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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2014: The Year of Humans Sucking and Getting Better

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2014 has been a year of massive learning.

This year, I have witnessed friends experiencing all kinds of painful stuff. Divorces, abuses, rejections and failures have been plentiful.

But I’ve also seen and experienced some wonderful stuff. This year I saw a transgender friend coming to terms with her real self. I saw her being herself and feeling beautiful for possibly the first time. I saw a friend choose to exit a toxic relationship. I saw another friend ask for help even though he hates needing help. I saw people come to yoga class who have been at war with their bodies for decades. I saw them make peace.

And as for me? Man, I fucked up a lot. It’s pretty much my greatest talent. But I also kept trying and had some little successes of my own. I did some things I didn’t think I could do, like getting on to a derby team — did I tell you I’m a Junkyard Doll now? Hell yeah. And I’ve started accepting help from my friends in the form of teaching home yoga classes (think tupperware parties for the soul), and while that might not sound like much, asking friends to host classes for me a year ago would have paralyzed me with fear. My motto for the year was, “see the fear and let it go,” and I repeated it to myself almost constantly for my first six months of roller derby.

On a personal level, I’d say this year was extremely challenging but also rewarding … although sometimes I had to look extra hard to find the happy part.

On a grander scale, it was still a dark year. Terrible things happened in the world. I have felt pretty much gutted and useless about the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and far too many more young men who didn’t deserve to die. It’s so clear to me that racism is alive in our world, yet I can’t fathom a way to transfer that knowledge to the people who most need to get it. All the shouting doesn’t seem to help, so I work on compassion. I think compassion is what makes people realize others are human, so that’s what I try to practice and teach.

I’ve been trying to keep a positive attitude about the future of the world, and I’m tempted to write a really airy, upbeat conclusion to this blog post, but it wouldn’t ring true. I want to say that despite all the pain and suffering people are going through, we are becoming more aware. We are being forced to face each other’s suffering and experience the excruciating awakening of compassion. But you know … people are still dying. Specifically, young black men in America. But people all over the world are suffering. Every day we are confronted with it, and the only thing that can stop it is when we recognize others’ suffering, see that they are human, and care enough to help them by changing ourselves and the world. Not enough people are doing that.

So here’s the bad news: This year I learned that humans really suck. We do evil things to each other, largely out of ignorance but also out of hate and fear. All of us do it sometimes, but some people seem to live on that level, and they can be really fucking evil, especially in groups.

And here’s the good news: We don’t have to suck. We could just admit it, you know? Like, “Hey, I kinda suck. I’m human. Will you please love me anyway?” And suddenly … we suck less. And we kinda know deep down that we’re good people who are doing our best. And then — here’s the important part — we have to actually try to be better. We have to leave the shitty relationship or start being kinder to each other. We have to forgive others. We have to look honestly at ourselves and our behaviors. And we have to be brave enough to open our damn mouths and speak when we see injustice. But if we do that … then we’re not totally useless.

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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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