Dear 27/5 or How to Make Freshie Life Difficult

Photo credit Sean Hale @seanhaleyeah

I hate generalizations, but I am pretty sure that if I asked across the Freshieverse what skill Freshies dread the most, the majority would answer: the 27/5. How can such a simple exercise become the plight of a Freshie’s existence so quickly?

My experience with the 27/5 was the same as any other skater who had never heard of it before. There was already so much new and mysterious vocabulary to learn in derby, such as “eat the baby”, “goat”, and “mohawk” to name just a few, that the first time I heard “27/5”, I did not know what to think of it because I had no clue what it was. What the Vets told me is that in order to pass my minimum skills, I had to skate around the track at least twenty-seven times in five minutes or less.

Let’s process that thought for a second. 27 laps in 5 minutes. Broken down, it is 1 lap every 11 seconds.

I did not ask why five minutes, and why twenty-seven laps. In the past, it was twenty-five laps. I do not know who decided this particular exercise would be part of the answer to judging who gets to scrimmage, and who gets stuck in the Freshie corner for two hours. Because let’s be honest, the first time I put on a pair of skates and went rolling around, completely uncoordinated like the baby giraffe that I was, I thought speeding around the track was for Olympic athletes who did speed skating since age 3. I was very new and very unprepared to say the least.

Therefore, the 27/5 finally took its full meaning when the day came and we were asked (with a smile) to do it. Barely two months in the Freshie program, I believed that I was going to die, just like those folks back in the 1800s who rode a train for the first time at 5 mph and thought they would die. Same deal. Only difference was I would skate faster than 5 mph.

There I was, shaking in my boots. My stomach tightened like a rock, and the anxiety rose up like mercury in a thermometer. One of the Vets looked at us, witnessed the terror in our baby giraffes’ eyes, and said: “Don’t worry about the number of laps, I sucked my first time! Just do your best! You can only go up from there!” Another Vet stood in the center of the track, and shouted at me: “I’m counting for you!”

Right. I looked at the oddly shaped track and thought, “Twenty-seven times.” How did you skate around a track that was not round to begin with? A Vet threw out there, “Skate the diamond!” Confusion settled in my brain. What was a “diamond”? No time left. It was real. It was VERY real. I looked around and saw my Freshie mates spaced out on the track ahead of me. I could not back out now. My counting partner gave me the thumbs up. My stomach flipped like a burger on the griddle pan as I took a deep breath. The whistle blew and I just went.

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Photo credit Sean Hale @seanhaleyeah

I skated as fast as I could. My breathing got heavier. My vision narrowed. My heart thumped like a beast inside my rib cage. In between breaths, I heard cheers. Lots of cheers. Every here and then, I saw people smiling and giving me more thumbs up. How many laps already? 3. Gosh, it felt like 15. Five minutes they said. More like five hours in my book. Twenty-seven times. Gosh! My trucks felt tight, my form was crap, I followed the shape of the track and braked at every turn… because I did not know what a “diamond” was! In between blank thoughts and blood pumping in my dizzy head, my left leg had turned into a useless limb almost immediately. I dragged the dead leg as best as I could. How many laps? “5… 11…. keep going Kiki! 15…. 1 minute left… Go Kiki, go! thirty seconds left… 20…  21… Time!”

My jello legs gave way, and I thanked the heavens as soon as the whistle marked the end of this medieval torture. While I recovered, my counting partner came up to me and patted me on the shoulder. “You did great for a first time! You will get better, I promise!”

My left leg was hurting so bad I thought I would be limping for the rest of the night. I had done great. I was almost dead! How could people endure this? Deep down, I did not feel accomplished. I just felt tired. The task was not complicated. Clearly, I had to learn one thing or two, starting with how to loosen my trucks, how to crossover, and how to skate a “diamond”. I also thought I was in shape, darn it! Roller derby made me reevaluate my fitness level right off the bat.

From that point on, began a quest. Loosening your trucks, I learned, helps with turns, and better catching your edges. Obviously, loosening trucks too much can lead to greater imbalance. If you are unsure as to what trucks are, here is a post I wrote on skate maintenance which explains everything you should know about the anatomy of a roller skate.

The biggest challenge by far was my crossovers. They looked more like pirate leg skating than really pushing over and under. What I refer to as pirate leg skating is basically your right leg doing none of the pushing for you and looking pretty much like a wooden peg while your left does all the work and wears out and cramps up after lap 10. I really wanted to look good, you know, like those Olympic athletes.

And what the heck was this “diamond”? Figures “diamond” is the sweet derby name for circle because diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

The quest to pass the 27/5 became more technical than I thought. Skating a perfect lap without losing speed and getting completely worn out was a science in itself. My pirate leg skating was pretty strong for a while, so my “diamond” and crossovers suffered, but like with anything else in roller derby, I did not give up.

Yes, after hours of practice, I eventually passed. The “diamond” finally happened. My pirate leg turned into a functioning human leg, and I did manage to squeeze the twenty-seven laps in those five minutes. I would like, however, to meet the twisted individual who thought the 27/5 was the make-it or break-it skill. The 27/5 does not add anything to my strategy or track awareness. All the 27/5 really does is test endurance without contact with any other player, so good luck once you start jamming/blocking and have to deal with immovable walls. (To learn more about the love-hate relationship we all share for the 27/5, please read IronOctopus Fitness’s wonderful blog post: The 27-in-5: A Metric For What Exactly?)

The sport has progressed so much over the years that the 27/5 almost does not make any sense anymore, and yet, it remains. It is a staple of the minimum skills, and trips up many skaters who may excel in all the other skills (like plows, jumps or transitions). Like it or not, you gotta lap around the track like a mad dog at least twenty-seven times if you want to become a rookie giraffe who can scrimmage and hit people for real… instead of practicing non-contact drills in a corner of the rink.

My experience with the 27/5 is no different than many others who went through it. It took several tries and a lot of meditation to finally break the threshold, and realize this thing was not the end of the world after all. Five minutes though… even now I feel like I could be doing a lot of other things in five minutes. Crossover, crossover, crossover… gosh I’m losing count. How do you crossover the entire way? Breathe, remember to breathe. I swear my left leg is going to fall off. Over push, under push, I can’t tell the difference! Did I loosen my trucks enough? Argh 26 and 3/4!!!!!!!! Why the heck did I join derby?

And then once you pass it, it feels like you just climbed Mount Everest.

Dear 27/5, I freaking hate you but I feel very accomplished once I make you my b*tch.

Let’s hear from you! What is/was your experience with the 27/5?

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Photo credit Sean Hale @seanhaleyeah – My pirate leg’s game feels pretty strong here

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Follow me on Instagram @kikindateef

A Shoutout to Derby Wives

 

Photo credit Sean Hale @seanhaleyeah

Joining roller derby, I did not think of getting married. Well derby married.

A derby wife has many definitions, but here is one I found and truly identify with: “A derby marriage is a declaration of close friendship, but more than that, it is a commitment to support one another both in and out of derby. A wife is a person who always has your back. She will never insult you by taking it easy on you at practice. She will notice your improvements and make sure that you notice them, too. She will work with you to help you excel in areas that you previously felt were weaknesses. When/If you get injured, she’s the one who takes care of you and worries about you. She’ll even back you up at the after-party.” I stole this definition from Charlottesville Derby Dames’ blog. 🙂

At the beginning of my derby journey, I heard the term and did not know how to really go about it. I did not have friends per se in derby. I only started to get to know people, and was more focused on learning the ropes at that point.

There was also something a little nerve wracking about derby marriage since it was a marriage, especially when the “’til death doeth part” echoed in the back of my head like an ominous warning. How did this work? Did I have to get dressed up, and have a ceremony?  How did I even find my derby wife? Were we supposed to get engaged? Did we get rings? What if this did not work???????? Speaking from life experience, and having gone through a marriage that ended in a divorce, I was not too hot on getting married again, especially when I did not know what this marriage entailed.

Guess what though? Derby marriage is actually not as bad as it sounds.

Derby marriage is a special bond. A derby wife will stick around and support you through thick and thin. She is your best bud, off and on the track. She gives you hug after hug and says you can do anything you set your mind to. She inspires you day in and day out. You miss each other when you are not together at practice. Your heart breaks for the other when you or she gets injured. You can talk about anything, and you never get mad at each other, but you also stay true and honest, and say it like it is when necessary.

I was probably the last one to think I would ever get derby married. It was okay by me to be derby single. Teammates made official announcements of their derby weddings, and I was happy for them. I read in a lot of places that you do not need a derby wife to have a happy derby life.

My wife getting married, and I watched it all on Skype! ❤

I guess the derby gods had other plans for me. The wife and I were not really sure how to go about it, if we needed to do something formal, and all that jazz, and we decided not to. We just agreed to be wives. She actually proposed to me and I said yes. LOL Other than that there was no ceremony, no dress, no rings exchanged, no vows. We are best buds, and we support and care for each other. When I took a leave of absence, she asked me if I was quitting derby, and she even said her heart would break if I quit. I reassured her I would not quit derby. I needed a break to heal from a stupid injury and manage my crazy life, and she understood and respected my decision. She is always there to talk to and to vent. We share laughter, and gossip. We talk derby. We talk life. In good and hard times, we are there for each other as much as we can. We share happy moments. I attended my wife’s wedding via Skype while on vacation in Europe (I know how funny this sentence just sounded – but it was amazing! Thank you technology!). We make the best of recovery time when one of us gets injured. We miss each other dearly when we are not at practice. Most importantly, we stand on the track, whether as allies or opponents, and it is always a privilege to play together.

I would like to dedicate this post to my derby wife Pixel Bloq. She has been a tremendous source of support and love I did not think I would find when I joined derby, but I was proven wrong once again. Derby is really full of surprises. I have also read stories of derby wives traveling across the globe to help each other, and this is the best thing ever (this is a wink to my teammate Knox).

It is also okay to have multiple wives, and to switch wives, so derby marriage is not as strict as a real marriage I realized. 😉

What about you? Do you have a derby wife?

❤ Keeks

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Follow me on instagram @kikindateef