May 302011
 

A couple of weeks ago The Flaming Lips came to town.  When tickets had gone on sale two months prior, I swiped up three right away- One for me, one for Sybil Action and one for the Duke of Triumph- Sybil’s husband.
I had ulterior motives, you see. I was bound and determined to pop the question to my best friend.

I hatched this one plan of contacting the band. In my mind’s eye, I could visualize Wayne Coyne delivering a heartfelt monologue halfway through the show- all about friendship and love and roller derby.

I’d be backstage, all dressed up in a giant rabbit costume, or in my derby gear (or both) and just when the band’s front man invited Sybil up on stage, I would come out with a ring, bend down on one knee and Sybil would tearily nod yes. Cue massive applause and cheers. The Duke tosses his head back and gales of laughter issue forth and the three of us merrily skip and giggle and cavort on stage with the band…but I procrastinated and forgot to email the band.
And…that was really the only plotting and planning I had done- Go to a show, have some famous guy talk up what a great lady Sybil is, stick a Cubic Zirconium piece of jewelry on her hand and call it a day.

But really- what’s the point of doing all that if I haven’t delved into the reason WHY I consider her my derby wife?
As you may or may not know- a derby wife is pretty much a girl that reminds you of all the things that you ever liked in another person. They’ve got your back and you’ve got theirs, they’re with you through thick and thin, you are best friends and it’s as simple and as complicated as that. It’s exactly how I’ve always felt about Sybil Action. I wanted her to be my ‘DW’ probably before I even wanted to roller derby. There are boundless reasons why. I could list them out, beginning with…starting with…well, maybe I can’t list them.
I just keep thinking of moments we’ve shared, wine we’ve drunk, the laughter and the comfort, tears and joy.

I then think of all the times she’s been there to save me from doing something stupid. I’m humbled that she continues to be my friend, because there’s been a lot of stupid-saving on her part.
(Side note: I left a section or two out of my prior blogs. See, there was a part of my life that I wasn’t sure I was going to discuss, so I omitted a few things.  But I’ve decided to touch upon them, so- as Paul Harvey would say, “And now- the rest of the story”)

About four or five years ago, I was living in Florida and was in a terrible relationship. Sybil was in North Carolina and we were doing our best to call each other every once in a while and catch up. During one of our random phone chats, Sybil informed me that she was going to begin doing roller derby. This seemed completely normal to me. After all, we’d gone through our fair share of interesting activities already: stealing cars, flying planes, shooting pool, shooting guns, beauty contests, amateur strip nights, consulate meetings, crawfish boils- roller derby seemed like the next logical step. I wished her the best and asked her to keep me updated on it. We talked a little while more, promising to keep in touch- the usual long distance stuff.

Time passed. I had gotten out of my terrible relationship and as a result- landed into the most unholy warship of depressions known to man. After years of walking on eggshells, hiding injuries and being hyper-vigilant to the slightest change of behavior and/or environment- I pretty much forgot how to function as a human being.
I became withdrawn and uninterested in everything. I quit my job, stopped talking to friends- even to Sybil. I was rapidly heading towards complete breakdown.
I made a decision to move to the Midwest and live with my parents one night, when the only other choice was to cease functioning altogether.
I hated living in Missouri, but it gave me the opportunity to start healing. I got a job at a payroll company, and began therapy once my insurance kicked in. I began to settle in to my new life- trying to make myself believe that I would be content popping ‘zombie’ pills, processing payrolls for a living and playing Dominoes every Sunday with my Mom and Pops (which actually is pretty fun, come to think of it)…trying to make myself believe that I would be content popping ‘zombie pills’, processing payrolls for a living and dodging tornadoes the rest of my life.
One day though, at our company weekly meeting- a girl walked in sporting the ugliest black eye ever. My past came rushing back in the split of a second. I didn’t know if I should hide under the table or go up to her and offer her assistance in escaping. Just before I passed out from hyper-ventilating, I overheard her say, “It’s from roller derby”.
It was as if Sybil had come in the room, sat down next to me and calmed me down like she always has been able to do. That conversation we had shared so many months before came back to me, prompting me to really change my life for the better. And then there was that night dodging tornadoes that kismet once again took over and guided me towards the last five minutes of a derby bout on television. A remedial conclusion abacus started clicking in my head: Roller derby on the Dummy, Sybil plays roller derby, roller, roller, roller, derby, derby, derby (ding- conclusion!) If Sybil started doing derby, why- by Jove, I was going to do derby too!
I got back in touch with her and we picked up right where we had left off. I started making plans for my future. It took another year, but I finally made it back to Charlotte.
This past August- she introduced me to her new team- The Charlotte Speed Demons. I began helping out with non-skating duties until I was given the opportunity to join their skater training program in March.
I can’t tell you how exciting it was for me! Finally, at long last- Sybil and I would have the opportunity to participate in a team together. Our partnership on the track would be the stuff that legends are made from- the synergy we would produce would be infectious- world peace! Happy babies! Jesus and Satan sharing a beer!

The day before I started my skating career, Sybil’s most likely ended for good when her leg decided to shatter at practice.

That’s the other thing about Sybil and me- Irony is our constant companion.
That’s the whole story, so now back to The Flaming Lips show:

I had the rings in my right pocket and my digital camera in my left. All that I needed was for Duke to get the camera and the proposal to be made. I leaned over and said as quietly as I could-

“I’M GOING TO PROPOSE TO YOUR WIFE! TAKE MY CAMERA AND SHOOT LOTS OF PICTURES, OKAY?”


Duke looked at me, features slightly askew before saying, “Nah. Why don’t you wait for another time, okay? You don’t even have rings, just enjoy the show.”
My face must have done one of those ‘crestfallen’ maneuvers, because he then said, “You do have rings, don’t you? Have you been planning on doing this all along?”
I nodded my head and he motioned for the camera. I excitedly went for the rings but Sybil reached in and gave the camera back to me.
“Take our picture, here!” So, I awkwardly began an impromptu photo session. If it wasn’t for the Duke of Triumph stepping in and grabbing the camera, I know I would have lost my courage. Sybil looked around and asked what was going on. I got down on one knee and said-

“Sybil- I tried to think of your favorite color and I didn’t know what it was. I tried to think of your favorite flower, and I couldn’t do that either. What I do know is that you are more than a color or a flower choice to me. You are more like an emotion, or a blood transfusion, and I need you in my life. Would you do me the honor of being my derby wife (I didn’t really say that. I was too nervous and wound up vomiting out something about her being crippled and lame, but that I’d take her anyways. But if I had a take two, then I definitely would’ve said that bit about the flowers and the transfusion)?”
She looked around at Duke, then at the crowd of onlookers, finally at me and laughed.

But then she again looked down at me kneeling, looking vulnerable and desperate and laughed some more.


She eventually said yes.
I think we’ll wait until next season to tie the wax-laced knot. That gives me time to pass assessments and her time to adjust to all the plates and screws she’s adopted into her leg. I’m also thinking about getting my act together, as it’s about time I start doing some of the saving once in a while.

 

 

 

It’s a day early, but Jenna- I love you. Happy Birthday, derby wife-to-be.

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Saving Tricky

 Posted by at 12:03 pm  No Responses »
Apr 152011
 

Gustav. One of two that hit me that year.

“I grip the painted cement floor with the eight wheels on my feet, sweating, breathing hard, eyes forward and struggling to see a way past the skaters ahead of me. I’m new; I have much to prove. Suddenly a body makes contact with my left side, a body that feels more like a car in its solidity and force and speed, and I don’t feel pain, but embarrassment for being thus caught, so completely blindsided. I’m new; I’ve forgotten to look behind me. She’s gotten me just going into the first turn, so her hit is assisted by centrifugal force – I’m flung entirely off my feet. I land hard just on the edge of the track, my own hip bone drives against my soft flesh, and then I roll, twice, across the floor and out of bounds. My elbow and knee pads clatter. When I stop rolling, I haul myself off the floor and hustle back onto the track, before the pain in my hip catches up with me. The entire pack is now ahead of me; I’ve lost any ground I had gained. My hip begins to hum and my right leg won’t move as quickly as the other. The girl who hit me looks back, weaving side to side, ready for my belabored approach. She outweighs me by at least fifty pounds, has been playing this game for a year longer than I have. She smiles wickedly, and in this smile I see hunger – the pure pleasure of hitting bitches – and I see respect – the pleasure of discovering that a new skater can take it.

When I get home and peel off my sweaty tights, I see the beginnings of my first real roller derby bruise, which I name The Hurricane – appropriate enough, as I’m living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I could also have named it after a galaxy: over the next few days, purple and blue and lavender and then yellow and green and rust swirls spread over my right flank, starting near my sharp hip bone and curling towards the rear, extending down to my thigh. I wear short shorts to the gym, and one arm of The Hurricane extends below the spandex hem while I run and lift and get stronger and leaner, so I can better defend myself, so I can, someday, be the girl imprinting the newbies with my massive hits. Burly men peek sideways at the bruise while they lift barbells. The area remains swollen and tender for weeks, during which I’m slammed back onto it multiple times. But I don’t complain. I’m in love.

I remember that practice as the day I truly became a derby player, the day I proved that I wasn’t one of the multiple girls who show up a few times in cute skirts and fishnets and then disappear, concluding that the sport is too much work and too much pain. It was the day I really became Tricky La Rouge.”

Two years later, I write these words in New York, where I’ve moved to attend graduate school. I’ve had little time for anything other than writing and reading, so I’ve spent the last seven months off skates, with the exception of a wonderful visit to my team (my former team?) down South. After months of being called my legal, given name, I walked into a bar after practice and a civilian said, “Hey Tricky, when’s your next bout?”

My next bout is never, or at least that’s how it feels at the moment. But still, I glowed, high from skating, and rattled off the details of the upcoming Red Stick bout proudly, while making it clear that I wouldn’t actually be in it. I returned to New York hungry to be Tricky again, so when my next piece of prose was due in class, I veered off my usual writing topic and introduced my fellow classmates to roller derby and to Tricky La Rouge. The response was amazing – when I asked them what they wanted more of, the answer was: everything. More derby history, more bout details, more stories about other skaters, more Tricky.

Researching that piece meant that I had to delve into derby websites and derby books I’d been avoiding for months, because really thinking about the sport had caused me pain. I could feel my identity as Tricky slipping away as my kneepads gathered dust in my closet. And if you skate, you know how important that derby-name identity is; see also Villanelle’s recent post. But then I threw myself into the essay, and while checking up on the date of the tryouts I’d purposely missed on the Gotham website, I discovered, just in time, that they were beginning their very first rec league practices the next weekend. I’ve been twice now, and that time on the track is literally saving Tricky’s life, as well as making me a better skater (already – our head coach, Surly Temple, and all her co-coaches thus far: Luna Impact, Ariel Assault, and Hela Skelter, have been amazing!).

That's right. Even Steve Martin knows Tricky now.

What’s also saving my life is those requests for more derby info from the non-derby friends I’ve made here at school (you can read one of these kickass people here). I do get frustrated occasionally, like when I invite people to come to a Gotham bout with me, and then they get excited because they think they’ll be seeing me skate, even though I’ve told them I’m not on a league (way to rub it in, People!). Or when people I know to be smart and awesome ask about derby and accompany their words with that horrible elbow-scissoring gesture that we’ve all seen from dudes in trucker hats countless times. But I’ve managed to pass some of my passion on to them, and I’m excited about dispelling any lingering confusion (especially since it indicates that my writing might have been unclear – what do you mean “how do you get points?!” Argh!). So what I thought had pulled me away is slowly reeling me back, and in the case of those rec league practices, in a concrete manner. I’m beginning to actually think (rather than desperately mumble to myself and others) that I will return to the track for real, and that I won’t have to give up my non-derby life to do it. I’m finding a way to be Tricky again, in his new life, even though it’ll take some time.

Photo Credits: wunderground.com; writer’s own.

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Apr 122011
 

We need to talk, ladies.  We need to talk about roller derby and injuries.

CupQuake loves the team that gives her bruises

When we signed on to skate, getting hurt was a thing we considered possible – maybe even probable.  We’ve all seen other girls go down with broken ankles, strained knees, fucked up shoulders.  We’ve taken a knee and cringed as one of our teammates hit the floor with a thud and maybe even sometimes a crack or a pop. We’ve crouched there on the ground, wondering will she be able to get up again?  And if she does, will she still be able to play?

In derby, your body is a vital asset.  But the very same activities that help us to train and develop that asset are activities that could take us out of the game forever.  Players walk (skate?) a constant and extremely thin line between rigorous physical training and overexertion.  And, unlike in other sports, we come to the track with a variety of levels of physical conditioning and capability.  Some girls are marathon runners; others were dancers or gymnasts; others take on derby as their first major physical challenge.  So the line between exertion and injury is different for every single player, every single day. Because of this variance, our coaches and captains and trainers can’t always be expected to know the difference between “Fuck that hurt! Let’s do it again” and “Oh shit, I think I just pulled something.”  And since we can’t rely on someone else to tell us when we’ve gone too far (since “too far” is different for everyone), we have to maintain a consistent level of self-awareness; our team leaders count on us to tell them when we’ve been pushed to our limits.

The problem with this, though, is that derby is a sport that values toughness.  It values bounce-back and recovery.  One of the first things we teach fresh meat is that taking a fall is fine, as long as you can get up again.  And we all want to see ourselves as girls who never NEVER go down for good.  So when we’re faced with a choice between playing it tough or playing it safe… it’s obvious which one we’re likely to choose.  Especially when we’re new, we want everyone to know we can make a comeback.  We want our teammates to see that they can rely on us to be always ready, always present when we’re needed.  We don’t want to fucking give up – because there’s no giving up in derby.

In a way, the physical conundrum represented in derby is part of a larger conundrum that women face everyday.  Our bodies are expected to perform a multiplicity of tasks with little rest or recognition.  We give birth.  We menstruate.  We go through menopause.  We run households, carry kids on both hips, and work full-time jobs.  We play basketball and soccer; we endure heartache and heartbreak; we fall down and get up again; we fly planes; we grout floors and write masters theses.  We do everything we’re supposed to do – and more.  When we’re first starting out, we think our bodies can do anything.  But as responsibilities pile on and we collect years on our bones, we begin to learn that we’re destructible.  Bones break and tendons tear.  Hearts break too, and accidents happen.

Through all of it, we stand our ground.  But part of standing our ground is knowing when to take a pass – when to stand aside and keep ourselves – and our tough-but-delicate bodies – out of harm’s way.

The balance comes in learning that being tough has more than one definition.

Sometimes being tough is about making hard choices.  It’s about standing down when you’d rather be playing.  It’s about taking care of yourself, for the sake of your team, and for the sake of your beautiful body.

When we tell our derby sisters that they’re expected to keep going no matter what, what we’re really doing is buying into the myth that action = power and inaction = weakness.  Not so.  Sometimes it takes more skill and strength to stand down, to sit this one out.  Sometimes being part of a team means encouraging our friends to stay down, just this once.

If we can teach ourselves how to achieve that balance, we’ll be learning a lesson we can use off the track too.  When I was in graduate school, I was a do-it-yourself kind of girl.  I rarely asked for help; I always needed to be in charge and in control.  One spring, I served as chairperson (read: overworked crazy person) for our department’s graduate student conference.  I spent months preparing, driving myself insane with the workload, never asking anyone else for help.  Because I thought that’s what a good academic was supposed to do: be a lone wolf, do all the work, never ask for favors.  People began to shy away from even TRYING to help me because of my reputation for doing-it-all (read: reputation as a selfish bitch).  And so, on the day of the actual conference, after months of solo prep work, I found myself completely alone once again.  This time, though, I was alone with an ENTIRE ROOM full of furniture that needed to be rearranged before the next speaker.  Finding that all of my colleagues had taken an hour for lunch, I assumed I had only one choice: to move several large conference tables on my own.

You can see where this is going.  No matter how tough you are, if you’re 5’3″ and have scrawny arms, you’re really no match for a 20-foot conference table.  Shortly after I began my endeavor, one of the tables slipped from my grasp and fell to the floor, crushing the big toe on my left foot.

Still, I refused to give up.  Hobbling and wincing, I kept trying to slide furniture around the room until finally, FINALLY, I realized I wasn’t going to make it.  I called my boyfriend at the time and begged him to come back from lunch to help me out.  When he arrived, he stared at the mess – the fallen tables, my broken and swollen toe, the tears streaming down my face – and said, “Why didn’t you call me BEFORE you dropped a table on your foot?”

And he was right.  Of course he was right.  But it took a toe broken in 3 places to make me realize I’d taken on too much.  And in taking on too much, I had been putting my entire department at risk.  If the conference wasn’t a success – if the tables didn’t get moved, if the speaker’s room wasn’t ready, if anything else went wrong – I wasn’t the only one whose reputation would be on the line.  Rather, my entire department – all those colleagues I’d ignored and shoved aside in the months previous – would look like we couldn’t get our shit together.  I thought I was doing everyone a favor by taking on all the responsibility; but actually all I’d done was fix it so that my friends and classmates felt alienated from a conference that was supposed to belong to us ALL, not just to me.

The same is true when we play derby.  The game belongs to everyone – and none of us want to see another player so hurt that she can’t skate.  We don’t want anyone to sacrifice themselves for us.  As players, we care about the game.  But we care about each other too.

So take care of yourselves, ladies.  Remember that your team is there for you, and that someone can always step in if you need them to.  The game isn’t your responsibility alone; it’s ALL of our responsibilities – from the fresh meat to the players to the refs and NSOs.  As individuals, we’re tough.  But as a team, we’re tougher.  We help each other out – and that’s what makes us TRULY scary bitches.

 

 

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May 252010
 

You Should See the Other Blocker!

I feel that this post is long overdue!  Ladies, feel free to print out these instructions and pass them out to your boyfriends, husbands, fiances.  I will probably post several installments!

Dating a rollergirl is not for the faint of heart, gentlemen.  There are intolerable things that you will be forced to put up with:  your girl smells. She smells BAAAAD. She has lots of friends, LOTS of them; and they all smell bad too. Her hobby is expensive—we can spend more money on SHIT than you would ever believe (It’s true!). Roller derby is evolving faster than DELL. She’s always covered in unsightly bruises, and you will probably catch some scathing glances from restaurant patrons when they catch a glimpse of her battered biceps.

But there are plenty of perks that go along with dating a rollergirl too: chances are your old lady has the sweetest ass on the block. Chances are your old lady has the meanest BLOCK on the block, too. You get the bragging rights of dating the Tri-State Leg Wrestling Champion. She’s the closest thing you’ll ever meet to Wonder Woman, and your old lady has her own old lady. How cool is that!

So, here are a few tips to keep your Warrior Woman happy:

1—Don’t EVER say, “Dude, I totally saw you bust your ass out there” or any variation of that phrase.  I just knocked down eight people BEFORE I busted my ass, so how ‘bout you point that out.

2—Please don’t bitch about the smell!  I know I stink. I can smell myself. People recoil and visibly wretch when I walk into the gas station after practice.  I really don’t need you to point out that I stink after every bout, practice, dryland, etc.

3—Forget the flowers. Bearings are a girls best friend—expensive ones, that come in tiny red boxes adorned with white crosses.

4—Compliment me on my ass, a lot!  Flattery will get you everywhere!  I worked hard on that thing. It’s nice to know you appreciate it.

5—If you’re going to get mad when I don’t pay attention to you at practice, don’t come.  I don’t hang out at the gym while you and your boys pump iron, then get pissed off ‘cause you’re too busy giving yourself a hernia doing leg presses to pay attention to me.  You don’t go to the gym to hang out with me! I don’t go to practice to hang out with you!

6—I’m on a high protein diet!  Stay the fuck out of my beef jerky!

7—If we win, tell me how awesome I was.

8—If we lose, TELL ME HOW AWESOME I WAS!!!  Now is not the time to bring up the fact that I accidentally took out my own jammer during the last jam when we were down by six points.

These are just a few simple suggestions that really will make your lives easier, guys.  And remember, the way to a rollergirl’s heart is ATOM!

Photo Credits:  dailymail.co.uk, bonesbearings.com

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May 152010
 

(This was written for myself after my first full bout as a skater.  It means a lot to me.)

I have bruises. Substantial bruises. Bruises of some substance. They are located on both my right and my left upper arms. The right arm is by far the most artistically done, bruises seemingly watercolored on my arm with deep blues, greens, a bit of stipled red, violet. Dotted on like a series of swirling islands covering nearly my entire upper arm from shoulder to elbow. The left arm may be less magnificent overall, but what it lacks in grandeur, it makes up for in location and creativity. A brilliant purple and green bruises is located on the underside of the arm and curls around the outside. It’s shaped as if someone had tightened a rope around my flesh and tightened it. I cannot fail to mention the massive, unholy yellow bruise on the ball of my shoulder.

I show off my bruises. They have a life of their own, while they are with me. They are an ice breaker, so I can talk about how I got them with people I don’t know. My coworkers look at me differently, not necessarily because I am bruised (often women are bruised), but because I grin and I am proud that I am bruised. I know It’s not common for a woman to show off her bruises-usually, they are kept hidden, a dirty secret, considered ugly. Not mine. I earned mine and I am proud. I have a pride about me as I marvel at how my body reacts to stimulus, blooming with color and pain. Nothing in my life could have prepared me for loving my bruises or loving the pain they bring. I am a roller derby girl. Sometimes, when I am feeling saucy, I refer to myself as a roller derby queen, which is a completely unearned title, since I am a new derby girl. I am only 5 months in and it has been a rollicking ride. I thought it would be something I would just do-roller derby, I mean-like a softball league or a sand volleyball team. You know, you just show up for games and the random practice. I thought I could compartmentalize it into my life to fulfill my exercise need and my companionship need. Sweating my ass off? Check. Female bonding about non-work, non-family stuff? Double check. It didn’t happen that way. It didn’t play out like that at all. This shit infiltrated my life.

The women on this team literally force you out of complacency and involve you. When there are bout production issues and we need to go get another cooler of ice for the away team’s water cooler, you bet your ass they are pushing some girl out the door to go get it. Feeling like you should quit during the 45 minutes of intense endurance skating? There’s a senior skater there singling you out to work harder. Need tickets sold? Need to find a team sponsor? Sell ads for the bout program? These things have to be done because we are not owned nor are we coached by an Other, an outsider- male or female. We are always reminded that if we want to roller derby, we have to do it: participate, help, create, donate or step up and fucking lead! Normally, I reject being pushed. You push me and I push back. The other Derbies (an affectionate term for roller derby girls) pushed me to challenge myself-to take myself to task and be responsible for being happy and proud of who I am on the team. They urged me from a place of female support and sisterly love that, I am saddened to say, has been absent all my life. They encouraged the individual, unique, square-peg part of me that doesn’t fit into any of the round-hole roles of that I play-wife, mother, coworker. And I push back, mirroring this fantastic support and love for my derby family. My derby family and I, we’ll all be having a great time, whether at practice, an afterparty, a bout, fundraiser, or jersey making party and we’ll look each at the others-the student, the hairdresser, engineer, phlebotomist, the mom, grandma, 18 year old, the 40 year old, the lawyer, the waitress the accountant-and we’ll wonder, with a pang, “What if I hadn’t found this?” What if I hadn’t seen these girls at the Whip It premiere? What if I hadn’t met that girl skating on the levy in her hot pants and fishnets, or come across the Red Stick Roller Derby website? Who would I be today? Clearly not me. Certainly not the wonderful me that I am now.

These women, they are helping me to become a version of myself that is galvanized; a more concentrated, incited version of myself that I wasn’t sure existed. I have chosen to be this galvanized version of Kayla Aylward who has transformed into the balls-out blocker Ms. Kittie Fantastik. I choose everyday when I put on my skates and pads. When I go one hundred percent during endurance-not ninty, one hundred percent!-even though my legs are trembling with exhaustion. I choose to be the me that is Ms. Kittie when I religiously check our team forum to be up on what I need to do for derby. I choose to be myself. The best version of myself. When I put myself out there to practice hitting and blocking and especially jamming, even though I am reasonably sure I will look like an idiot and fall and generally be terrible. On faith I do these things, so that I can continue to grow and revolutionize myself.

At the bout this past Saturday, (my first, by the way)I got my beautiful sleeves of bruises. I probably got them from being hit by Rock Bottom, or Heidi Volatile or especially Tricky La Rouge, not from me hitting them. I’m ok with that. My bruises are an outward sign that I’m in the game, taking the hits and giving ‘em when I get a chance. I’m not coasting, I’m not compartmentalizing, I am working my ass off for something that I don’t even know what the end product will be-if there will even be one. There are few things in my life that I have simply approached on faith. Derby is my most unexpected experience with faith. Faith is that thing you can’t see, but you know it’s there, you just know. That’s what I see when I see my bruises and grin. Faith. Faith that from now on, I will always be in the game, mixing it up.

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