Derby Recap: Tryouts

Note: This post is exceptionally long–over 3200 words. I know the details won’t matter for most of you, but since I like to use this space as a way to document this journey for my own personal memory-keeping, I’m including every detail I felt meaningful to me this weekend. I could break it up over a few posts, but I’d like to get it all out while it’s fresh and precious.

Let’s begin with Friday afternoon. I put an offer on a house, which I knew was only going to add to the stress of a weekend already promising to be exhausting and stressful. I gave myself a headache, actually, and fervently wished the weekend to be over.

I met my friends Sadie and Jenna at our usual Friday evening skating rink, the Millennium, down on the east side. It’s enormous and usually empty on Friday afternoons–all the teenagers wait until about 7 to start showing up so it’s a great place to practice after work. We gently skated for an hour and a half, then caravanned over to Jenna’s to wait for the open skate. She lives next door to Central Market, so we strolled over to eat on their outdoor patio. It was a really great break–there was a live swing band, families eating together, friends meeting up for drinks. I choked down some food (mustard doesn’t go well in chicken salad, btw. Trust.) and we tried to ignore, for just a few moments, the nerves plaguing us. Even through the mounting stress, however, I was conscious of how lovely the moment was. Here I was, sitting with two amazing women I would not have met except for derby, enjoying a meal I would have otherwise eaten alone. The weather was beautiful and we were alive. There was much to be thankful for.

After dinner we headed over to the warehouse to take advantage of the two-hour open skate. There were a lot of people there I didn’t know, which made me nervous because then I thought, “How many people are going to try out??” [side note: I need to tell you that yes, as a matter of fact I DID over-analyze absolutely everything about the weekend and tried to read into things as a way to measure my chances of success. I drove myself crazy, but it’s part of who I am. I read into things.]

But there were also a lot of my friends there, people I thoroughly enjoy skating with. And to my surprise, a few flat-track rec league girls that I sometimes skate with at the Millennium showed up, to see what the banked track was like! It was such a pleasure to share that experience with them, as I’ve never seen them outside of the rink. I put my Spotify skating playlist on the loudspeaker and we spent that time milking the last few hours on the track to perfect our skills.

What was really cool was that at one point we all agreed to stop skating and practiced stepping up & down the track (something that’s difficult to practice outside the track, and impossible to do if others are skating). There were no feelings of competition in the room–everyone was encouraging everyone else in their attempts. That session has a special place in my heart–several times I looked around the place and thought This is why I do this–all these wonderful people. The memory of the music, the friendship, the anticipation–a moment I knew even then I would treasure and relive.

I had thought sleep the night before would be impossible, but when I got home about midnight I was dog tired. I pulled my left quad practicing a single knee recovery (and that is one of THE main muscles, so it was VERY discouraging to pull that the night before!) and I knew I needed to be as rested as possible. I took a hot hot hot epsom salt bath and laid there for awhile, relaxing and feeling the moment. I concentrated on my heartbeat, and meditated on relaxing my tense muscles. In fact, I was so relaxed that I almost fell asleep in the tub! As soon as my head hit the pillow I was OUT.

I woke up Saturday feeling rested and calm…for about .03 seconds. That’s when reality came roaring back, untamed by sleep. I tried to make my morning as relaxing as possible–I didn’t want to frantically rush to the warehouse to start warming up six hours early just yet. So I made bacon & eggs (which I didn’t eat) and hot tea, and tried to watch a TV show, but really I just sat there feeling my heart race for two hours. Every time I would let myself think about what was actually going to happen, my pulse would stumble for half a second. After a while I started to worry a little about the stress of it on my heart, but there was nothing more to be done. So I packed my gear up and headed out to the warehouse for a social skate with classmates.

And it was really, really great. All my friends were there, and even people who weren’t trying out came. I got some fantastic help from a seasoned skater on perfecting my jump, which ended up helping SO much during the actual tryout. We put music on again and basically everyone was as kind as possible to each other, encouraging and helping one another. I realized an hour or so in that once I’d started skating, my nerves had settled and I finally felt prepared for what was ahead. I’d just needed some physical exertion to get my head in the right place.

There was a two-hour break between the end of the social skate and the beginning of tryouts, during which some of us sat around talking about anything but the tryouts. We DID discuss the merits of being among the first versus being among the last to try out, but that was strategic planning, really. It didn’t matter for me, though: while I went to the bathroom they let everyone line up, so when I got out there was no time for strategy. I still ended up with in a really great spot–I was the first to go in the second group, so I could watch the first group do it, but still get a warmup in right before my turn. Primo.

Since I was in the second group (there were 8 in each group), we interviewed with the panel first. I wasn’t nervous about this part–I thought of it as talking to other girls about why derby is so great. It was pretty funny because all but one of the five girls were just fresh from New Girl training and were Hired Guns, so they knew what I was going through, mostly. And they weren’t quite sure what questions to ask, so I ended up just telling them how dedicated I could be to the league (loads of free time, financial stability, a decided penchant for promoting my passions). Friends, this was NOT the time to be conservative with my enthusiasm.

When it came time to get on the track, I didn’t let myself think about what was coming too much. I started humming my motivational song (Ludacris’ “My Chick Bad”) and simply focused on warming up my muscles and getting the feeling of moving around on it. The evaluators were still sitting there, but I pretended they weren’t but still tried to think of my warm-up as a preview–show them you can do the box turn perfectly right now. It helped take the pressure off in the moment I HAD to do it perfectly. But I get ahead of myself.

Like I said, I was one of the first two to go, and when I stepped up to the track to start with suicides (burpees up the track) I tried not to think–I consciously felt. I know the feeling of my skates on the track and what sort of mode my body has to be in, so I let myself slide into it, tried to turn my brain off.

The whistle blew. tweet! Not down far enough–arms too straight. Ok, further down next one. tweet! oof! over-compensating, my chest slams down onto the track. take it easy. tweet! tweet! tweet! SKATE! Lacy had worked with me after class one day on this very transition–moving from the suicide position to the take-off. I make sure my feet are set underneath me, then run on my skates to a quick start. “the first lap is your slowest” I remember Jenna saying. I think about controlling my body, controlling my speed to make sure i’m not losing it in the turn. My crossovers are deep and I feel like my legs are six feet long and beautiful–they carry me high on the stretch and low in the corners, crossing over when smart, holding a squat when smarter. i know i’m moving faster than my mock tryout time, and that’s the thought that makes me smile.

I can feel my breathing accelerating, I start to worry as I come around for the T-Stop. We thought the evaluators would be more to the middle of the stretch; instead they are near the end. I start my T-Stop a little early, but I get it, hold it, take off again. The look on Anita’s face (the trainer who tells us the next skill) is encouraging. The plow stop. Oh dear, I’ve been having trouble with this. I come around and almost get it, but I can’t hold the necessary strength in my leg. I push too hard on one side–lose it, knee buckling inward. Make sure you look like you’re in control, not loose and flailing about. I come up strong and take off again.

When I messed up in our mock tryouts, I let it affect my entire run. This time, I brush it off, it doesn’t matter. Later, I am proud that I was actually able to ignore mistakes and focus on what was happening in the moment. Next skill. Single-knee, I got this. I can’t even feel the pulled quad in my left leg–adrenaline has kicked in, but it’s also starting to affect my breathing and I pray my inhaler isn’t necessary. I slow down to get a good pull of air in, and feel how hot the warehouse has become. It’s an oven at 3:30PM. Almost done. You’re doing great, keep it up. This won’t last forever.

Last fall, the baseball slide. I remember how important it is to not use your hands to help you up. I have to slow down my pace to allow the other skater time & room to do her skill, so I don’t quite have the speed I’d like for this fall. I manage to get up without using my hands, but I make a face that suggests it’s tough, and that’s not something I want them to see. I start to berate myself, but I don’t have that luxury yet. I come around for the jump, and think about the hints Riley gave me: don’t bend until just before, knees to tits, point your heels at the track and punch it in the face. Nailed itI make a mental note to hug her for that one.

The box turn is next. Easy, tiger. you’ve done this a million times now. shoulder & hip married. open wide, feel the balance. Beautifully done–exactly as I wanted it. Next up, almost finished–a smooth half-box turn transition to backward skating. I’m not even thinking about how my backwards skate looks–I’m thinking how we’re almost done, just got the stepping up and down left. I wait for Kate to finish her backward lap, we line up and start. I can tell I’ve got the mojo back for this one since I lost it a few weeks ago–this skill doesn’t feel difficult like it has lately–I breathe a huge sigh of relief as we finish and leave the track.

I know it reads like I was thinking more than I wanted to, but honestly most of these were just my gut reactions [side note: I’m reading a fascinating book right now that details the differences in decision-making between our ‘rational’ brain (the prefrontal cortex) and our emotional brain. Basically, my rational brain had nothing to do with the tryout].  I can’t even remember seeing Kate on the track, I felt like it was me and the mob of judgement sitting on my left.

I drink half my Nalgene in one long pull–I am dripping with sweat from the heat and the exertion, shaking from the effort and breathing hard from the adrenaline and maybe a touch of asthma. my helmet comes off as my friend erika whispers (no talking allowed!) “you looked awesome out there! good job, you really looked good!”. i lay down on the cool cement floor and i can’t stop grinning. it’s done.

Coming off the track, headed towards my friends. I am eager to know what they thought of my tryout–were they as excited for me as i was for them? Did it look as good as it felt? Were my slight hesitations and missteps as obvious to them as they were to me? Taking off skates & soaking wet gear, we compare our tryouts to each other, seeking affirmation and encouragement. I am glad to give it–I loved watching my derby sisters tear that track up.

I immediately phoned my mother as I left the warehouse, because that’s what I do. When Jon came home, I relived it for him as well. By this point I could only sit on the couch and move my mouth, because the thought of moving to make food or shower was discouraging, even if it was necessary. I decided I needed to bathe more than I needed food, and spent the rest of the day on the couch. I still haven’t regained my appetite. Apparently that’s a survival technique in response to high stress. 

Sunday I woke up later than usual, and at first all I felt was relief–the tryouts were over, this was finished. We ran some fun errands–Home Depot, Goodwill, Jon’s new building. But as the day crept on, I began to panic more and more often. Each hour closer to 7 was slightly more agonizing than the last–I couldn’t keep forgetting that I still didn’t know the result of my tryout. Finally at four, when the second round of tryouts was concluded, my lovely friend Sadie invited me to join them for drinks, which sounded perfect. We dissected their tryouts, I talked about the day before, and we all agreed it was unbearable and we didn’t want anyone’s phone to ring while we were together, so we quickly went our separate ways.

I came home to a giggling Jon and we started a movie about stunt men (NItro Circus) that was super funny, but I couldn’t focus. Six thirty came around. Half an hour–they said seven. My shoulders were starting to ache from the tension so I was quickly offered a massage. 6:40, my phone rings. Twenty minutes early. My heart dropped to the floor. Jon leaps from the couch to see my face, I can tell he’s nervous & excited too. Of course it’s Anita, I can hear the smile in her voice and she’s so kind and making sure it’s me but all I can think is Just say yes or no! Just end the agony!

Jon later told me my face was so funny to read–every emotion clearly expressed on my face. But I literally did not have the mental faculties to manage my reaction–all my mental and emotional energy was maxed out for the weekend (I seriously wouldn’t be surprised if I was chemically depleted of something, the stress was that intense). Each word carried weight. Including, “Unfortunately”….”you made it!”

OH. GOOD. GOD. I thanked her, hung up the phone, and started screaming. Seriously, pacing and jumping around and screaming. Jon and I hugged and kissed and I cried a bit and we laughed through our excitement and he kept saying how proud, how very proud he was. How he didn’t think at that championship bout that I would actually go through with it (because let’s face it, I’m not known for following through) but he was SO impressed with me and he was just so happy for me. That moment, that sweet sweet moment, is held so dear to me. It was victory and accomplishment and love and relief, such sharp poignant relief, all rolled into one giant gift.

I called my friend Sadie, but she didn’t answer….because she was on the phone with Anita at that very moment! But she called back and we rejoiced together as only fellow soldiers can, and then hurried off to call our mothers. Mine who was so proud of me, as she always, always is. Telling her was another moment of sweetness–she had encouraged and believed in me, for months and months. I felt it only right she was the first to know.

We celebrated with a hard cider and held hands on the couch while we finished the movie–it was so much easier to watch now that I knew!–but really all I could think was I did it, I actually did it. My first time trying out, and I made it. Of course this means I will only have to work harder, longer, and stronger, but for just a moment I wanted to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I had been so worried that statistically the odds were against me, but in the end it was only myself.

Getting through tryouts makes me so incredibly thankful for the hours I spent skating outside of class, that I didn’t stop going to Pilates, that I didn’t quit strength-training, that I didn’t let exhaustion, soreness, and laziness keep me from pressing on. I know, I know, that those are the reasons I’m the skater I am today. I’m not saying I’m fantastic–I’m saying without learning that discipline I would not have pulled this off. But thank God there will never be another FIRST tryout. Maybe other tryouts, but certainly none as terrifying as this one. I do think, however, that part of the reason I was successful in my tryout was that I was able to forget my nerves and focus on what was happening in that moment. If I let myself start thinking ahead to what was coming, I’d lose it, but if I concentrated only on the now, it didn’t seem so overwhelming.

I realized after the fact that I hadn’t let what I was trying out for really sink in–I was so focused on simply getting through them that I forgot about the prize on the other side. That phone call was affirmation all my hard work had paid off, that I had not slaved in vain. That in itself would have been worth it. But I am seriously looking forward to the training that’s ahead. I’m so excited to learn how to play the game harder, better, stronger, faster–so eager to see the results of working that hard.

And even though this whole weekend was stressful beyond belief and most of it is colored with the memory of gut-wrenching nervousness, there are still those moments of incredible bounty, moments I carry in my heart. And even though I still feel like I’m recovering emotionally and mentally, I imagine it’ll pass soon.

It’s like Jon said. This isn’t the end. This is only the beginning.


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