Jul 272011
 

Last month, my team (The Red Stick Roller Derby Capitol Defenders) had our first official win of the season.

Actually, I’m not saying that right.  I’m making it sound formal, which is not how I feel about it at all.  If I were expressing it in a manner in line with my emotions, I ought to say something more like, We fucking WON!  We finally WON, Bitches! But either way, I guess you get the idea.  I’m excited, obviously.

 

But not as excited as Hitter, who jumped Madi, skates and all. (Photo Credit to AKoch Photography)

 

 

It’s been a hard season for us, full of injuries and absences and a constantly changing roster.  For its first 3 years, our league only had one team.  Red Stick, pure and simple.  At first, the growth of the league was too slow to truly trouble this set-up.  The girls would occasionally play an intra-league bout, but for the most part they worked on bulking up the roster of the single team, changing the line-ups slightly for each game.  And then, sometime during that 3rd year, we began to grow.  I was a part of that growth, part of the sudden influx of newbies skating around the far end of the rink with the refs, trying not too look too stupid or make too many waves.  My fresh meat class, which entered the rink for the first time in April of 2010 (I think?  Why don’t I have this written down??), was the first of several – the first set of Red Stick Ladies to receive official training before being thrown into the pack to sink or scrimmage.

Since that April, four full classes of freshies have passed their MSTs and become part of the league.  After the second of these classes, it became clear that we were finally getting big enough for two teams: an A team and a B team.  An All-Star roster (the Diables Rouges) and a roster for newer players.  It made sense; after all, the Southern region was expanding rapidly, with teams of all skill levels rising up all around us.  While the All-Stars worked on WFTDA certification by playing more advanced opponents, the newer ladies could hone their skills competing against the teams the All-Stars had played in the past, along with some of the greener teams sprouting up in the area.

Being a member of the B team hasn’t been easy.  During nearly every game this season we’ve received a thorough scrubbing, then gone on to watch our A-team sisters juke and block their way to glory, breaking past challenge after challenge to become a better unit, a better candidate for WFTDA status.

We were overcoming challenges too.  But our victories were small.  During one away game this year, we nearly cried from excitement when we managed to get beat by fewer than 100 points. It was literally the greatest thing that had ever happened.  Sometimes we could barely scrape together our thoughts when, during team pow-wow, our A-team coaches asked us what we thought had gone WELL during the bout.  “We fell down less?”  we’d venture.  Or, “We kept up with the pack!” (said with an air of surprise). Or, my personal favorite, “We seemed a little more like we knew what we were doing this time.”

So when we finally won our June bout, by over 100 points (check out THAT reversal!!), we barely knew how to react.  Mad Hitter doubled over in fits of laughter and crying, then threw herself flat onto the floor of the locker room.  C-Murda talked about whether she should laugh or cry, but then decided to shout instead.  Mauley Rinkwyld called absentee teammate TrAC/DC (who is, sadly, in Houston for the summer) and screamed into her voicemail.  I nearly suffocated A-team member Turbo Tyke with a victory hug when I caught her in the hallway between locker rooms, and I’m pretty sure I might’ve punched Jams P. Skullivan on the arm out of some weird testosterone-fueled need to seem more dude-like in my elation.  We slapped each others’ asses, hugged each other tight, and just generally effused about how excited we were to be together, to be playing, to be making progress, to be winning.

And we tempered our excitement, too, with anguish.  During the last few minutes of the game, Summer Squasher took two hard hits from two formidable blockers nearly

Summer showing her mad skills as a jammer (Photo Credit to AKoch Photography)

simultaneously and fell to the ground with what we would eventually learn was a broken tibia and a broken fibula.  By the end of the night, her husband (and our team doctor) Dr. Squasher was texting to tell us that the breaks would require surgery the next morning – a rod and a plate and some screws.  Summer’s playing was one of the highlights of the game.  As a blocker she had attacked the other team’s blockers with an efficiency and aggressiveness our humble B-team had never experienced.  And then, as a jammer in the second half, she continued her assault on the scoreboard, racking up points hopping through the pack as though she barely even had to touch the ground.  At one point during the night, I called her “Queen of the World.”  We saw her at her best, and then suddenly she was taken out.  We had won in part because of her, but she was carried away on a stretcher before we could share the elation.  And so we sent her texts, hoping she’d receive them from her hospital room.  We posted messages on her facebook wall and made plans to visit her as soon as we could.  We had TrAC, her derby wife, calling her from Houston, telling her we loved her and believed in her.  But still, we wanted her there, lying on the sweaty locker room floor next to us, taking in the excitement with her calm, steady manner.  We wanted her dancing at the after party with us, paragon of the derby belief that those who work hard deserve to play hard too.

That win was an important one for us – one that came at exactly the right moment.  The losing season had been causing our teamwork to suffer, sending us reeling in frustration and anger with each defeat.  Sometimes we lashed out at one another, and in the early days of the season we had sought hard for an answer, a scapegoat on which we could pin our disappointment.  We had worked our asses off, and losing felt like an insult to our efforts.  Surely it wasn’t our fault.  Surely outside forces were conspiring against us.  And then the big win came. After an entire season of feeling frustrated and splintered by losses, finally we found something we could agree on: winning felt good.  We liked winning.  We wanted to do it again, together.

And then, a month later, our elation went sour.

After a month of riding high on the wave of victory, we faced the same team on their home turf Saturday night.  And we lost. By 8 fucking points.

A switch-up like that is never easy.  Our win the month before had seemed so flawless and coordinated; we couldn’t understand why the same plays felt like they weren’t working, why our pairing seemed off and our packs seemed like loose collections of legs and arms rather than tight and conscious waterfalling machines.  When you’ve fought so hard for a win, only to turn around and lose to the same team a month later, you’re left with a lot of questions.  And in many ways, our reactions to the loss were as deeply varied as our reactions to the win. We wanted to scream.  We wanted to cry.  We wanted not to feel so overwhelingly failed.

And the thing about failure is that it feels so individual. When we made that win, we did it because we were together. We were a team.  All of a sudden, when we lost again, the fragile team-ocity we’d cultivated suddenly broke apart.  We needed someone to blame – and none of us wanted to be at fault.  We won together, but we wanted to believe that the loss belonged to one or two people, or – even better – one or two completely uncontrollable circumstances.  The calls were bad.  The rink was hot.  The opponent was stacked.  Surely it was anything but us.

We have one more bout, at home, on August 20th.  And I want us to win.  I want us to close out the season riding a high like the one we felt in June.  But more than that, I want us to feel like a team again.  I want us to be able to overcome the strains and cracks caused by an unexpected loss.  I want us to put it behind us, to remember that nobody’s perfect, and to remember that we need each other. I want us to be able to sacrifice our own egos for the good of the team.  Because, however things turn out, I want to walk away knowing that we protected our jammers at all costs, working seamlessly in packs, and fought our hearts out for our teammates from beginning to end, regardless of how we feel about each other off the track.

I love my Capitol Defenders, and I don’t want to see us split apart.  This is our last one of the season, girls.  Let’s prove that we belong together.

Me, Uni-Psycho, and C-Murda smiling BEFORE the big loss. Guess what? I love them just as much AFTER the loss. Go figure.

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Feb 242011
 

Me, making my way around the track as the RSRD jammer least likely to actually score any points

So.  This past weekend (Sunday, Februrary 19th, 2011 for those who are keeping track) I played in my first match against an opposing team.

It wasn’t a bout, exactly.  It was a scrimmage.  We were in front of families and a few close friends, skating in our normal practice space rather than on the intimidating floors of the Baton Rouge River Center.  But we were skating together, as a team, against girls from another city.  And as anyone who’s bouted before can tell you, being up against a real opponent makes a difference.  For the first time, I was skating against girls who wouldn’t tell me how to improve, wouldn’t pat me on the back after I survived an especially hard hit.  I was up against people who wanted to get their jammer past me at all costs – people who wouldn’t know the difference between me and any other girl in a purple uniform.  They wouldn’t know that I was new, wouldn’t know how hard I’d been working in practice or how much I’d overcome to be on the floor that day.  They would know only that I was their opponent, an obstacle to be eliminated.

I’m not used to being an obstacle.  I’m one of those “how can I help you” people – the girl who always wants to know what else she can do, how she can facilitate and instigate and accomplish.  If I ever stood in someone’s way, in the everyday world, I’d probably have a heart attack.  Or cry.

Originally, I was going to spend this entire post telling you about the process of becoming an obstacle – explaining how I found my footing in the midst of a game and learned to stand in the way of my opponents and their goals – WITHOUT feeling guilty about it.  I was going to tell you about our 117-76 win, about my unsuccessful jams, and about the way I made peace with those jams and realized that, in the process of failing to become a better jammer, I’d accidentally succeeded in becoming a better blocker.  A solid blocker.  I was going to say “aw shucks, isn’t derby grand?”

But that post-bout feeling subsides.  Obstacles cease being positives, and the desire to score more points returns.  I know that we here at LDG are fond of enlisting derby as a metaphor for all the great challenges we face in life.  But there are times when the answers I find on the track just aren’t applicable to the situations that bombard my everyday world.  Sometimes they aren’t even applicable to the situations I face within my own team.

Racing up to form a wall with teammates Schexorcist and Summer Squasher

Our league, like every league, has its disagreements.  We always bump through them together, but that doesn’t make them any less painful when they’re happening.  Right now we’re in the midst of a debate about shifting our long-standing practice time by an hour or two.  I won’t bore you with the details.  The point is, we’re putting some changes to a vote, and we’re discovering that even seemingly small alterations have far-reaching consequences.  While setting an earlier time might help some skaters with babysitters, early next-day work hours, and late-night study sessions, it would also potentially prevent other skaters from making the required number of practices each month – forcing them out of bouts and eventually off of the team.

When the question was originally put to a vote, I voted for the earlier time.  Because it suited me best, and I was voting for my own interests alone.  When it came to light that other skaters would be severely affected by the change, I wondered whether I’d made the wrong choice, whether I was a selfish bitch for going with my own interests.  I wavered and began to wonder if I should change my vote.  And then I wavered again, wondering whether there were others who would be equally affected by the later time, whose feelings I might not be taking into consideration.  I sat in front of my computer, staring at the debate on our skater forum, and froze.

My entire life I’ve been caught between the desire to perform for others and the need to perform for myself.  When I was on the track on Sunday, I thought I’d found the answer.  Something inside of me had snapped, and I had suddenly forgotten about trying to do what I thought I was supposed to do and had instead done what I knew I could do.  I had gone from being the waffling girl, the one who asks everyone’s opinion before she makes decisions, to being the blocker who thrusts herself firmly in other people’s paths.  I hadn’t worried, even for a second, wether my moves were the right ones.  I simply made them, automatically and definitively.  But now, post-bout, I was right back in my pre-derby headspace – fearing that following my own instincts and acting in my own interest was only going to hurt other people.    I was an obstacle, and I was certain that I ought to move out of the way.

Ultimately, I assume that we’ll reach some sort of compromise – one that will hopefully put everyone on an equal footing.  But in the meantime, I’ve had to realize that derby doesn’t give me all the answers.  Or maybe what it gives me are answers in the form of questions, like Zen Proverbs or something.  When I started skating, I was counting on derby to make me more assertive and less cerebral.  I wanted it to take me out of my head and teach me to assert myself as a person with needs and wants and boundaries.  But maybe wanting to euthanize my old identity isn’t the answer.  Maybe sometimes the girl who weighs people’s feelings, who waffles and is slow to make decisions – maybe sometimes she’s in the right.  Or at least not totally in the wrong.  And maybe neither one of us is the strong one.  Maybe the strength is in balancing two identities, knowing which to inhabit at the appropriate times, being able to shift between the two at will.

Maybe all the people who’ve been trying to convince me just to stand up for myself were reading me all wrong.  Maybe sometimes other people’s interests are my own, and the line between selfless and selfish is thinner than it seems.

Either way, I think I’m going to make a damn good blocker.

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Jun 092010
 

In Portland February 2009

When I started skating I almost only jammed, I was told at boot camp that I would be a jammer and since I barley knew what a jammer was, I googled it and then went with it. I was a very very sucky blocker, but I jammed, I was one of the fastest skaters on Jet City after a year, and I was also quite determined. So I skated, skated, skated and mostly jammed. And I didn’t particularly love it, but I didn’t hate it, it was what I did, I was a jammer, I scored grand slams and I helped my team. At some point the pressure just got to high, I became that jammer that everyone chanted ‘grand slam, grand slam, grand slam’ for, and I buckled under pressure and I started to feel anxiety every time I slid the star over my helmet.

I got picked up by Rat City, and my jamming time started to diminish at the same rate as my blocking got better and better, I enjoyed killing the other jammer. I realized that I was a very effective blocker, and I did good, I got good feedback on blocking, maybe because people saw me as a jammer that suprised them with blocking skills. I was still expected to go out and jam, and score, score, score when I did, no matter what my pack looked like. I held myself to really high standards, and when i couldn’t live up to them, I avoided jamming even more. And it wasn’t that I wasn’t doing good, I just wasn’t doing as good as I felt I should.

Sockit Wenches vs. Grave Danger 2009

Sockit Wenches vs. Grave Danger 2009

I still enjoyed jamming, but my jammer anxiety was just out of hands, and I felt like I was needed more as a blocker. And about the same time as my second home-season came to an end and I was committed to the travel team fulltime, I was never really jamming. The travel team  never practiced me jamming and I never stood up voluntarily to jam, I had turned into a blocker over the course of three months.
Don’t get me wrong, I really do love jamming, I think it is fun, and I have slowly been trying to get back into it. My current team needs me to jam, and I do it, because I have to. But I still stand on the line questioning myself, always being nervous that I will not live up to expectations. Nowadays I am in many times more effective as a blocker, I am a jammer-killer, I have awareness on the floor and can help my more rookie skaters more on the floor than with a star on my head. I can try to make out jammer look great but I have to work on my offensive blocking, I am not a whipper, but then the question is, am I a jammer??
I can score, I can pass, I do get lead jammer at times, I still hesitate to jam, and only I am the person that can remove the mental block I have for jamming… and I am working on it… but it is hard when you line up against Bonnie Thunders or Suzy Hotrod with Beyonslay or Donna Matrix in the pack, just waiting to kill, kill, kill you…

Isn’t derby just great so say!?

And I have already started my plan on how to get into better jammer shape… please follow and give me happy feed-back!

Swede Hurt Goes Fit blogspot dot com

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May 222010
 

Last Saturday, I was on the roster for a bout. I really didn’t doubt I would make the roster, but I was heartstoppingly excited when I saw my name on the list.

The day of the bout, which was against the Acadian Good Times Rollers (a fantastic group of women, by the way), I was pumped and shaky-excited, but not nervous. In fact, I searched myself to find some nervousness, cause I figure that’s healthy-to be nervous before a bout. I was throw-up-your-breakfast nervous for every other bout I‘ve been in. The fact that I wasn’t nervous started to make me nervous. I thought to myself, “This could be the awesomest bout EVER, or I could be going into a dissociative state and therefore will not be able to move off the pivot line on the track cause I‘m catatonic.” To make matters worse, my pride was hurt when I found out I was in only one line up. ONE. UNO. Granted, there are some awesome bitches on my team, I thought I would be needed at least more than once every 5 or 6 jams. My stomach knotted up as I started to have a vague feeling that I wouldn’t get to play very much. If you have never felt it, bless your little heart, cause it is the worst feeling to have to choke back the tantrum you want to have because you are afraid you won’t get to play as much as your little derby heart feels you should. Well, I choked back just such a *small* tantrum. Thank goodness, we definitly didn’t need that drama.

I was in my boutfit, all dolled up. I was in the most extreme boutfit that I have designed yet. My name is Ms Kittie Fantastik and my favorite color is green, so I let these details guide my hand: I chose a green belt, devised green, black, and pink foam ears for my helmet, green fishnets, used green duct tape for my pads, green eye shadow and green sparkles around my eyes, and to top it all off like a derby girl should, tomato red everlasting lipstick. I was dressed to the nines. Reason being, my family from waaaay out of state, not to mention they had been out of my life for years, was here to see derby for the first time, in their lives. I had to represent derby to its very derbyness.

All of my nervousness about being nervous was for nothing. This bout was the best one I have ever had the privilege to play in. Suffice it to say, I was noticed. It’s kinda hard to miss the derby girl with ears on her helmet. I played the best derby I ever have. I was in just about every other jam-or close to it. (My team needed me! Yay!) I jammed 3 jams (yes, I counted) and I was the lead jammer twice. I even scored points! All this seems like small potatoes to many blockers, jammers, blammers, whatever, but it is a huge deal for me. I am a non-athlete. I mean, I WAS a non athlete, but now I am a derby player. I skated my best at this bout.

I won’t regale you with all my little stories, memories, etc. But, I have to tell you this. Because it is my favorite part. So, I was lining up on the pivot line. I was the pivot. I was so high off of the adrenaline and endorphins from the joy of bouting, that I was grinning manically, have a great time. Maul-her Mae from the Acadian Good Times Rollers skated to the line and started to get set. She just looks at me and kind of sighs, “You’re just going to hit me, aren’t you?” I laughed and said something about this being all for fun or something. I felt supremely satisfied that I, a skater only since last October, could inspire such dejection in an opposing skater. I take Mae’s statement as one of the sweetest compliments that I could have received. Thanks Mae!

Photo Credit: Cajun Eject-her, RSRD Bout Poster

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Apr 292010
 

Dolly Rocket of Charm City Roller Girls doing some amazing pivoting. (photo credit: www.fracturemag.com)

So last week’s post was all about the jammer, who often gets the most attention anyway so I move on. This week I’m going to tell you more about the Pivot.
Now I’ve said multiple times but for those who are behind, the pivot is the lady with the helmet cover (panty) with a single stripe down the middle. I also discussed the privilege that pivots have of being eligible to become a jammer if for some reason the current jammer cannot swing it.
But this isn’t the only thing that differentiates the pivot from the rest of the blockers in the pack.
Often you’ll hear of derby girls referring to the pivot as the last line of defense but only after being around for a few months do you truly get the understanding of what the purpose of this position is (or at least it took me a while to truly grasp the understanding). Luckily for you though, I’m here to impart my knowledge.
Okay, the pivot is pretty much like the captain away from the bench. The pivot calls out the plays and helps to control the speed of the pack ALONG WITH being the last line of defense against a jammer who has just busted through the pack. But being a pivot is not just about having the mouth guard that’s easiest to talk around. It’s about being able to take in the situation and call what play needs to be done right there on the track.
From what I’ve seen with my own team, the captain, Sigga Please, and co-captain, Zarathrustya, do tend to play pivot a lot not only for their abilities to scream at their blockers but for this insane skill we derby girls like to call panty chasing. First they put their hips square in front of those jammers and try to

In the photo Zara is squaring her hips in front of jammer Rock Bottom and even though Sigga does not have the pivot panties on, she is getting the pack to slow down and force Zara out of the zone of engagement. (photo credit: Skunk Rolla, RSRD)

keep them in the zone of engagement. If for some reason this fails, they haul ass and swing their hips around in front of the jammer and slow her down. The hardest part about this is that most of the time, pivots are at the front of the pack. This is their rightful place, so when they take off to engage in some good old fashioned panty chasing, the pack is busy doing other things; and the pivot ends up out of play and has to let the jammer by.
Another two fellow Red Stick Roller Derby ladies who make amazing pivots are Sour Patch Kid and Rock Bottom. Whenever they are pivots, I know what is going on with the pack and where I should be. My team was playing against Magnolia Roller Vixens and they have this badass blocker named Kamdemic and she and I were out for blood from each other. At one point we both completely passed the pack up and just kept hitting each other. I still remember the sound of Rock Bottom screaming “MADIE LET HER GO, FALL BACK! SLOW DOWN!”

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This is that moment that will live forever in my brain. Kamdemic and I going at it while rock yells at me to let her go. (Photo credit: Cajun Eject Her)

That’s how a pivot works, you should always be able to hear her mouth, she should always be barking commands at you, and you should always be trying to keep her in the zone of engagement as she tries to nail the jammer. After writing this I’ll never be able to get this out of my head.

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