Sometimes Progress Hurts

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Last Wednesday was my first time jamming during a scrimmage, and more than 24 hours later, I was still on an energy high. I didn’t score any points, and I got a few penalties, but the fact that I finally did it meant something to me. That and hearing someone cheering for me from the bench … the other team’s bench … that was a good moment. I love how the vets are so supportive. When they see you making progress they cheer for you so damn hard. Probably because they remember what it felt like when they had that moment — first assessment, first scrimmage, first jam, first time making it out of the pack. It just feels so damn good.

I don’t remember most of scrimmage. It’s always a blur so far in my experience, but it took on an extra special “what the fuck is going on” quality the moment Roxy asked whose turn it was to jam and Cash grinned and pointed at me. I think I actually made the Tina Belcher noise.

The good news is, I don’t remember anything hurting. The bad news is, I feel like my upper rib cage has been in a vice, and I actually have boob bruises. I did go to the box on a couple of track cuts and an illegal star pass (I was desperate to get it out of my hands, and I tossed it instead of handing it off properly). Oh, and I crashed into a referee. Again. It happened once before. I hope this is common for new skaters and I am not just uniquely stupid.

There were a few sharp moments in the blur, such as the realization that I had escaped the pack somehow, followed by the realization that I now must skate around the track as quickly as possible and do that again. To be clear, in my first jam, Pain was my pivot and Murda was one of the blockers. Do you know how many skaters would love to be able to say that? With those two on your side, anyone could get through the pack. Ok, and let’s be honest, the defense probably felt a little bad for the newbie openly admitting, “I’m so scared right now,” on the jam line.

There’s no deep message to this post. Just, “Wow, that happened!” I’m in a weird kind of happy pain. I wanna do it again, and I’m scared of saying that out loud because I’m terrified of doing it again. So you know, about normal for me.

I got home that night absolutely glowing and fully prepared to declare my unending love for every last member of CCRG, even the ref who caught me on that poorly thought out star pass. I know they say there will be good days and bad days in derby, and days when I wonder why I do it at all. I hope when those days come I can remember this.

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Aches and Pains, Breaks and Sprains

We keep playing despite the risk of injury. Maybe the real problem is here.
We keep playing despite the risk of injury. Maybe the real problem is here.

This week, one of my favorite skaters fell hard during a drill. She’s just coming back from a long illness, and I know it’s discouraging to take a fall like that just as you’re getting your strength back. There was an audible pop as she went down, and she seemed to be in a lot of pain, but after some rest, she was able to get out on the track again. I was glad she came back out, yet worried about her safety. This got me wondering about pain, how we deal with it in derby and elsewhere in life.

“No pain, no gain” was a major reason I avoided the gym and any form of strenuous exercise for most of my life up to this point. Yoga was the first form of exercise I encountered where the motto was, “No pain? Great!” I believe pain is your body’s alarm system, a way of telling you where your limits are. If you learn to respect those boundaries and work with them gradually, you end up with a rich practice and a healthy relationship with your body. That’s why I prefer a slow and mindful practice and also why yogis emphasize the importance of good alignment to avoid potentially painful situations.

But it’s not quite the same in sports, especially derby. We talk a lot about safety, wear pads and helmets, and learn how to fall safely. Still, every time we put skates on, we take a pretty big risk. Great skaters fall all the time, and despite all their conditioning, good form, and constant practice, sometimes injury is a matter of chance. But we keep taking that chance practice after practice, game after game, because we gain something from the sport that outweighs our fear of pain.

On the other hand, there are the everyday pains of derby. Personally, my feet hurt. My low back and hips are sore pretty much all the time. My hamstrings are tight, and even my neck and shoulders get cranky sometimes. I’m trying to improve this situation by (a) skating better, (b) practicing more, and (c) doing at least a little yoga every day. I think this pain is temporary, and if I treat it right, it’s just a stepping stone on my derby journey. Again, I gain something from the sport that outweighs not just the threat of pain but the reality of it.

And finally, there are the bruises. If you’ve ever hung out with derby players, you’ve probably taken part in a conversation about bruises. There’s always a bit of pride involved, and usually a story about how we acquired said bruise. I currently have a nasty one on my shoulder from my first scrimmage. It’s two weeks old and still makes people ask, “Holy cow, what did you do to yourself?” Getting it hurt, but I’m proud of it because it’s proof that I went out and did something scary and survived.

I still don’t like pain, but I no longer believe it’s to be avoided at all costs. A certain amount of pain on a day-to-day basis is acceptable to me as long as I feel I’m gaining something from it. As for those unpredictable injuries, broken bones, dislocated joints, and even concussions are risks I accept while simply hoping I can dodge them. It’s hard for me to say why I’m willing to take those risks for derby. I still don’t believe in the “no pain, no gain” slogan, but I’m starting to understand that without a certain amount of risk involved, life just isn’t nearly as fun.

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Skate Fast and Jump High

rollerderby-112223_640Photo by Greyerbaby

Last night at practice we practiced jumping the apex, which looks like this:

For every cut track, we had to do 5 pushups. I did a lot of pushups.

This is the first time in my life I’ve been so very bad at something yet loved it so much. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been terrible at a lot of things including but not limited to baking, housekeeping, dating, trigonometry, paying bills on time, scheduling, hyphenating, activism, and pretending to like people. But for most of my life, the things I’ve been bad at are the things I’ve avoided. Why is derby different?

Last night, as I watched the other skaters jump the apex (some successfully, some not), I pondered how we all ended up here, and how this sport is not at all what I expected. I knew the league would be a bunch of incredible, strong, driven women. I also thought there would be more fishnets, but what we lack in fishnets and tutus we make up for in dedication and tattoos. But what I really wasn’t prepared for is how the challenge of derby makes me want to be stronger. The funny names and crazy outfits are fun, but the real reason we stick around is that the challenge is intoxicating. I have never pushed myself this way before, and I love it.

You know why I can’t jump the apex yet? Because I’m scared of jumping with wheels on my feet. This seems like a reasonable thing to be afraid of, yet I want to not be afraid of it. I have hope because I saw people do it last night, people who couldn’t always do it, people who were afraid before and overcame their fear.

When I set this “letting go of fear” goal for myself this year, I had no idea what I was getting into. But for some reason, the gods of roller derby smiled on me and gave me the chance of a lifetime. Just go fast and jump, right?

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To be Fresh Meat

Nosker's Country Fresh MeatPhoto by timlewisnm on Flickr
You think you wanna play roller derby. You’ve heard about it for years. Your friends have said you’d be great at it. They don’t know anything about it, but they think you’re the type of person who should play roller derby, and you think they’re right. You watch Whip It with your best friend and decide to try out together. You spend $150 on skates and it feels like a big deal because you would never spend that kind of money on a pair of shoes. You spend $80 on pads. You learn to shape a mouthguard. You think about buying fancy leggings. You go to a few open skates and feel self-conscious about everything, and you make an embarrassing noise every time you fall. The avoidance of making this noise will become your first motivator for becoming a better skater.

You try out. You join the league. You feel like this means something, but you still don’t call yourself a derby girl because you’re aware of a vast gap in ability between yourself and the people who tell you what to do at practice. You keep doing your best. You watch them closely. You try to pick the best skaters and mimic them. You learn to look where you want to go instead of at your feet. You fall a little less often.

You take your assessment, which you mostly expect to fail, so you’re not too disappointed when you do indeed fail. For a month, you obsessively work on plow stops and endurance. You retake your assessment and fail. This time it’s disappointing. You try to pick yourself up right away and get back to practice. You’ve spent four months on this, and you really thought you’d be better at it by now. You try to push yourself harder, but it’s hot outside, and you feel tired all the time. For a week or so, you obsess about whether you’re eating correctly. You never seem able to drink enough water. You take a couple days off, but when you go back to practice, people are really nice to you, and everyone has something helpful to say.

The drills start to make sense. You start to apply the things you’ve been practicing. You read your assessment feedback again and again. You think hard about core strength. You put the next assessment on your calendar. You set your financial goals for the coming month based on the cost of new skates. You would still never spend more than $100 on shoes, but now you want a $350 pair of skates. You believe you have a sincere, justifiable need for shiny booty shorts, and you discover a new purpose for those torn up stockings haunting your sock drawer.

There are days when you go to practice because you want to get better, and there are days when you go because you’ve become an exercise addict and you need the endorphin rush. Still, there are days when you go because nothing else seems to be going right. You put on your skates, and nothing else in the world matters. No one on the track knows about the dishes you left in the sink or the bullshit you left at work, and they don’t care. You don’t know if you’ll pass your next assessment, so you try to let go of any expectations about it and just practice.

And you practice and you practice and you practice and you practice.

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My Path of Seva: How may I help you?

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There is a yogic practice called seva, which just means service. It’s the simplest thing in the world, but it can be life-changing. All you do is serve others. Make it your job to help people wherever you can, however you can. Think about how you can help your coworkers. How can you be a beneficial presence in your loved one’s lives? How can you be the most use in the world? In my opinion, the ideal seva practice is one in which you are able to give much yet feel fulfilled and joyful about giving.

I was doing my yoga teacher training while working as a project manager, and that’s when I started to seriously apply seva to my life. I did not particularly love my work (although my coworkers were all wonderful people), but I needed to keep that job. I wasn’t the best PM ever, but viewing my job through the lens of seva made me pretty decent at it. I felt the most satisfied when I could help my team complete a project quickly and do the job well, but I still wasn’t helping enough. I was not making the world a better place by being there. Nothing happened at that company that couldn’t happen without me. My service was not essential, and I knew I could accomplish more elsewhere.

Since becoming a yoga teacher, I’ve spent most of my time looking for the ways I could do the most good for other people. In my relationships, in my yoga classes, and in derby, I look for the ways that I can be of the most service. The other night, I was getting ahead of myself thinking about which roller derby team I would like to be on. They all have different strengths and weaknesses, and they’re all made up of incredible athletes. The truth is, I would love to be on any of those teams, and if there’s a team that could use someone like me, I want to be on it. To me, that’s part of seva: send me where I’m needed, and I’ll find joy in the work.

The strangest part about seva is that while it opens up all kinds of opportunities for me, I never feel like I’m giving nearly as much as I’m receiving. If I do volunteer work, I feel humbled by the chance to serve other people. I learn more from my yoga students than I could ever teach them. And though I strive to hold up my end of the deal with my husband, I owe him more gratitude than I have words for. In other words, the more I focus on giving, the more I seem to receive.

That’s not to say I don’t look out for myself. It’s become more and more important in the past year for me to take care of my own health and monitor my own stress levels because serving all the time is exhausting. I require time for myself. I have to take long baths, lounge in the sun, eat good food, do my yoga practice and meditate — all those things that help me be happy and function in the world. And through the lens of seva, even those things become more joyful because I know that when I am well and happy, I can help spread wellness and happiness. Seva is becoming a positive cycle in my life.

It’s said that you can reach enlightenment through total dedication to any form of yoga, including seva. Let me be clear: I don’t know what enlightenment is and I’m not all that interested in reaching it. I’m more interested in learning to be a happy human being here and now, not some kind of radiant embodied deity (which is how I imagine enlightened folks). But I can testify that the pursuit of seva has changed my life. When I worked as a PM, I felt like my life had been hijacked. Now, the more I serve others, the more confirmation I get that I am on my right path. I think being on my right path and finding peace in the here and now is far more valuable than the endless pursuit of gloriously useless enlightenment.

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