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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