Derby Blues

377e1e5Let’s just say that I wanted to kick my helmet across the rink yesterday. Yes, it was one of those nights. Nothing went wrong really. Yet, everything felt wrong for me. It was one of those nights where I cried on the way home, asking myself the usual existential questions.

Roller derby, I love you. Roller derby, I hate you.

I remember reading this article by Quiet Storm about her hate letter to derby. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, you should give it a go. I read this post very shortly after I started roller derby. My passionate love story with derby had just begun, and felt way too magical for such a post to really have an impact on me, so I read it, and then let it go.

Last night, I read it again, and it resonated with me. Positive talk can only go so far. I’m a big advocate of staying positive, that’s my mojo. Yesterday however, I felt like no positive talk could save me from the crap load of frustration I was dealing with.

Truth is I’ve been having anxiety about practice. It’s a normal thing for me to have the butterflies before going, because stuff seems so insurmountable. When I started, I was nervous about skating, minimum skills, and the 27/5. Now, I’m nervous about tryouts, and scrimmages. I’m sure at some point I’m gonna be nervous about bouting. Weekend long tournaments. The list never ends.

I’m not strong on confidence to begin with, especially if I’m out of my comfort zone. I started derby because I wanted to skate. I wanted to learn how to be good on wheels. I took the challenge and went with it. Fearful, I became fearless, and battled my way through just like any other skater before me did. I don’t believe in talent as much as I believe in hard work. Derby is no different. With enough practice and dedication, anyone can become a star.

I practice what I preach. I show up to practice religiously unless work or a family event prevents me from coming. I take derby seriously. I NSO, I volunteer, I do whatever it is I have to do to support my league.

Despite all that, derby is the kind of battle that leaves me hopeless sometimes. It’s the kind of battle I wonder why I’m fighting so hard. Derby keeps asking me to give, and give some more… Truth is not everyone becomes an all-star.

Some said derby saved their souls. I really believe derby saved me too. Yet, today I feel so resentful toward it. On top of my anger, I feel guilty for hating the sport I also love so goddamn much.

That’s how I stumbled upon the hate letter to derby. I always ask Google for answers when I feel down. Google gives me what I need! In this case, I spent my post-practice late, late night reading blogs and posts from skaters who felt just the same as me. Whether they were freshies, rookies, or accomplished vets, I read their words and felt their sadness. The derby love was tainted with so much frustration. Big questions were asked: “What are my priorities?” was the main one. “Is derby my life?”, “Do I need to really kill myself for this?” expressed the same concern.

These questions made me ask myself questions.

What is my motivation in all of this? Why do I feel suddenly so defeated, and frustrated?

I took an inventory of my progress, and how it related to my feelings. It’s clear to me my honeymoon with derby has ended. I’m back to earth now. I see derby’s imperfections. I get impatient with derby. I don’t want to give it time, I want it now, and I want it bad! My skill set continues to improve, but when comes scrimmage time, I feel inadequate. I feel invisible. I feel unimportant. I feel like me leaving the track won’t change the outcome of the game. Whether I play or not, my team is fine without me.

This hurts. I’m not casting the blame at anyone when I say this. No one made me feel like this. I feel like this because derby got real. My relationship with derby is being tested, just like any relationship. Nothing stays in the pink cloud forever. I have to eat crap in derby, just like I do at my job, and anything else I undertake. That’s how commitment is tested. You endure the bad, you enjoy the good.

Success is built on failure. Success is built on disappointment, and frustration. My willingness to keep pushing past this will determine whether I stick around or not. I’m full of insecurities, but I’m very stubborn. If I want something, I will work toward it.

The negative Nancy voice comes strong in times like these too. I’m hungry for derby, yet I’m underfed. I have my frustrations with people, just like anyone else. I have my frustrations with how much game time I manage to get, and how my performance is affected by this squeeze of time I feel I’m stealing because… I’m just not good enough.

Deep down, I know I’m good, though. There lies the paradox. I know I’m doing everything in my power to be the best at it. I train, and cross-train, and skate, and practice… And I know I can do things. I’ve seen it when I check our practice footage. I really can DO things.

I don’t care so much about competing as I care about having fun. Because that’s what derby’s about, right? Fun?

There’s maybe too much crap on my plate. I need a reset somewhere. I need to just skate and find freedom there. I try not to think about making the team, and being rostered, and all that stuff. That stuff kills my joy of coming to practice and letting it all on the track.

Because in the end, I just want to skate.


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Exercise Mindfulness to Be a Better You

61a6fed4121cd8c456ca5fdf3351b2a0Mindfulness is defined as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis” (Webster Dictionary).

Simply put, mindfulness means awareness.

How does awareness help in roller derby?

Ever watched these kung-fu movies where there’s a blind character, whether it’s the hero or some badass sidekick, and he can kick ass as if he possessed a million eyes? The guy is usually super chill, but one blow from him can send you flying into outer space before you know it. He can also fight better than people with 20/20 vision.

We won’t go as far as playing roller derby while blind, but we definitely want to send people flying while remaining as calm and focused as possible, and perfectly AWARE of what’s happening around us. Whether we’re blocking or jamming, we need to process countless thoughts, feelings, and sensations at once.

Successful athletes of all disciplines practice mindfulness to reach their full potential. Simple breathing techniques can lower anxiety, and help with clearing the mind and body of negative thoughts and emotions, such as fear. A composed skater will always perform better than a scattered, short-fused one.

How do we turn into killing machines on the track?

Let’s take a minute to travel back in time to the very first day you (and I) strapped skates to our feet. If you never skated a day in your life, needless is to say the endeavor felt freaking weird. We weren’t born with wheels!  Some impressions about the pads? They were bulky. The Velcro stuck way too much to your clothes. Your knee and elbow joints were in that angle you couldn’t keep your legs and arms fully straight anymore. The wrist guards prevented you from using your hands and seamlessly uncapping that bottle of Gatorade. You fell backwards a lot. The contact with the floor was hard, very hard. Your muscles and bones hurt in places you didn’t know it could hurt like that. Holding the derby stance for one full minute made you want to vomit. Your leg muscles felt like jello. You were stiff, very stiff, and while veterans told you to relax, you got stiffer! What about your breathing? Do you even remember how you breathed?

Setting aside bodily sensations, how did you mentally and emotionally handle these new challenges? Did butterflies fly havoc in your stomach? Were your palms sweaty? Did you talk to yourself on your way to practice, and convince yourself it was a good idea to show up and gear up? Did you talk to yourself again after gearing up and setting foot on that oh so slippery rink floor? Did you suffer from anxiety? Did you cry? Did you laugh? Were you excited? Did you experience a high from accomplishing something you didn’t know you could do before?

If any of these sound familiar, you exercised mindfulness. You were fully aware of what was going on with you that very day.

Sadly, our fast paced lives force us to be on auto-pilot for most of our daily tasks. We just don’t take the time to be aware of simple yet essential things such as breathing. As such, maintaining a high level of awareness takes training.

How do you train your mindfulness?

Start small.

Set your timer on one minute, and close your eyes. Find a quiet place, where you won’t be distracted by people or noises, and adopt a comfortable position. When ready, start the timer, and focus on your breathing. Push any distracting thoughts away by being solely dedicated on your inhale and exhale. When the minute is up, assess how you did. Did you feel pain or tension in any part of your body? Did your mind wander?

It’s okay if you achieved only ten or fifteen seconds of pure focus while the remaining forty-five to fifty were spent trying to get there. That’s perfectly normal. Like anything, mindfulness takes practice.

The purpose of the exercise is to focus on one thing, your breathing, to allow yourself to be completely present and aware of your body and mind. As you get more accustomed to the exercise, you can gradually increase the time.

Now the one million dollar question comes.

How do I exercise this mindfulness amidst all the chaos on the track?

Baby steps. It’s gonna take work. The way I practice it is whenever I get a quiet moment, on my commute to work, at work, as I take a walk, I focus on my breathing, and try to shut down any distractions. I find it easier to do with headphones on, but the exercise should be practiced in natural conditions too. This allows me to fully feel my body. It helps me clear my mind.

I practice mindfulness as much as I can outside of derby practice during daily routine activities, so when I’m at practice, it’s almost like second nature. I practice right when I wake up. I let my mind wander, and gently bring it back to my initial point of focus, my breathing. I practice when I wait in line, or when I’m stuck in traffic. I choose a cue (my commute really allows me to be focused) on my way to work, and shift my brain into mindful mode.

Someone on my team much more skilled than me, and with more years of experience, once told me that being aware is like opening a door of possibilities. I let go of all the crap the day has thrown at me, and the crap I throw at myself too, to be fully there during a jam, for as long as two minutes.

Once the whistle blows, it’s like the timer I set. If I’m aware of the present moment, I can better control my reactions. I can be responsive to my teammates yelling orders. I can move to where the OJ is coming, or if I’m jamming, to where the next blocker is.

The key is to start small and practice often. Countless scientific studies have proven that mindfulness helps balance our activities, thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions to minimize stress so you can become your best self.


Life & Roller Derby: Find Your Balance

pic 3“Why do you need to rent a place? Just sleep at the rink!”

Roller derby isn’t just about roller skating. When I joined as freshmeat, more senior skaters mentioned here and there about being involved outside of coming to practice, and in my head, it sounded very much like this far reality that I’d get to see in maybe ten years, if I lasted that long. 

Truth is, I started putting in the hours at practice and then was asked to help with bout production, until I saw my name on a committee list and very quickly, my entire life had become roller derby. 

Like many other skaters, I have a full time job, I have a family, a house to care for, and other hobbies that don’t necessarily involve roller skating or cross-training, plus, I like to sleep. Oh yeah, I really like to sleep. Gosh knows how important a good diet and enough sleep are to our performance on the track so… How could I do it all without crashing in the process? 

Well, finding that balance wasn’t without hitting big bumps on the road. Let’s also note that I’m not rostered on a travel team yet. This post will probably see a sequel once that fun stuff happens. 

I had my struggles at home and work, dealing with my newly found derby love, which to many looked more like an addiction. The unmanageability of spending so many hours doing anything derby related and trying to live the rest of my life was rearing its ugly head, and nagging me! 

“It’s derby or this!”

Derby really felt like another relationship or commitment no one understood but anyone involved in derby. I felt like I was doing something wrong. There was no way in hell I’d give up derby, but I also didn’t want to give up on the rest of my life. 

Roller derby can be overwhelming without a conscious effort to keep the rest of my life as full and productive as possible. I need to make time for my family. I need to make time for me. The line can be so easily crossed, and all of a sudden, yes, derby becomes a time-chugging monster. 

What I read and heard many many times, is that derby doesn’t last forever. Right now it may seem like I’m going to spend the rest of my happy life bodyslamming on eight wheels, but I won’t. The time will come, and I’ll wave my goodbye to the derby world to resume my beautiful life… Do I want to resume such life without my house, my family, my job? Obviously not. If I keep this thought in perspective, then I know what my priorities are. 

Needless to say, I dedicate a lot of my free time to roller derby, and I love my league and teammates like a family. I also understood that having balance in my life was extremely important so I could be fully there for my league. The last thing I want is to grow any kind of resentment because “derby is stealing all my time”. Drawing the line of “too much is too much” is tricky though, and is different from person to person. 

In the long run, I make a priority to be happy. As long as I’m aware of my obligations and fulfill them to the best of my abilities, I can do pretty much anything. The rink remains my natural habitat but I still spend time doing other fun things, like gardening, watching a movie, or hitting the skate park for instance. 😉 

I must remind myself that derby will be there when I tend to my other obligations, and I’m not the only derby girl out there who has to deal with life emergencies. There are chores we all need to do-like laundry!!- but derby hopefully isn’t one of them.  

I’d love to hear from you. How do you balance your life and roller derby?