Sep 182014
 

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You play roller derby. You’re probably kind of a badass. You probably like skating fast, hitting people, and you probably don’t mind the smell of stinky pads. You probably have strong thighs and a killer ass. You are probably 110% dedicated to this sport and love it with every part of your soul.

Rad. I can get down with that.

You probably also have intensely tight hips. Like when you try to sit cross-legged, your knees come up to your shoulders. You probably also have some thing going on in your neck that you can’t quite put your finger on, but sometimes it hurts in your jaw or shoulder, too.

You might have problems concentrating when you’re body isn’t moving really fast. You might not dig sitting still. You might not really want to deal with your lower back pain unless it involves loud music and sweat.  You might need yoga.

But, you might be dubious about yoga. You might think it’s for waify chicks who get manicures and watch the Lifetime network.

It’s not.

Yoga is for people who want to have healthy long-term relationships with their bodies and minds. Yoga is for people who want to feel better, physically and emotionally. Yoga is for people who want to learn to find concentration and motivation in the midst of chaos.

What I’m saying, rollergirl (‘scuse me, rollerperson), is that yoga might be for you. It might be for you, not just as a regular person, but as an athlete. Because I know you want to know, here are some ways that yoga can help your game:

You can touch your toes, maybe just not yet.

You can touch your toes, maybe just not yet.

1. Flexibility. The number one reason people tell me they “can’t do yoga” is because they “aren’t flexible.” That’s like saying you can’t wash your car because it’s too dirty. Flexibility is a skill like any other. You have to learn it and practice it. Unlike some other skills, like say knitting, flexibility can help you become a better player. Muscles that aren’t in a constant state of contraction (tension) are more responsive. Relaxed muscles work when you tell them to because they aren’t already busy doing nothing. With increased flexibility, you may find that your skating improves in ways you didn’t know were possible because your muscles are available to do what you ask them to when you ask them to.

o-THE-MATRIX-AND-HINDUISM-facebook

There is no spoon, people.

2. Focus. The second reason people tell me that they can’t do yoga is because they can’t focus. So, um, you can’t focus when you practice yoga but you are a single-pointed concentration machine when you’re on the track? No. Either you know how to control your brain or you don’t. Sure, the faster your body moves the more your brain will tune out external stimuli, but eventually your body will get used to the speed of the pack and the noise in the warehouse. And that’s good, because it means that your body is no longer in fight or flight mode when you’re playing and you then have the ability to become an intelligent player. But only if you can focus. I watch so many skaters with solid skills get that deer-in-the-headlights look and start making the same mistakes over and over. Why? Because they can’t focus. They look around the pack and they know what’s happening, probably, but their processing speed isn’t quick enough and their response time suffers. What you need is Matrix-like responsivity. You have to be totally in tune with the pack and the game and your body and be able to know what you need to do almost before you need to do it. That takes intense focus, and either you have it and you can turn it on and off at will, or you don’t have it at all.

Be the girl no one can knock down. Not even Krissy Krash.

Be the girl no one can knock down. Not even Krissy Krash.

3. Balance. I could talk about this on a metaphorical level, but I won’t. Being a good skater takes crazy balance. Balance (for skating) takes core strength and ankle stability. The thing is that unless you are always skating in really good form, you aren’t developing your core or your ankle strength. You’re using what you already have and probably learning bad, inefficient habits. The gym can help, but if you aren’t working out in a dynamic way, then you aren’t practicing using your strength in the way that you need to in order use it when you’re skating. Yoga makes you practice using your core to do things you would usually use other muscles to do (like taking up some of the duty in lifting your leg for a crossover). Sit ups will give you muscles, but they will not give you practice using them in a practical way.

4. Strength. I know that the cultural image of a yogi is of a skinny white girl, but most of us don’t look like that. I have thick thighs, a solid ass, and my shoulders are pretty broad for my size. I have an athletic yoga practice and therefore I have an athletic build. I don’t play sports anymore, but I am strong because I am constantly lifting my own body weight, and the more I lift it, the heavier it gets.

Also, a lot of yoga relies on eccentric muscle contractions, which means that your muscles are contracting and being lengthened at the same time. In sports, this kind of activity is called negative training. It’s hard and, in the short term, it hurts because your muscle fibers are always tearing. But in the long term your muscles are rebuilt longer and your muscles become more effective. Eccentric contractions are about 25% more powerful than other kinds of muscle contractions and they lead to finer motor coordination. Power and coordination, isn’t that what it takes to be a great skater?

Oh, look who's not freaking out. As usual.

Oh, look who’s not freaking out. As usual.

5. Calm. I saved this one for last because I think it’s the most important. Is there anything more valuable? People who have a real sense of calm are almost never freaking out. They don’t yell at the refs and they don’t get in fights with other skaters. They don’t freak out when they lose and they don’t freak out when they win. They are able to take what they’ve learned from each game and process it into usable material for the next game. They don’t waste time beating themselves or other people up. Calm people are trustworthy and reliable. They are not the people pushing themselves to the front of the line to become leaders, they are the people you choose to be leaders.

How does yoga teach you to be calm? That’s another mental game. If you spend a lot of time on your mat dealing with yourself you start to notice your personal patterns of thought and habit. Eventually you become aware of you emotional reactions in a way that allows you to predict them and observe them with some degree of objectivity. Once you do that, you have the freedom to pick and choose your responses to things based on how effective their outcomes will be instead of basing your reactions on how you feel in one split second.

 

Here’s the deal. I want to help you be a better skater. I’m retired, but I love roller derby and I want to contribute to the sport. If you live in or near New Orleans, I’m giving a workshop on Yoga & Roller Derby starting September 27th. It’s cheap and all your friends will be there.

If you don’t live in New Orleans and you want to help me think of a way to bring Yoga for Roller Derby to your team or league, email me at duncan.tracey@gmail.com or hit me up on Facebook.  I’d love to help.

If you want to know more about me and my classes, check out my yoga site, More Yoga, Less Bullshit.

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May 142011
 

Let me begin by saying that we’re not going to cover wheels here. I know, I know. There’s nothing I’d like more than to spill my guts about wheel hardness/softness/grippiness… etc. I’m not going to talk about it mainly because wheels deserve a post all their own but also because I have relatively limited knowledge about the diversity of wheels. Granted, I know more than freshmeat, but I’d rather let a vet really do justice to the all-powerful DERBY WHEEL. (Yes. All in caps because wheels deserve it.)

Same thing goes for skates, but I’ll go on the record with my setup – Riedell Vixens with 88A Radar Flatouts and 93A Atom Jukes. I dare you to try that combo and not have multiple feetgasms. Truth.

 

Anyway, let’s talk about the other part of Derby Gear. The things that draw some women to the sport and then the things that eventually keep them there.

THE DRAW

 

Fucking fishnet. Hell yes. I’ll be honest and say that the look of derby was attractive to me. The dichotomy of badass motherfucking women in clothes that told an entirely different story oddly fascinated me. I know a lot of people have problems with the scantily-clad nature of the sport, that it’s a “sexification” of female athletes (and we are athletes), but then again not all teams wear skin-tight, ripped midriffs with cheek-accentuating panties that say “EAT IT.” Honestly, if I had the ass for that, I’d be totally onboard. Another part of me really loves the stream-lined uniforms of teams like Gotham City or Philly’s Broadstreet Butchers. Either way, “accessorizing” seems to be a really important part of the draw to derby. Even if your team has a strict uniform at bouts, practices are an entirely different story. I can’t count how many times someone’s come to practice with new knee-high glitter socks and everyone shat their panties. New, unique fishnet? Cause for a celebration! Cute derby shirt with clever quip? TIME FOR A SHOPPING TRIP.

 You pick a name and then adorn yourself with the clothes that help define that name… in the beginning, that is. I almost bankrupted myself on fishnet and knee-high socks in the first two months. But once you’ve emptied all of your drawers of the clothes from your “former life” and refilled them with nothing but DERBY, you come to the realization that it’s not the clothes that make the name – it’s the skater. Sure, dressing up is fun and there’s nothing prettier than upper thigh rinkrash in the shape of big diamonds, but once you’ve tested all of the different types of accessories, you streamline. You find what you like, what’s comfortable, and what (possibly) helps make you a better skater.

In the beginning, I wore fishnet, thick knee-high socks, derby panties under shorts (and then REAL panties under them), and any one of a thousand derby-related shirts I’d bought. I also started with the same gear any girl probably starts with – cheap shit from Academy. I had no idea what Killer 187′s were. I didn’t know what Protec or Triple 8 was. I thought, “Hmm. I’ll need to keep from breaking my ass and face open, so I’ll just get this $25 package that includes everything I need.”

Yeah. Well $25 gear is….. $25 protection. The first practice, I tried to do a Tomahawk and did something so weird to my knee that there probably isn’t a name for the move. THE FIRST PRACTICE. Welcome to Lameville, I’m the Mayor – Lamey McLamerson. I showed up to the next practice even though I couldn’t skate because I didn’t want my team to think, “Oh great. Another lame-ass new chick who can’t handle it.” So I got back in there and upgraded.

 

THE KEEP

 

Feisty Psyche

My wonderful, fantastically-giving friend Feisty Psyche (Broadstreet Butchers) sent me an old set of her Killers. LOVE. I still have knee trouble, but doing the Rockstar on Killers is like floating on fucking clouds. The kneepads I had before were like spoons taped to your knees – not much coverage. She also sent me some Riedell skates that ended up being too small, but don’t you just love how giving the women of derby can be?

I have a Triple 8 helmet and am currently upgrading my elbow pads andwrist guards. My old man (Sofa King Bad) uses Protec, which is what I’ll probably go with. I can’t stress enough how important getting good, solid gear is. Three weeks ago, I almost broke my wrist in a bout because the spoon tore out of my right (and cheap) wristguard right before I went down.

Back of fingers? MEET FOREARM.

As for the clothes - I now  wear thin, black leggings cut off at the knee, ankle socks, and bout panties. For a top, I wear a black/white wifebeater. Why? Because it was fucking hot wearing all of that other shit. And while I still love the look of fishnet, I prefer the leggings because of the way I do my crossovers. Let me keep it real by saying I’m not a pixie blocker. I’m a buxom, red-blooded BLOCKER and my crossovers became smoother because of the leggings. Does everyone have that issue? Probably not, but I’ve found my comfort-clothes and I’m sticking with them.

Ok, so the moral of the story is – flash and glitter might be what draws women to derby, but it’s the comfort and safety (funny enough) that keep them there, because believe me – there would BE no Coma Splice if my gear hadn’t evolved with my skating.

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Brain, Meet Body

 Posted by at 1:04 pm  3 Responses »
Aug 112010
 

Image courtesy of Circle City Socialites @ circlecitysocialites.com

When I was a kid, I played softball.

Briefly.  Very briefly.

To be more precise, I played exactly one game.

Things were going pretty well at first.  I’d spent most of the first inning standing in the outfield staring at bugs and thinking about how funny colors looked under the bright park lights.  No one hit anything in my general direction, and I was content being left to my own thoughts, far from the action.  But soon enough my team’s at-bat came, and I was standing in the lineup waiting for my turn to hit the ball.  The line-up wasn’t as fun as the outfield; there weren’t as many bugs, and the people around me were noisy.  But I was still mostly left to my own devices, able to stare at the sky and dream whatever dreams are available to 9-year-olds.

Then I felt someone nudging me.  “Go!” some voices whispered.  “It’s your go!”

I stepped up to the plate, raised my bat, and stared vaguely in the direction of the pitcher.  The ball was already flying towards me, and I kept my eye on it dutifully until it connected with my bat and FLEW into the air right over my head.

“RUN!” someone shouted.

“GO!” said another voice.

I didn’t.  I turned my head and looked straight up, keeping my eye on the ball.  It looked so strange against the night sky and the lights.  I wondered if it would keep flying forever, defying gravity and coming to light in thin air somewhere above our heads, like a nearby star.

And then, just as I was beginning to realize that people were yelling at me, just as I was about to put my head down and run, the ball fell from the sky and landed right above my still-staring left eye.

Various coaches and parents swarmed around to stare at my quickly swelling eyelid.  One of them – the head coach and father of the most athletic girl on our team – also took the time to ask me what, exactly, I’d been thinking just staring up at the sky like that.

I wish I’d been clever enough to answer him, to explain that thinking was the whole problem.  Even as a kid I thought too much.  About everything.  I thought about how many blades of grass covered the dirt of our playing field.  I thought about the ants crawling over the toes of my shoes.  I thought about the funny way my teacher held her hand over her mouth when she was angry, and about what would happen to me if my parents died.

Playing a sport like softball – even at the low-stakes little-girl level – required a synthesis of body and mind that I simply didn’t possess.  Even as a kid I positioned myself in the world strictly as an observer.  I hid quietly behind my long curtain of hair attempting to maintain the maximum level of invisibility, attempting to watch and record the things around me and leave them unsullied by my presence.  In order to play well – or at least without eye-swelling incident – I needed to turn my attention to myself within the world.  I needed to notice the set of my feet on the ground, the weight of the bat in my hand.  I needed to understand how my own shape and movement affected the things around me.  I needed to see myself as solid and forceful.  I needed to see myself, period.

I never quite got over that refusal to see myself as a physical force in the world.  There are countless boundaries between my mind and my body – boundaries that I’m frankly terrified to dismantle.  But last night, as we practiced for an upcoming bout, I realized how much roller derby is beginning to put a dent in that fear.

Every time I put on my skates for practice, I know that – if I’m playing right – I’ll have no choice but to recognize my own physicality.  My muscles will strain.  My back will hurt.  I’ll lose my breath in a jam.  And I know that if I stop being aware of myself – even for a second – one of my teammates will slam her body into mine and knock me down to wake me up.

Roller derby reminds me that I’m a real person.  It asks every girl on the track to know her own weaknesses – and to understand her own power.  I wonder, sometimes, if that isn’t part of the reason so many of us seem to become new women once we join a team.  Because derby teaches us that we’re real – that the nebulous mass of thoughts and feelings we call a self exists in a solid state in a solid world.  It teaches us that our presence is undeniable – that we matter, even when we try not to.

I’m glad to have been that little girl with the swollen eye who couldn’t hit a ball.  I needed to be her, for a while – needed to live inside my head and stand at the edge of the world, just watching.  But now that I’m all grown up, I need to realize that I’m more than just an observer.  Derby is helping me to understand that, one big bruise at a time.

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Jul 092010
 

This past week, I’ve been thinking a fair bit about my last post here on LDG. Sure, I said that thing about roller derby possibly contributing, in an indirect way, to the breakdown of my last relationship. I believe that statement has some truth (maybe), and I want to break it down and examine it, but this week, I want to look at last week’s post from a more positive angle.

So I was talking about derby chatter, and how it fills our lives and the lives of those around us. And I’ve been thinking about all those hours and hours I made my ex listen to descriptions of hitting styles, the merits of various wheel materials, the interpersonal dramas that played out in practice, and, most of all, the details of my attempts to become the badass that I want to be. I’ve also still been mulling over this problem I’ve had with focusing on the task at hand when bouting, and even at practice. And it has occurred to me that my ex was actually sort of my coach, in a way (my league hasn’t had an actual coach in about a year). He supported me and listened to me during all my derby-talk, and was even genuinely interested, most of the time. He watches a lot of sports so when he watched a bout, he was really good at analyzing what was going on, and giving me tips (and props) not only on my performance, but on how my team might work together better (while understanding that feedback from a non-derby person is taken with a big grain of salt). When I got better at something, he could tell, and he knew just what I’d done to get better, because I’d told him. Sure, he complained, a time or two, about how much of energy derby took – for the both of us, but who could blame him? Sure, other friends were also very supportive and attended a lot of bouts and could see my progress, but they didn’t have the back story, they weren’t the ones who had to deal with my lousy mood on those days when I just didn’t think I’d ever give a good hip check or juke around our scariest blocker. They weren’t the ones who greeted me with a beer when I got home and helped me figure out what I could do to get better.

There can be this many people watching, but you can still feel alone out there if the right person isn't there.

So maybe my feeling of being a little lost has at least something to do with losing this coach of mine, this person who had been with me at the beginning of my derby career, who was around in those first weeks when I was afraid I wasn’t even cool enough to talk to the bitches who are now like sisters to me. When I feel like I’ve done something awesome in a home bout, maybe there’s a little of that feeling you get, when you’re little, and you say, “look, Ma!” and she’s not looking. Maybe.

Photo Credit: Rose City Rollers (record bout attendance back in April 2010: 3,000+).

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Apr 282010
 

So this week, I wanted to talk about distraction. And then here comes Heidi Volatile with her post on the same subject, and Tank Goodness, according to her comment on said article, waiting in the wings with another post about the challenges of maintaining focus when non-derby life is a mess. We’ve all  sort of showed up to the party in the same dress here, but I guess I should find it heartening that we, as teammates, are on the same wavelength.

But back to distraction, right. Let’s go ahead.

Last weekend, RSRD played Auburn, Alabama’s Burn City Rollers. Now, this is a team that I really, REALLY wanted to beat. They were my first opponents ever, when they hosted us for their first home bout ever, in the Spring of 2009. RSRD was a scrappy team then; our intense, derby-passionate coach Elton put me on the roster with only five weeks’ experience, and even then we only brought eight girls. Still, we won – my wife, Moxie Balboa, even got a grand slam on her first jam ever. I, however, fell during my intro lap (oh, how it still makes me wince), and felt generally useless. But I had fun, and the Auburn girls were SO incredibly nice – our gifts bags contained all sorts of sweet, handmade things in our team colors (red and black), and the after party was full of warm derby love.

My glorious wife, vs. BCR's Babe E. Quakes. Look at that FACE!

The second time we played Auburn came about six months later, when they came to us. As we had predicted, they were considerably more ferocious this time around, with stand-out performances by Cho Cold (an incredibly fast jammer), Babe E. Quakes (another very solid jammer, a hot blonde with a scary death stare), and G Love (oh god, the pain). The mood was, well, different. The sweet girls we’d seen at their debut bout brought considerably more attitude, and someone called me a c*nt on the track. Now, of course, I understand that things get intense out there, and I actually don’t mind that the epithet was hurled at me, but it allowed me  to drum up a feeling of rivalry towards Auburn. Because, really, I like hitting a bitch as much as the next bitch, but I have to kind of psych myself into it sometimes. That second  game against Burn City was close and dramatic, and although we ended up winning, I think a lot of us wanted to be sure to really give it to them the next time around.

I was thinking of something like this...

Last week I was given the perfect opportunity: a bout against a team I felt especially passionate about beating during a time of emotional, post-breakup fallout. I wanted to HIT. SOME. BITCHES. But when I got out there, my previous mental intensity just didn’t translate into results. For one thing, we had such an all-star roster that we had the luxury of really specializing positions. I discovered the morning of that I would only be jamming. I hadn’t really prepared for this, although if I’d really been thinking about the game in an intelligent manner, I would have predicted just that.

I think I had been so focused on what I wanted out of the game that I had failed to think about what my team really needed from me. And what they needed were some points. Unfortunately, at least in the first half, I failed to deliver them. The stats have yet to come out, but I think I jammed 3-4 times in that first half, for a total of maybe 5 points. I’m positive that I got zero points in my first two jams, and I got so frustrated that I punched the bench. Hard. I could feel all of my mental static and emotional bullshit welling up and threatening to drown me, and I know that my baggage was slowing my feet and blinding me to holes that I should have been able to pushthrough.

In the second half, I managed to do a little better, and at one point, earned much-needed applause with a quick evasion of what could have been a devastating hit by Cuban Crush Her, the last blocker in that pass. Finally, I was playing some derby, and even enjoying it. The game was a nailbiter. and we won by only seven points. My happiness at our victory was tempered by the fact that I felt I should have contributed more points to that lead. As soon as the bout was over, I did my best to celebrate our win, to focus on the success of my teammates and try not to dwell too much on my own performance. But I’m still left with this question: what happened to me in the first half, and how did I manage to fix it, to some degree, in the second?

I think the answer lies in the scope of my focus. In the days prior to the game, I was thinking of myself as an individual, focusing on those big hits I was going to land and how good it was going to feel to just devastate some people with my surplus of energy and frustration. I should have been more focused on my place within RSRD, should have logically analyzed our various strengths and seen that it would be my job (along with our other jammers) to use speed and grace to put those points on the board. Another mistake I made was thinking that once the game began, I would be sharp and focused and unaffected by the sadness I’ve been feeling. When I felt it chasing me down out there, it was like another blocker had jumped onto the track with Burn City. And I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t speeding right past her.

At halftime, I looked around the locker room and got my head together – I saw the faces of my teammates and I wanted to do what they needed me to do. So, in the second half, I was thinking more about making them proud and less about having a cathartic athletic experience, and I was better able to focus on the details that would translate into results. It also helped that they kept putting me back out there despite my poor performance in the first half. Their faith really bolstered my own. In the coming weeks, I hope to work hard in practice and continue to honor that faith.

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