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

Break 

There’s something I haven’t read much or heard much through the grapevines, like it’s a taboo in the derby community. Yet, many skaters do it. It’s good for the mental as well as the physical state. 

Why is it taboo to take a break? 

From the team’s perspective, it might look like you’re slacking. Like you’re losing focus. Like life outside of derby seems so distant and foreign, why would you need to get back to it? Derby gives that feeling for a while that it can provide you with anything your heart wishes for. You have a supporting community, and a great physical outlet. 

I’ve come to see throughout my short time being involved in this amazing sport that derby can’t fill all the void. It certainly can’t give me the psychic effect I’m looking for. I don’t feel fulfilled every time I go to practice. It’s a fact. I love to feel satisfied when I accomplish a task. The task may be tedious, frustrating, exhausting but when I’m done, I like to feel good about myself. 

I learned with derby that I don’t feel good after every practice. I have practices that make me feel absolutely shitty. It’s ok. It’s part of being an athlete I guess. Or maybe I just need more solo skating time to feel accomplished instead of constantly comparing myself to others. 

I can’t ignore the signs. Is it okay to feel miserable? Is it like a rite of passage into the deeper layers of the derbyverse? Am I going to unlock some mysterious achievement once I suffer enough? 

Not at all. 

I’ve come too far and worked too hard on myself to feel shitty about anything I voluntarily choose to do on my spare time.

So time for a break has come. 

I don’t suck. I can do things. If it takes me ten years to do them, so be it. I simply can’t let external influences dictate my happiness. I have so many more things I have pushed to the side because derby had become my every day drug. 24/7. I only realized I was acting like a junkie when the high of the derby drug finally subsided and left me dry with bitterness and disappointment. 

I’m not condemning the derby community when I say these words. Derby is fabulous. But I have a life outside of derby. I’m a writer, and I have a fulfilling professional career in the legal industry. I learn new things daily and I want to stay inspired. I lose interest when I force myself to go through the motions without feeling any love for it. 

So it’s time for a break. Skating without any other goal than feeling accomplished. Trying new things and not competing against others, just challenging myself and beating my own personal best. I’m not there to prove anything to anyone. I’m just there to push myself and embrace the journey. 

I don’t want to lose my freedom. I’ve walked away from too many situations where I stayed too long and should have left sooner. Things aren’t going to get better by trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. 

I’m not saying goodbye forever. Who knows what might come my way. Right now though, it feels like the right thing to do. 

❤ 

What’s left

Maybe I’m going all wrong about this. Maybe I had too many expectations. Maybe my enthusiasm blinded me for a while. I know my strengths and weaknesses. My main weakness is my mind. 

I can train as hard as I want, if my mind isn’t in the game, I’m toast. I can deflate like a balloon in less time than it takes me to take a deep breath. 

I can try to blame the skating conditions, the level of game play, my lacking skills, I can try to blame anything and everything under the sun but I can’t stall forever. My mind isn’t in the game right now. 

And the sad part is that my mind hasn’t been in the game for a while. Even when I thought I was in the game, my mind had already checked me off. 

I’m always trying to recreate the feelings I felt during my very first scrimmage. I had no expectations then. I just went out there and gave them hell. I felt so powerful. I felt like I could do anything. Then came more scrimmages and my feelings were never the same as that first one. Like the addict that I am, I’ve been desperately trying to reexperience that high ever since. And I can’t. Scrimmages always feel different. Some are good, some are not. But these feelings just can’t be recreated again. 

Many reasons: my skills have improved despite my silent low self esteem protest that they didn’t. The players I go against have also improved. 

I’m chasing something that is long gone. I don’t know how to overcome that. I haven’t felt that same level of high since. Not during scrimmage at least. I felt that high while skating outdoors. I felt that sense of “I can do anything” many times outdoors. Even when my skating session didn’t feel like I had accomplished much, I never left defeated. I never left thinking I didn’t really want to come back for more. I never left feeling there wasn’t a new challenge I wouldn’t master, even if it took me years to tame it. 

I don’t know how to beat my mind. Not this time. I beat my mind out of feeling bored, out of feeling angry, sad, depressed. I beat my mind all the time. This time though, it also feels like my heart doesn’t want to fight. All the love I feel for this sport makes my heart ache so much thinking I don’t feel like being a part of it anymore. 

I have to face that reality though. I love skating. I don’t think I will ever give that up, just like running or writing. I can take a break, but I can never quit. 

Derby is not just skating. Derby is the game I love to watch late at night on my iPad before going to sleep. Derby is full of strategy, and power. Derby makes me jump in my seat… as a spectator. 

Derby also pulls me out of my comfort zone. Derby makes me anxious. Derby makes me feel so sad, sometimes too. 

I don’t feel anxious when I’m skating on my own and practice new tricks. I don’t even feel scared either. I’m not afraid of hitting and getting hit. I overcame that fear a long time ago. I feel anxious when it’s me and other people though. I feel watched, assessed, judged. I feel like I’m giving it my all and it’s still not good enough. I feel like I’m hitting this wall and I can never break it. 

My mind is telling me all those things, and I believe them. I’m awake yet I’m so tired. I’m writing, crying, feeling like I must make a decision… at 6 am. 

I feel like I’ve lost my fire. I feel like I’ve grown bored. I feel unmotivated. 

So what’s left? 

I honestly couldn’t tell you right now. 

Know your strengths, know your weaknesses 

“Confidence is key. True confidence comes from a deep awareness that one has made an effort to gather information, turned every stone, done everything to practice the craft and get strong.” Scald Eagle 

You can’t be what you want to be without knowing what you’re made of. Saying you aim at becoming the new Scald Eagle isn’t enough to help you be the star you wish to be. Dreams are important to keep the passion alive. Realistic goals are the stepping stones of your journey toward your dreams.

I hit a point in my journey where I put so much pressure on myself that I completely doubted my abilities. I didn’t differentiate between my strengths or my weaknesses. In my mind, I just wasn’t good enough.

Lexi Lightspeed recently posted on Facebook about believing in your own self. Be your own supporter.

You don’t need a wall of blockers to break yourself. If your mind sabotages you, you’re pretty much done.

I read Mind Gym and kept wondering what derby meant for me. What made me happy in derby. Then while we had a small break in between practices, I hit the skate park and didn’t think about derby at all.

I love the skate park because I get challenged in a total different way. I face myself and my fears. There’s no team to beat. No wall to break. No penalty box. Nothing but the hard unforgiving ground, and me on my eight wheels.

I find freedom at the skate park. The same freedom I find on the track when I know my strengths and weaknesses. When I skate and let go of all the debilitating insecurities, I know what I can and can’t do. What I need to work on. What I need to improve.

I rolled on that mini ramp so much, back and forth, back and forth, relentlessly, that my doubts vanished. I found my truth once I hit practice again. I knew what I wanted to do. I chose the path that would bring me the most joy, and challenging fulfillment.

It is necessary as an athlete to question in order to grow. Questioning too much can be hazardous though.

Paint your picture one brush stroke at a time. Skate and understand how your body and mind work together. Target your weaknesses one at a time. Cherish small victories. Don’t give up in times of doubt.

Most importantly, be your own cheerleader.

No matter how many times you hit the ground, you CAN do it. No matter how many times you fail, you WILL succeed. Know yourself to defeat yourself. Learn and grow, to become the star you want to be.

Keeks

Follow me on Instagram @kikindateef

And

Read this great post by Lexi Lightspeed on Goals. And all the other posts she wrote. She’s quite an inspiration.

My 10 Rookie Scrimmage Tips

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I’m not a freshie anymore but I’m not a veteran either. I’m in that uber-challenging phase where I’m slowly learning to swim with sharks.

What’s better than getting my feet wet at scrimmage?

I’ve heard and read that derby is better learned when played. My first real experience with scrimmaging can be summarized in three words: WHAT THE F***! It’s a pretty common reaction. Hits are rough and the game goes way too fast. I repeatedly ask myself whether I’ll ever manage to get out of the pack during that jam… My arms are flying in directions they shouldn’t be flying, my stance is jacked, my mind is scrambled, and my feet decide to toe-tap dance instead of running as far away and as fast as my jello legs can possibly take me. Oh, and let’s not forget the being horribly out of breath situation! Blocking air is what I do best. I saw that jammer coming but heck… She was gone before I could decide where to go.

I’m not allowed in the kiddo pool anymore, where I can see and feel the ground below, and water only rises up to my waist. Now I have to mingle with skaters of all levels, which means more speed, more strength, more obstacles. Veterans delectably lick their lips ready to devour me alive. I’m the easy target. Even when they go at only 50 percent, I silently pray that my body holds and stays in one piece.

That stuff is scary! Yes. The good about it is that everyone felt this way at the beginning. So chill out. I got a few tips for you to make the experience a little less dreading.

1- Don’t hold your breath 

Breathing is critical. I know you’re freaking out but you gotta exhale. Holding your breath will only hinder your capacity to withstand high impact hits. Focus on your breath while you get hit or inflict a hit. The way I think about it is: breathe out your fear. The more you practice exhaling, the better you will feel, and apprehension will be replaced by confident aggression.

2- Keep your feet moving

The jammer will push you as hard as they can to get you out of their way. As a blocker, your first instinct is to keep your feet planted, usually pointing forward, which is very ineffective. I just kept gliding until the jammer had enough of using me like a push cart and bam, they were gone. Practice keeping your feet mobile while in a wall, whether you’re bracing or butt probing. Small lateral movements make a huge difference on how strong you are as a link.

As a jammer, keeping your feet mobile is essential. Agility is your friend. Don’t overdo it though. Toe-tap dancing in excess will wear you out and not take you very far. I call it the toe-tap stalling.

3- Stay with your wall

Find a partner and stick with her. When you find yourself alone on the track, find someone from your team, and follow them everywhere they go. Being alone is bad news. You don’t want to be trapped as a goat by the other team, do you? If you’re not familiar with the trapping the goat strategy, it’s very simple. If the opposing team traps one player from your team, they are the pack, and they control it. So stay with your folks! If you get trapped, get out.

4- Commit to your next move 

Don’t hesitate. Whether you want to hit, push, or escape, don’t change your mind half-move. Hesitation will kill you. Well, not literally, but you’ll definitely lose your momentum, and become the juiciest middle of a blocker sandwich.

5- Fall small

Yes, I still fall and spread like a starfish sometimes. Try to stay compact though. Recovery from a fall or out of a body pile is much easier when you’re already in position to spring back upwards.

6- Recover fast

Look up, and face the direction that gets you the fastest out. Don’t go backwards while turning clockwise if you could have easily made a move to the left and forward. You know what I mean… We tend to do weird stuff when we’re panicking. Take a breath, gather your senses, get back up and go! Every second counts.

7- Listen

Your team should shout out instructions at you. Even if it’s just “GO” yelled in such fashion you feel like everyone wants to murder you, just go, okay?

8- Speak up

If you feel like a lost giraffe, call out your teammates. You can yell at them in the same murderous tone if you want, but make it short and sweet. Remember tip #3? Find your closest teammate and ask her what to do. She will probably just grab you, and instruct you to move, stay, bridge, brace… Listen and go!

9- Relax

It’s hard to do when chaos rules on the track, but being as stiff as a stick won’t really make your life easier. Remember tip #1. Mostly try to relax the muscles of your upper body, such as your shoulders. Suck your stomach in to keep a tight core but loosen the muscles of your limbs. You will absorb hits much easier if your body is like a squishy octopus. You will move much easier too. Remember the freshie days of skating like a constipated giraffe? Yeah, don’t do that.

10- Have fun

The most important tip of all is to always enjoy yourself! Laugh. Laughter helps with everything. Be silly! Derby isn’t supposed to be a torture. If it is… Well maybe you need time to reset? Sometimes taking time off helps. Don’t beat yourself up. Making mistakes is part of the learning experience. You won’t do everything perfectly. Let go, skate, and take it all in like a sponge!

I hope these tips will make your life a bit easier on the track. Those are the tips I’ve been told by vets when I didn’t know what to do with myself. If you have more tips, please, please, share them!

🙂rollerderby1

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Find me on Instagram! @kikindateef

My 6 Derby Wins

There’s a lot to be thankful for in roller derby, despite the sometimes unavoidable frustration of not being physically able yet to nail that skill perfectly, or win that mental battle. Whenever I feel defeated, I look back at six milestones of my first year in roller derby, and I feel better.

JRG_WEB_freshmeat1- I showed up to first skate

I bought gear, I put it on and I skated. I was terrified, I didn’t know how I would perform, and if I would even like it. I thought, well if I don’t like it, can I still return all this gear? I guess my commitment to derby started as soon as I pressed the “buy now” button on Amazon. I even watched “Whip It” the night before to give me courage to skate the next day.

2- I showed up to the second practice

Despite being so nervous, not knowing anyone, and still trying to figure out if I was meant to do this derby thing. The vets scared me. They didn’t really chat me up, they just watched me from afar, and sometimes told me I did a good job. I was so intimidated. Yet I felt so much freedom. I could glide, and do stuff I never thought I could do. Derby definitely opened that door of possibilities I didn’t know existed.

3- I skated my first 27/5

I gave it my all. I didn’t make the 27 laps. I barely crossed over. But I pushed. I skated around that track for five full minutes! That was such an accomplishment. I felt lots of love that day from my fellow freshies, who pushed just as hard. I felt love from the more experienced skaters, who went through the same motions years ago. I felt like I belonged to the league, and the journey would be just a fantastic adventure.

9812e3efb94b15a9391d48db0d0b24d34- I experienced my first really painful derby injury

I heard, “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when”. My injury was the typical “freshmeat kill your tailbone by falling really hard on your ass” ordeal. I couldn’t sit down properly for a good month. I destroyed that sucker. Thank God, nothing broken. But still, it hurt. I felt that constant nagging reminder that I had voluntarily enrolled in an extra-curricular activity that would leave me limping and cringing at some point. The tailbone was the beginning. It healed and I bought better buttpads.

Injuries are part of my story even before starting roller derby. No one wants to suffer and break bones. I had to ask myself, do I want to keep going? Do I want to go through the motions of maybe experiencing an injury that will keep me off skates for a long time? I had to be sure I was ready for it. I had to face that reality.

5- I failed my minimum skills

I wrote another post on the subject which you can read here. Basically, I am grateful I failed because I wasn’t skill ready to move forward. Failing gave me the opportunity to work on my basics, and practice until I was comfortable to be out there.

dcd04fbd3613b481d85c3f8896ecdc1c6- I got hit

I held my derby stance, sucked my stomach in, and bam. I got hit. It was a hard hit. Right on my side, sent me flying and I landed straight on my ass, wondering what the heck had just happened. During these few seconds, I made sure I was still in one piece. Then, I got back up as quickly as I could, and I finished practice. I still remember that hit to this minute. It left me breathless.

These wins help me keep things in perspective. They help me stay grounded. They help me enjoy every second on my skates. They push me to be better. They brighten my day. Every time I face a challenge, I think of that moment where it was just me and the track. What did I do? I learned that taking a break to reassess isn’t quitting. I learned that my body is my weapon, and my best asset, and I must be good to myself. I learned that my mind is my biggest opponent. I learned that day by day, I improve.

I’d love to hear from you. What are your wins?

🙂

Crush that 27/5!

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Courtesy of Etsy

And like that sticker says… yes, I asked myself the same question when people started talking to me about the dreaded 27 laps in 5… MINUTES!

I honestly wasn’t scared of the 27/5 until everyone mentioned it like it was the worst thing in the world. Mind me, I read so many forum and blog posts, as well as watched a plethora of YouTube videos on the subject, I began to freak out too. All of a sudden, skating 27 times around the track as fast as I could had become the hardest thing on my to-do list.

In theory, the 27/5 shouldn’t be the hardest thing to do, given there are skills out that are much harder to pass. See, the secret lies in form, and the mental game yet again.

YOUR FORM

  • Skate that diamond: Quadzilla has an amazing YouTube video on the subject, link here.
    • The diamond looks like this:

      RDA-derby-diamond

      Courtesy of Roller Derby Athletics

    • The diamond allows you to go around the track without losing speed. If you don’t skate the diamond, you will lose momentum in the turns, and spend way too much time tiring yourself out trying to regain that speed in the straight-aways, which in the end will be completely counter-productive. I remember how my leg muscles used to lock and hurt so much from me pushing like a mad woman trying to get that speed back, while braking in the turns so I wouldn’t fly into the wall, or skaters nearby. The pain was atrocious. I’d burn out so quick, I couldn’t believe it.
  • Cross over the entire time: coasting will kill you. Crossing over the entire time will definitely keep you going at a nice pace of 5-6 laps per minute. Just stay low, move your arms, and push with that under leg.
  • Breathe: Inhale. Exhale. Keep it steady. Keep it calm.
  • Don’t freak out about other people on the track: When taking the 27/5, you may not be alone on the track. You not only have to worry about skating that gosh darn diamond, you also have to be aware of your faster and slower peers who share the track with you. I stayed stuck behind people a lot. Just skate around them. Seriously. You’ll lose a little bit of speed in the process, but if you stay focused on crossing over, it won’t hurt you in the long run.

It’s a lot to think about. Wait, there’s one more thing, probably the most important.

YOUR MENTAL GAME

The first time I tried the 27/5, I had no expectations. I skated around the track, and I didn’t care about the diamond, crossovers, my breathing and people around. I just skated. I pushed as hard as I could, and when the five minutes ended, my result was 21.

Everyone cheered. They said for a first time, it was awesome. It is awesome! 18 laps are awesome too! So are 15 laps, 13, 11, even 1. I strapped wheels to my feet and went around that track as fast as my legs took me. I did it! I was so pumped I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs.

However, that moment of pure derby high came to an abrupt halt when the all so expected “let’s compare myself to others” moment made its gleeful arrival. It’s a completely natural thing to look at the number of laps you did, and then compare yourself to what others did. Let me tell you, I did 21, and then someone did 26, and I immediately felt like the biggest piece of trash on earth. I didn’t care that it was my first time. I didn’t care that I couldn’t skate at all one month prior. I only cared about that number. 21. I said to myself, next time, I got this in the bag.

Roller derby is an amazing sport as it teaches me patience. The stuff I want doesn’t happen on my clock. It happens on the Roller Derby Gods’ clock. The 27/5 is a perfect example to prove that.

My second time, I told myself I was going to push harder, and I skated 25.5 with no crossovers, no diamonds, and trucks and cushions so tight and hard… I had no clue what I was doing. 25.5 was amazing. A few years back, I would have passed and called it quits. But no. Now it was 27! Argh! So close.

Okay, third time, I did what I could but my mental game wasn’t there at all. I freaked out about all the people on the track. I freaked out about my form. I freaked out about everything. No matter the amount of cheering, I executed 23 laps.

I was so mad at myself. How could I do this? I had it. My trucks weren’t so tight anymore, and I quasi-skated that diamond, and quasi-skated crossovers. I hydrated, ate properly and my muscles were still locking but I pushed and pushed and pushed… My amount of determination was so high, I had to try again that same evening. Fourth try, I did 24.5.

Alright. I didn’t admit it to anyone, I kept a smile on my face, but deep down, I beat myself up so hard, I was dying. Why couldn’t I pass?

Months went by until the next try. I kept skating and improving, and every time I took that track to practice my laps, I worked on my form. My crossovers were slowly getting there. My diamond looked better. I still stood too straight, and didn’t lean enough into the turns.

The fifth try came. I freaked out about it a lot. I wanted to pass so bad. Instead of beating myself up though, I told myself I could do this. I pictured myself skating these laps. I pictured myself making it to 27.

You don’t have to skate perfectly to achieve 27 laps in 5 minutes. Many skaters achieve 30, 32, 35 laps later on. 27 is not a hard number to hit. It is a hard number to hit if you skate with the wrong state of mind though. How many skaters out there repeat, day in and day out, to just stay confident! Progress is slow, but is there if you keep at it. Some folks pass the 27/5 after the second try, some after the fifteenth try. It doesn’t matter. The amount of tries doesn’t matter.

Remember these four elements, which can be applied to anything else by the way… not just the 27/5.

  • STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS
  • GO BACK TO BASICS
  • WORK ON BASICS UNTIL YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE
  • PICTURE YOURSELF ON THAT TRACK, AND WIN IT.

My mental game can make me or break me. It can make or break any one of us out there. Stop feeling like you’re not going to master this thing. I eventually passed my laps once I stopped telling myself I was a failure. I did the 27/5 again during FM assessments, and I passed again. My form was okay, it could have been better, but what helped me pass was my state of mind. I was 100% there. I was 100% focused. I pushed, I breathed, and I didn’t doubt.

Is the 27/5 hard? Yes, it is just as many other skills in roller derby. Your life doesn’t stop at a number. Your worth doesn’t stop at a number. Just stay confident.

Believe in yourself. You got this.

Minimum Skills: Stop Freaking Out

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Courtesy Sean Hale Photography. @seanhaleyeah

Ah minimum skills.

The Freshies on my league have their mins testing on Monday. Watching them get ready reminded me of how I felt as I went through the same motions only a few months ago. 

Yep. My freshie testing was November 19, 2015. My first testing was sometime in June of 2015, I can’t remember the exact date because I didn’t pass. 

I say that for a reason. I didn’t pass the first time I tested. Did I die? Was my life over? Was I finished with derby? Nope. 

Some skaters expressed how life changing derby is; I’ve expressed the same. Some folks who participated in team sports in their youth also expressed how hard derby was compared to whatever discipline they were into before. I can’t really speak about team sports as derby is the first team sport I’m in, but I can speak about sports in general and the disciplines I was into. My biggest one was skiing, and guess what? My biggest disappointment happened when I didn’t pass one of the skill tests, because I couldn’t turn while keeping my feet perfectly parallel. 

I must have been twelve years old. Until then I had always passed everything on the first try. So imagine my little heart broken to pieces when told I had failed! I cried behind my goggles and they fogged up. I was so angry at myself. How could I be such a failure? 

My life wasn’t over though.

I didn’t quit skiing after that unfortunate episode. I eventually managed to ski with my feet parallel, and I looked very good. My coach told me I should start doing competitions. Ah, I just wanted to have fun so I said “thanks, no thanks”, and I kept on skiing and enjoying myself without further testing. 

This was the first of many fails I would deal with in my life, but that one was important because it didn’t involve school, relationships, or work. It involved sports. What did I learn from that experience? I failed, but I didn’t give up. I did what I had to do to succeed. Timelines didn’t matter. I just knew I’d pass if I wanted to pass and worked hard at it. 

Fast-forward twenty years later. I’m 32, and have decided to start roller derby. I already tell myself I’m too old for this. Why should I break an ankle? I’ve hurt myself in the past, playing sports, and also just living life, and injuries suck! I do Insanity workouts! I’m fit and strong. Derby is just a whim, right? Yeah, I’ll just learn to skate and then I’ll give it up. I’m not into competitions anyway. Too stressful. Yeah, at 32 years old, I have enough stress in my life as it is. I’ll just take it easy. 

What no one told me is that derby was more, much more than just skating in circles. I realized that very quickly. I fell madly in love with the sport, and suddenly, being 32 and having stress in my life didn’t matter anymore. I wanted this. I wanted this so bad. 

I started FM in April 2015. The first testing happened in June 2015. By then, I could barely transition. My balance was okayish. My crossovers needed work, lots of work (see my amazing crossovers below). My jumps looked sad. I achieved 23 laps in 5 minutes.

The day of testing, I went in that evening with the biggest and brightest fire in my heart. I told myself I’d give it my all, and if I passed, I passed. If I didn’t, I’d try again. 

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Courtesy Sean Hale Photography. @seanhaleyeah

I pushed so hard I thought I’d break. I really believed I had a chance. Then the results came the next day. I hadn’t graduated. 

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little sad. My derby sisters I had started with had moved on to the next level, and I was stuck in a corner. Very quickly though, I shushed the negative voice. I had started barely three months prior. I couldn’t skate three months prior. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t do anything. Well I could roll and pray. That I could do. 

I remembered how I felt after failing that ski testing. I remembered how hard I worked and how much I kept pushing. I remembered passing. Feeling strong on my skis. Going fast down the slope, knowing I could stop. I could be in control, safely. 

That’s what the mins are all about. SAFETY. Veteran skaters want to make sure you’re not a danger to others, and yourself. It has nothing to do with pride, self-worth, and how badass you think you are. It has nothing to do with “if only” and “but”. It has nothing to do with your intelligence or your understanding of strategy. STOP FREAKING OUT. The more experienced skaters want to see if you’re in control of your skates, if you can change direction, if you can stop, if you can balance on either foot and navigate the track as safely as possible if someone falls in front of you. 

Because let me tell you, once you’re cleared for contact and can scrimmage, there’s other stuff to worry about. I watched a video of one of our scrimmages yesterday, and despite me thinking I looked like a lost giraffe the entire time, I also noticed I fell small, I recovered quickly, I stopped when needed, I avoided downed skaters, and I could keep up with the pack.

I’m not a pro. I have barely one year under my belt. I’m insanely grateful for having failed my first mins though. If I hadn’t worked on the basics over and over, I couldn’t be on the track with 9 other people, two of them going at crazy speed and slamming into the wall like they want them dead. Okay, it is maybe exaggerated. Jammers don’t want blockers dead. They just want to skate through, meanwhile blockers want to prevent them from doing just that. 

There is a purpose to the mins, and if veteran skaters think you’re not ready yet, don’t take it personally. It’s not a competition. Everyone does it on their own time. It’s as simple as that. Just skate, give it your all, and keep moving on. 

Last words of advice: shush that negative Nancy voice, and keep showing up to practice.

You got this. 

Scrimmaging For Newbies

Congratulations! You passed your mins, you skated your 27/5 and you got 80% or more on the WFTDA rule test. You’re ready to play roller derby! 

Now what happened in my mind when I could finally scrimmage was this: 

  
Yep. I could see myself, on the big screen, epic and majestic like Scald Eagle or [insert your fave player’s name here]. Yeah. I looked good. 

Reality looked more like this: 

  
Courtesy of one of my teammates for the memorable picture. I look cute. Like a tiny dinosaur trying to break her way through that wall of blockers… I didn’t make it through that day or any other scrimmages for a while. 

Um. Yeah. Well… Here’s one truth about roller derby: embrace the look of confusion and the awkward stance, the dumb mistakes, the falling flat on your ass when you get hit, and that feeling of sheer inadequacy settling down in your newbie brain. Don’t beat yourself down. I repeat: DON’T BEAT YOURSELF DOWN. 

I watch derby. I read blog posts and articles about how important the mental game is. I work out to be stronger.  

I’m going to look like a lost giraffe at scrimmage and I won’t understand the chaos around me. 

I go to open skate to work on my weaknesses. I wear my skates like they’re my new sneakers. 

I’m going to make the dumbest mistakes while performing a drill that I’ve been doing at least twenty times.

That’s roller derby in a nutshell. 

But get that: I scrimmage against an entirely different team, my coach gives me the star panty and tells me I’m jamming now. I don’t really know how to jam. I’ve watched it done more than I’ve practiced it. The team counts on me. I tell myself I can do it. I get myself in position. The whistle blows. 

In less than five seconds I’m through that wall as a lead jammer. 

Remember that fleeting moment trying to feel like Scald Eagle? 

Yeah it’s happening guys. 

I don’t do it perfectly but I do it. I have bad jams. I have bad scrimmages. I have bad practices. It’s okay. 

I repeat: IT’S OKAY. 

I’m only human. This game is intense and requires constant adaptation. No matter where I am in the lineup, what I’m asked to do, I do it as best as I can. It’s okay to screw up. It’s okay to make stupid mistakes. My teammates are more supportive than I am of my own self. 

Yeah, I want to perform. I want to be the best. I also have to remind myself the learning curve is there, and it’s a team sport. I have to not only be aware of myself but others too. I have to listen. I have to be present. 

That’s a lot to do, don’t you think? 

So here’s what I try to remind myself before every scrimmage: if I give it my all, there will be no failure. There will be no disappointments. I will learn something new and my game will improve. 

Just stop telling yourself you suck. Because you don’t! You’re doing something that the vast majority of people out there are scared shitless of trying! 

You are a star. You will skate like [insert fave player’s name here]. You will be what you dream to be. 

Give it time. Be patient. Show up. 

Believe in yourself. You got this. 

Unleash Your Potential

10308131_1568676860127015_1451441163722584676_nIf someone had told me one year ago I’d be playing roller derby, I would have told them they were out of their gosh darn mind. I had no clue what roller derby was about, but in my head it looked like WWE on crack. Girls in fishnets and on quads, slamming into each other like they had a score to settle, bruised, bloodied, some with broken bones… How could any of this sound appealing?

Sure, I had, and still have, my angry moments. Sure, I liked to fight in elementary school, and even had a few episodes in my adulthood. Sure, I dealt with substance abuse issues, and treated my body like it was meant to die, fast, hard, without a foreseeable truce between my stubborn self-destructive nature, and the overbearing lack of self esteem smothering me like a loveless mother desperate to kill her newborn child… but couldn’t muster the courage to do it. Plus, there was the shame I felt to even be alive. There were days I woke up and cursed the world for letting me see one more morning of dread, and pain, dragging my feet like they weighed a ton, not knowing how or when I would be put out of my misery.

Escaping hell, and coming back to the bright side of the world, was quite a lifetime experience. I didn’t think I’d experience anything like that again. Recovery gave me a purpose, and I was fine, really I was, without roller derby.

Sure, I was clean and sober, and everything in my pretty mundane existence was going swell. I had the boyfriend, the house, the job, my meetings, and yes, I was doing okay. See, I was lying to myself a little bit. I hadn’t unleashed my true potential yet. Who knew strapping eight wheels to my feet would help me accomplish just that?

I went with an open mind to a bout. I watched girls, some wearing fishnets, slam into each other. I admired their determination. I envied their courage. I watched them endlessly, not understanding a single rule, but wanting what they had. Deep down I was scared though. Could I do what they did?

As a teenager I had attempted roller blading. That episode ended with me falling on my butt so hard, I bruised my tailbone, and decided the fun was over.

I like challenges though. My whole life revolved and still does revolve around challenges. You ask me: can you do it? I will probably answer, no, but I want to try. Roller derby was no different. I picked up a flier and read: we’re looking for skaters, no experience necessary. I asked myself: can you do it? And my other self answered: heck yes, you can.

I pulled the credit card, and spent $500 on beginner’s gear, because I was dead on determined to give this roller derby a try. I showed up to my first skate session, terrified, butterflies going hog-wild in my belly, and veteran skaters watching me like they wanted to devour me, but also hug me and tell me everything would be okay and I had nothing to be afraid of. What I was going through, they went through it as well. I had butt-pads. I had pads. I had a helmet and a mouth-guard. Nothing bad would happen to me. I just had to stay low, and bend my knees, and I’d fall, yeah, but falling is part of learning. No, I shouldn’t freak out if I overheard anything about “broken ankles” and other delightful war stories. The broken ankle wouldn’t happen to me. I was fine. I had butt-pads, and purple skates that shined like casino lights, screaming “Fresh Meat”. Arguably, I was ready to be (b)eaten to death.

I skated that first session with the idea I needed the world’s stamp of approval that I could actually do this thing. Clearly, after two hours, the world was still the same, but my world had been flipped upside down. I was hooked. I fell in love with the pads, the skates, the locker room smell and the veteran skaters watching me with their eagle eyes, seeing the potential I didn’t know I had.

Fact is I didn’t know I could do this until I did it. I showed up to practice, and skated like my life depended on it. I found freedom. I strapped these wheels and I embraced the moment. I was in the now. My love life, my job, the frustration of the day, everything went.

I just skated.

I asked myself: can I transition? Can I do a turn around toe stop? Can I skate 27 laps in 5 minutes? I ate derby. I dreamed derby. I lived derby. I read countless blog posts, and books to learn to develop my mental state as an athlete. I developed new workout routines. I hip checked walls, and subway doors, and doors everywhere there was a door to be hip checked. I stood on one foot while brushing my teeth, washing my hands, blow drying my hair. I squatted on my lunch break. I hopped and speed skated while waiting for the bus. I analyzed games, and fantasized I was Bonnie Thunders. I could skate on one foot, jump like a gazelle, and my grace and strength would blow everyone away.

I eventually passed my skills. I passed my laps. I started scrimmaging. I blocked. I jammed. I didn’t know if I could make it out of the pack ever. Darn these blockers must have hated me because their wall was impenetrable. Guess what? One day the wall wasn’t as impenetrable anymore.

Every time I unlocked an achievement, I felt like a superhero. The high kept me going. Every second, I said “thank you”. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to find myself, to love myself, to treat myself with respect and share these amazing moments with beautiful people who love derby just as much as I do.

One day, I asked myself: is derby my new addiction? Am I going to go out of control with this? Is derby going to ruin my life like drugs and alcohol did?

I got scared. Then I remembered the sweat, the blood, the bruises, and the tears of joy, the hugs. The love, that love we all talk about and non-derby aficionados don’t understand. The same love I found in the rooms when I stopped killing myself, and non-addicts don’t always understand either.

The sport is evolving at the speed of light, and I’m a part of this journey. Among the thousands of opinions, the workout routines, the advice, the tales of success and failures, there is my story. The life of a 33-year old girl whose world became richer because of a pair of roller skates, and a league of larger than life women who fight side by side to write their own story. I read every day how roller derby saves lives, and gives women and men that spark back. Roller derby makes me hungry to be better, to perform, to become that hero I always wanted to be as a little girl, but never knew how.

Through hard work, I’ve been able to face my fears, slap them in the face, and find faith. Faith that I could do it. Faith that everything would be fine, because I had pads, a helmet, a mouth-guard and the heart of a warrior fighting the battle of their dreams.

I am Kiki’n Da Teef, and I am a derby girl.