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.
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
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.