When a Fail isn’t a Fail

Roller skates at La Muette, Paris, 1955. Photo: Robert Doisneau; One of the drills we did last night looked a lot like this. I was the one in back.
Roller skates at La Muette, Paris, 1955. Photo: Robert Doisneau; One of the drills we did last night looked a lot like this. I was the one in back.

Last night, we had a skills assessment at practice, and today I’m waiting to hear how I did. I am about 90% expecting to hear that I did not pass, but a little part of me is holding out hope that maybe I did better than I thought. The thing is, almost no one passes the orange assessment on their first try. Leading up to last night, lots of teamed skaters told me and the other white stars (the nice name for fresh meat) how many times they had to take the assessment before they passed. Many tried two, three, or four times. I’ve heard it’s common to take six months for a brand new skater to be ready to start scrimmaging. That sounds like a long time, but based on the progress I’ve made so far, it wouldn’t surprise me if it takes that long. From one practice to the next, it’s slow, steady improvement. The world doesn’t change over night, and neither does my ability to do a proper plow stop.

So, why did I do the assessment if I felt certain I was going to fail? Well, mostly because I needed the practice points to make the attendance requirement for this month, but also to find out how far I’ve come and what I need to work on the most. And yes, part of me thought, “Maybe it will all click and suddenly make sense when I’m testing, and I’ll do really well.” Some things did click for me. In a slightly pressured situation, I found myself a little more agile and confident than I was two months ago. On the other hand, I realized some skills I just don’t have yet: I don’t really know how to hit, I don’t get low enough to take a hit without falling over, and I don’t have very good endurance. And that’s all stuff I’m aware of without getting my feedback yet, so I’m sure what I get back will be helpful, and then I’ll have some points to focus on before the next assessment. And the cool thing is, I’m pretty sure I can get better, so I just have to keep doing it.

As my fellow freshies are getting their responses and sharing them among our little group, I’m eager to get mine, but mostly I’m feeling really happy for us all. There was a lot of team work involved last night, and I was proud of the way we communicated with and encouraged one another. We did a good job of supporting one another while we did our own best. At one point or another, every one of us said or thought, “I can’t fucking do this,” but we did. And everyone was so damn proud of everyone else by the end of the night, it was a little ridiculous. The experience itself was worth the nerves and exhaustion, and even though I feel certain I didn’t pass, it doesn’t feel like a failure.

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Derby Diary: Let the Charming Begin

Guess who is now a member of the Charm City Rollergirls? Hint: it’s someone who’s blog you may currently be reading. 🙂

SO! Yes, I made it into the league, and so did Jenn and our new friend Sara who we met while practicing at open skate nights. I honestly could not be happier — especially now that I’ve had some sleep! I still have to pass two more assessments before I can be drafted to a competing team, but this means I get to start practicing with the league now. I’ve already started looking at how to arrange my work schedule to make time for practice. Monday is currently my busiest teaching day as well as the main practice day for newbies, so I’ve got some stuff to sort there.

I was nervous about the tryout, but it turned out to be fun. The whole time, everyone was cheering each other on, and there was a strong sense that everyone there really wanted to see one another do well. Sure, we were all focused on ourselves and doing our best work, but in the middle of a challenging drill, it meant a lot to hear a friendly voice saying, “You’re doing great, keep it up!”

We did all our stops first and got them out of the way. T-stops were the hardest thing for me right up until yesterday morning, and then suddenly something clicked. Everyone makes a big deal about being able to do 25 laps in 5 minutes, and I’d never timed myself on that before so I had no idea if I could do it. I made 23 laps, and that was harder than I expected. I think my real problem wasn’t that I couldn’t go fast enough but that I was too timid at the beginning. I got behind this girl who was going slower than I wanted to, but I couldn’t quite pick up the pace to get around her. I tried to make up the lost time it in the 4th minute, but it was a struggle because I was already winded.

The other thing we did that I’d never tried before was pack skating. We had a wide range of ability levels in our pack, which made things challenging. While we were skating in a tight pack, our pivot told us to jump, at which point three people immediately fell in front of me. I opted not to jump that time as I didn’t want to join them on the floor in a faceplant pile. However, I really enjoyed getting a feel for how the group moves together and how you can use your teammates to help steady yourself and vice versa. It quickly became clear why communicating with your team, staying in contact and repeating your pivot’s commands are all important. That was my first taste of what it would be like to skate with a team, and I loved it.

What happens when you get better at something is you realize how much more you have to learn and how much better you really could be. Today, I’m thinking about how far I’ve come since that first time at the rink back in November and how much work is ahead. I want to get good at skating backwards, improve my stops, build up some speed, and shake off that timidity that has held me back more than once on the track and off. And once I get those things done, there will be something new to work on. In other words, I better get back to work. 🙂

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I don’t even know how I hurt myself.

tennis court rules
Most of my favorite things are against the rules here.

This week has been both awesome and terrible.

Last Friday, Jenn and I decided to get some skating practice at the tennis courts near her house. It was a rare sunny day, so we got to practice drills without the interference of a bunch of kids around. Granted, we’re not technically allowed to skate on the tennis courts, but hopefully the neighbors won’t mind.

The next day, we celebrated my birthday with a bunch of friends by going to watch the DC Rollergirls bout. I’ve finally started understanding the rules and recognizing some of the techniques the skaters are using, which makes watching the bouts a lot more fun. However, I can now differentiate between the few skills I recognize and can do and … well, everything else. Let’s just say derby looked a lot easier when I didn’t know anything about it.


I’m even more motivated to practice than I was at the start, but I somehow managed to tweak my back pretty badly this week. Between shoveling snow, sleeping on an old mattress and teaching four yoga classes on Monday, it hasn’t gotten better. Now, I’m sitting at home in so much pain folding laundry is nearly impossible, which means skating tonight is probably out of the question.

To make matters worse, I discovered the next Charm School is on the same date and time as a presentation I promised to give two months ago. Even though Charm School is only two hours, that time practicing with the big kids is pretty important. The feedback they give is so much more helpful than just skating around on my own. Seeing them do the stops and drills and mimicking their form (a lot like how I learned yoga at the very beginning) really helped me gain some confidence on my skates. With this being the only remaining Charm School between now and tryouts on March 1, I’m pretty gutted about missing it, but obviously I need to keep the commitment I made.

BUT THERE’S HOPE! Turns out the DC Rollergirls are starting their rec league, soon, which involves a series of class/practices that seem like a good place to learn. So the executive decision for this week is to stay home, take some Ibuprofen, plan my presentation, and commit to participating in the DC events in February. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch cartoons in an attempt to stop feeling pain for the next several hours.

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Let’s Get Charming

Fresh Meat
My friend Krista gave me this adorable derby pin-up coloring book, which I was inspired to start coloring on Saturday after Charm School. For more from this artist, check out Scarlet Tentacle on Etsy.

Last weekend was my first Charm School with the Charm City Rollergirls. I was so nervous … but why? It was awesome.

They say every derby league has its own personality based on the city and the type of people it attracts. I’ve heard the DC league described as a little more white-collar and somewhat transient because so few people are truly permanent residents in the district. Their teams are good but not the top in the region, and they’re a very welcoming group to newcomers. By comparison, I guessed the Baltimore league would be more of a home-grown, blue-collar group. People from Baltimore love their city fiercely, so I expect the derby girls to follow suit. The Charm City Rollergirls seem to be pretty dominant in our area, which makes playing for them both attractive and terrifying. Granted, no matter which league I try out for, I’m expecting to have to step up my game.

Getting on the floor the first time, I was so flustered that I put on my helmet and wrist guards backwards. BACKWARDS. *facepalm* Lucky Penny, one of our coaches for the day, was kind enough to stop me and turn my helmet around the right way, and she didn’t even laugh at me for it. Our other coaches for the day were Holly GoHardly and Red Pepper — both total badasses. With the three of them, we worked on falling safely, skating form, a variety of stops, and lot of drills to increase strength and confidence on wheels. By the end of our 2-hour session, I was tired but feeling a lot more confident in my ability to learn and find my way in derby.

I also met a couple of recent recruits — Allie Gorey and Irene Supreme — who shared their experiences with trying out and helped me find my feet more than once during challenging drills. They explained some of the process of getting on a bouting team, which is rigorous. Here’s the nutshell version (let’s see if I can get this right): First, you try out and hopefully make it into the league. Then you’re considered “fresh meat.” Second, you practice a lot, and then try out again to get on a scrimmaging team. Finally, you try out a third time to get on a bouting team that competes against other leagues. I think of the league like a little family of teams that competes against other families … like a Nickelodeon show, but a lot more hardcore.

Between being fresh meat and bouting, you get involved in the community, participate in committees, go to practices and open skates, and generally fill up your life with derby related activities. Allie and Irene said it’s like a part-time job just to be part of the league, which sounds like a pretty huge commitment. After Charm School, I feel fairly sure that I can learn the skills needed to try out for real, but the commitment required to practice consistently and become part of a team is where the real challenge comes in.

So, what’s next …? Skating this afternoon with Jenn, followed by a group outing to see a bout in DC tomorrow in celebration of my birthday (I turned 31 on Wednesday). And then it’s back to our regularly scheduled work-your-ass-off routine.

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All Dolled Up for Charm School

Added to my to-do list: Plan yoga practice for skating.
Added to my to-do list: Plan yoga practice for skating. (No, this isn’t me. One day, though …) 

I didn’t so much fall off the bandwagon. It’s more like the Ghost of Christmas Present kicked me off in a whirlwind of junk food, booze, and family gatherings. So … I didn’t do yoga at all while in Louisiana for Christmas, nor have I skated since coming home. My muscles have been tight, my energy has been low, and I was just starting to feel a bit of regret about it all earlier this week. The good news is, you can always rededicate yourself to your practice. Atha yoganushasanam, right? Now we begin. There’s a reason this is tattooed on my forearm. I need the reminder frequently.

My motivation this week has been to prepare for Charm School, a Saturday-morning clinic for aspiring derby girls put on by the Charm City Rollergirls. This will be my first chance to interact with the Baltimore derby crowd (aside from watching them bout), so I’m completely stoked, but also a little nervous. I fall slightly less often than I used to and can theoretically skate backwards, but I still basically suck. On the bright side, I got most of my gear for Christmas from my amazing husband, which means I’m now equipped to do all the falling necessary to actually get good at derby.

I wish I’d done more skating this week, but it’s cold as the bejeezus outside and frankly, I don’t wanna/you can’t make me. Instead, I’ve been using my yoga practice to help build strength and endurance. Thursday morning, for example, I did several rounds of Sun Salutation (with jump-backs) to warm up, then worked on pigeon pose and eagle (two of my favorite standards). After that, I touched on my project poses: handstand, pinchamayurasana, bakasana, and bhujapidasana. I’m finally able to kick up into handstand and hold it for several seconds without using the wall, and my bakasana (crow pose) has gotten a lot stronger. I can get into pincha from headstand if I use the wall, and I can do the first step of bhujapidasana. My asana goal for 2014 is to master this set of poses, and I feel like I’m already making good progress.

What do these poses have to do with derby, though? While Sun Salutation may not be what you think of when you want to build up your endurance, it really is a challenge once you start building up to the 108. Plus, skating can be intense on the hips and low back, so I like to use various yoga poses to work out the kinks from practice as well as that unique post-travel, cold weather stiffness. Finally, all those inversions and arm balances may not seem related to skating, but they certainly help build core strength, focus, and overall confidence. I feel pretty good about the progress I’m making lately, and while I don’t expect to be the best skater at Charm School, I feel ready to learn a lot and challenge myself.


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