Finally Rolling

Dolls Group HugThis past weekend, I realized a goal I’ve been dreaming of, working for, and yes — dreading — for a year or more. Those who have heard me talking about derby for the past year may be wondering why it took so long, but there’s a method to the madness. When I tried out for Charm City Roller Girls, passing the tryout just meant I was allowed to practice with the league. I was not yet cleared for contact (i.e. hitting/blocking), nor was I eligible to scrimmage, be drafted, or play in a bout. After months of training and several rounds of skills assessments, I became eligible for the draft and got onto the Junkyard Dolls. Getting there took eight months, a lot of patience, much ego checking, and countless hours of practice.

Finally, on January 24, 2015, I played my first roller derby game with the Junkyard Dolls.

I wanted to tell you what it’s like to play your first roller derby game, but truthfully, I remember very little. It was a blur of noise and wheels and bodies. Going into the game, I was convinced I’d forgotten everything I’ve ever known about derby. Coming out of the penalty box, I was afraid I’d do something wrong and frantically asked the people around me, “Where can I come in … behind the pack right? Behind everyone?” Yes, Dirt. Behind everyone. In theory, I know the rules. In a state of panic, not so much.

My performance was what you could expect from a newbie: not glamorous, but I showed up.

My teammates, on the other hand, were better than I could’ve asked for. They were tough. They gave me instructions. The pushed me where I needed to go. They high-fived me when I did well. They forgave me when I fucked up. In general, they rocked. The Junkyard Dolls won. By a lot.

My biggest fear going into the game was that if we lost it would be due to my personal failure. By the second half, I realized it wasn’t possible for me to be the sole cause of our failure if we did lose.

As for what made us win, that’s a more complicated story. We played against the Night Terrors, and I think of them as being a great team because they have quite a few skaters I admire. However, they also got the most new recruits during the November draft, so for the moment at least, they seem to be in a rebuilding phase. This being the first game of the 2015 season, lots of people on all the teams struggled to get enough practice hours to qualify for Saturday’s game. The Junkyard Dolls were apparently the only team whose skaters all met the requirement, therefore we were the only team with a full roster of our own players. That’s a pretty obvious advantage.

At half time, we talked about what was working and what wasn’t. Holly thanked everyone for making their practice requirements because preparation really was our greatest advantage. That moment made me realize even good teams with great skaters can’t succeed if all their players aren’t engaged, not just on game day but for the month leading up to it.

In an interview on the CCRG blog a while back, Fed mentioned that the Dolls all have a ton of heart and really leave it all on the track. I think that’s another way of expressing the same thing — the Junkyard Dolls don’t just show up and expect to be great. They keep showing up until they get great … and then they do it some more because being great for one game isn’t enough.

As for me, greatness was not on my agenda this weekend. My primary emotion during this first game was fear, and my goal was to face it. I did that. Box checked. Now I get to work on the next thing, whatever that turns out to be. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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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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How Derby is Teaching Me to Let Go of Fear


This is the year I let go of fear. This is the year I push myself. That’s what I determined at the start of 2014. There is no path laid out ahead of me: no promotion to work for, no boss to please, no raise to negotiate. It’s up to me to determine where I go this year and beyond. Total freedom is very similar to total lack of direction, and the main difference between the two is having the ovaries to take action. And that means I cannot be frozen by fear.

Trying out for derby was a pretty big challenge and a good way to practice facing my fears, but it was only the beginning. Getting into the league is one thing, but sticking with it, practicing even when you’re tired and sore, reaching out to new people, and challenging yourself physically and mentally with every practice … well, it’s hard work. It’s especially hard if you’re naturally an introvert who’d rather stay home and think deep thoughts than sweat or meet new people.

Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing this, and the answer seems to be: Because I want to see if I can. The challenge is satisfying in a way I’ve never experienced before. What I get from derby that I haven’t had in the past is a particular sense of accomplishment. Unlike my professional accomplishments, what I achieve in derby directly benefits me first and foremost (later I hope it will also benefit my team). Unlike writing or artistic accomplishments, there’s no questioning whether other people will like or appreciate it — I’m not doing it for an audience. And whereas my yoga practice is very personal and private to me, derby is something I can share with a vibrant community of people who want to help and cheer each other on. It turns out, derby fills a hole in my life I didn’t know was there.

As for the fear? Yeah, it’s still there, but I’m working on it. During practice this weekend, Mr. Pistol (one of the coaches) kept talking about committing to your movements. If you don’t commit, you’ll always do it half way, and you’ll never really get there. And what stops me from committing? Fear, of course. So I started telling myself to let go of fear and commit to doing the falls, stops and various techniques we worked on. I did not instantaneously became awesome at them, but it felt good to make a sincere effort, focus on my work, and see improvement.

I’ve also noticed that what I learn from derby often relates back to my other love: yoga. Just the other day, I complained about being afraid that I’m not a good enough yoga teacher. Yep, there’s that fear again. I have to let go of the fear of failure and commit to teaching with my true voice. If I try to please everyone, I will end up pleasing either no one or everyone but myself. Neither option is acceptable to me. If I teach the yoga I love, there’s a chance that the folks at the gym will decide I’m not their right teacher, but there’s also a chance of real success.

And what does real success mean to me? It’s pretty simple: Doing what I love in a sustainable way that adds to the overall good in the world. I’m pretty sure that’s not asking too much, and all I have to do is get the fear out of the way.

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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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A Ritual for Beginnings

It’s January first, and there’s a lot to look forward to in the next 364 days, but before we leap headlong into 2014, lets take a quiet moment to reflect, set our intentions, and welcome the new year. Setting your intentions is a simple but powerful practice that will help you shape your life according to your true inner wisdom and values.

I’ve modified the centering practice I use at the beginning of yoga classes to be used as a New Year ritual. You can use this short practice every day or expand on it with your own variations for a more personalized practice any time you are setting new goals.

First, find a comfortable seat — any way that you can sit upright with minimal effort or strain is fine.

Close your eyes, relax, and take your awareness inside. Feel what it’s like to be in your skin right now. Take note of how you’re feeling physically and mentally. Do not judge. Simply observe.

Next, take your awareness to the breath. Relax the belly and mentally trace the path of the breath as it enters and exits the body. Notice where the breath moves freely and where it encounters resistance. You may find resistance in the jaw, throat, chest, or belly. Any place where the body is holding on to tension or work of any kind, make it your intention to soften and let go.

Bring the awareness back to the breath. Spend a minute or two (or several if you can maintain focus) watching the breath and honing your focus. Let go of all extraneous thoughts.

Now, ask yourself: What have I come here to do?  What could I give to myself? What could I give to the world?

Whatever answer comes up, whatever form it takes, allow this to be your intention for now. This may last the year or maybe just for one day. You may wish to write down your intention or create a symbol to remind you of it — perhaps a piece of jewelry or something as simple as a sticky note you’ll see every day.

Revisit your intention often. If it continues to serve you and be in your best interest, you can carry this same intention forever. At some point, it may become clear that a new intention is appropriate for you, and at that point you’ll change it.

Trust in your inner guru. Trust that within you is a light and a wisdom that guides you. This wisdom is based in the ultimate truth of the universe, the divine fact of your existence. It is pure, without morality or judgement. It will lead you to the friends, lovers, teachers and benefactors you most need. It will show you your opportunities and your challenges. Invite this inner wisdom along with your intention to be your guide. 

Be grateful. Be grateful for all that has lead you to your current position in life and all the blessings and goodness that surround you now. Be grateful for your body, your mind, your health and wellbeing, regardless of their supposed imperfections. Know that you are exactly who you need to be and that you are perfectly suited for the journey ahead.

Welcome the future with an open heart and honor your place in it.

You’re going to have a great 2014. I just know it. It’ll be an adventure (it always is!) and you’ll learn a lot. It’s your choice to allow it to make you better, stronger, and more beautiful in every way. Go for it, babe.


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