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

***

Follow me on Instagram @kikindateef

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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?

🙂

Aggression: Find and Nurture your Inner Fire

3550583Roller derby is an aggressive sport.

Aggression is defined as a forceful action or procedure (as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master.

Many people think of aggression as something bad, violent, rageful. They picture Hulk, smashing everything in his path, ruining lives and making little kids cry.

While roller derby requires aggression on the track – there’s no “sorry” in roller derby – this doesn’t mean you’re allowed to be an asshole. There are ways to make opposing players’ game a living hell while not making stupid mistakes and be sent to the box, penalizing your team in the process.

Hitting right is hard. The more I watch and play derby, the more I think of it like a game of chess. The speed of the game forces me to act quick but the strategy behind each move actually requires me to take my time. Calculated hits are the most effective, and they’re performed with the perfect dose of aggression.

How do I become aggressive?

Remember the good old days when asked to hit another skater for the first time?

“Come on, hit me! I can take it!” the vet said to me with a big smile.

I was a shaky mess. I rolled slowly, and prepared myself for contact. I aimed at the hips. When the time came to actually touch her, I stumbled. My stance was shaky, and my balance wobbly. I had no power and no momentum. Deep down, I was looking hard for a reason to get mad at her enough I wanted to hit her. I barely brushed her with my hips and didn’t feel powerful at all.

While I struggled, the vets were really excited to hit us freshies. They didn’t look mad at all when they hit us. They actually were smiling, and looked very relaxed. We stood like chicken awaiting slaughter, and they came at us hard. One hit sent me flying. Woah, so that was what it felt like to be hit on the track… So we thought. Later the vets said they had hit us at 25 percent.

What must it have felt like to be hit at 100 percent!?!

Fast forward to scrimmage. Hits aren’t tempered anymore, and I’m feeling the full effect of being smashed into like a pinata on Cinco de Mayo. Woah. I never thought my body could withstand hits like that, and not immediately shatter like a porcelain doll.

As I learn to hit hard and effectively, I realize that aggression comes with commitment. Hesitation will kill me. I commit to hit a blocker and I don’t stop until I’m done hitting her. I focus all my energy and power toward that hit.

Aggression also comes with repetition. Muscle memory is my best friend. I have to hip check doors and walls to understand how low my body has to go and how my hips move to hit hard and legally. I work with my body to perfect the move. I try to go as fast and as hard as I can every time.

Aggression comes with control. I won’t be effective if I’m scattered. Like a car racer trying to pass an opponent, I must know myself, including what I can and can’t do. Throwing myself without any control will result in penalties, injuries, and possibly, an expulsion from the game.

Aggression comes with confidence. I know exactly how my body is going to move as I’m preparing to hit. I keep my stance low and use my hips to achieve the biggest hit in a legal target zone. I don’t give into fear.

The best way to find and nurture your aggression is to channel that angry energy and work on your skills. Learn to hit in a legal target zone! No one like headbutts and back blocks. A vet skater once said that aggression comes after you’re fed up with being hit all the time. This part is true. I noticed it myself, I really don’t like to be hit without hitting back as hard as I can. This took time though. I learned to brace myself at the beginning, and I took hard hits in weird places that left me breathless for a few seconds.

When the body is strong, and the mind focused, aggression is like this fire that burns bright and bold on the track. You affirm your dominance over your opposing players, and provide the best weapon for your team. Once the game is over, you hug and congratulate everyone.

Hitting people is also pretty awesome. So what are you waiting for?

If you want to read more on aggression, Treble Maker wrote a great post on the subject, available here.

🙂

M5s2T

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? 

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. 

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.