is not scary at all in comparison. And in retrospect, even skating with strangers in a strange city wasn’t really anything to be scared of. It was fun, challenging, educational … all my favorite things. I don’t think I’ll ever travel without my skates again.
Thanks a million to the Bay Area Derby Girls for letting me join them for practice!