A New Season

After failing to make the final cut during the last round of New Girl training for TXRD, my head got into a weird place. The day after evaluations, I said “I don’t want to touch my skates for a good solid three days”. I was giving myself permission to take a teensy little break. I assumed I’d be right back in them. But then the phone call. And it was painful to look at them, let alone put them on, so I didn’t lace up for quite a while. I can’t even tell you how long–maybe a few weeks, not until the next round of Polly & Lacy’s classes started back up.

I’m not trying to dwell on that whole heartbreak thing again though. I bring it up to illustrate this point: this summer I decided to break all the rules I’d set for myself back in October and then January (skating & eating Primally). I gave myself permission to do whatever I wanted. I could eat what I wanted, I could get chickens, I didn’t have to work out. It was basically a free pass. I was calling it a “Mental Health Summer”. It was like those vacation days you take from work when you’re starting to burn out, except my was kind of never-ending.

It was awesome. I got SO MUCH done–some ceilings de-popcorned, some walls painted, garden planted, rain barrels in place, clothesline up, and a gorgeous chicken coop built. I caught up on a lot of reading, caught up with my friends, and caught up on my hammock time. Being derby-less gave me lots of free time to actually do the things I’d dreamed about doing in my own house.

It was AND it wasn’t the healthiest thing for me. To go from eating a no-grain/no-legume/no sugar diet and exercising a good 6-7 hours a week to sandwiches and a cancelled gym membership definitely took a toll on my body: the extreme, sudden shift really threw my muscles and created a few problems. I could have found a better way to do that part instead of just cold turkey.

BUT.

The mental relief was fantastic. I had been struggling, all throughout New Girl, to find the balance between enjoying and being present in my home-buying experience versus my training-for-derby experience. I could never give 100% to either–I managed about 80%, 80% of the time. But then–not having to make the choice myself, it was quite a relief to suddenly have plenty of free time and energy to devote to my exciting new toy. I reveled in the freedom to just drive home after work. No stopping by the gym. No fighting traffic to the Thunderdome for a league practice. Just….going home, to paint something or sew something or read a book.

There’s a problem, however. Aside from atrophying muscles, I didn’t set an end date. I didn’t give myself a “back-to-school” deadline. The “break” never ended. Sure, at the end of July I said “ok, August is my birthday month so I’ll just start eating primally again now”. And then I didn’t, because it was still hot and I was still taking popcorn off the ceiling and who has time to cook when you’re covered in paint? P. Terry’s it is! (I seriously have had SO MANY CHEESEBURGERS this summer it’s ridiculous).

I started to skate on Saturday mornings, (a bit begrudgingly, I admit ashamedly), but it wasn’t with the same balls-to-the-wall devotion as before. I’ve done just enough to keep my feet familiar with the incline, but then one day it hit me–I could lose all the advantages of being in NG before. So I started trying again. Skating outside of the warehouse, with my derby wife, or doing squat pyramids randomly throughout the day. And then, a day or two ago, I received the “official” tryout email with all the details. A few minutes later, another email came my way with information about the new Wreck League (a recreational league).

Seeing the two emails juxtaposed like that really put a fire underneath me again for New Girl. I want THE league. I want TXRD, and I want it in a bad way. I am willing to work so hard, ready for those exhausting nights driving home smelling like a skunk. I’m so eager for the intense workouts again, ready to push myself and to quit letting my fear hold me back. I’m ready to prove myself again, ready to be as fit and tough as I was before. And this time, I’ve got experience and knowledge behind me, pushing me forward. And if that means denying those intense sugar/chocolate cravings, and forgoing the convenience of a sandwich, and tripling my gas budget, so be it. I want it, and I’m finally remembering that.

It’s time.

Advertisements

Time.

It’s a funny thing, really. It’s never quite the same. For something that’s supposed to be a constant, that is measured so carefully and counted on so heavily, it really is elastic and ever-changing. The difference between the week and the weekend is one obvious example: 8 hours at work can drag, but two days will fly by in the blink of an eye. I hadn’t realized until lately how much my life revolves around it, how much I count on it.

I use it to measure effort: I’ve spent the last nine months training so hard, sweating and pushing myself further and further. I use it to gauge devotion: how many years am I willing to give to this? I use it to evaluate passion: I spent a year, month after disappointing month, searching for a home, until at last it all paid off. Time has been both a boost to the ego as well a blow to my pride.

It’s been weeks since I’ve written anything. I’ve started a few drafts, began to write out my feelings of disappointment, attempted to console my bruised ego with words. All to no avail. I tried to wax philosophical about heartache and disappointment, I made comparisons to literature. Nothing’s helped, nothing’s come out right. So many drafts, all to say: I have been sorely disappointed and my pride took a huge hit and this (to put it eloquently) sucks. Even to write this today, a few weeks later, is hard. I didn’t really want to write it, and I don’t think there are many people interested in reading it. But I feel like I can’t move on until I’ve done this. I can’t talk about all the fun and exciting things I’m doing around my house right now (chickens! ducks! removal of popcorn ceilings!) until I talk about how crushing this disappointment was. So here I sit, writing it in self-pity and sadness. It’ll be over soon. I just have to get it out there.

I didn’t make it into the derby league. I was one of five girls cut from a class of fifteen.

I know there are worse things in the world than this, bad things that happen every day to much better people, things that are truly heart-breaking and unfair no matter which way you look at it. And I recognize the very good fortune I have had in being born as a white middle-class American, that my blessings are numerous compared to a majority of the world’s population. I am not trying to undermine or trivialize their sufferings in any way.

But.

I was still disappointed to have come THISCLOSE, and to have been cut. There are many things that have been said that comforted me, but the truth of the matter is, I’m still sad about it. It’s difficult to see the updates from my friends that did make it. They absolutely deserve everything and I begrudge them nothing. I am only sad I cannot join in with them. I still feel the bruise on my heart, still feel a touch tender about skating. The thought of ever going back to the warehouse was terrifying and sad. In the weeks following the bad news, I carried it around like an anchor. It was not easy to brush off.

There’s a scene in the new Monsters, Inc movie (Monster University) where Mike Wazowski is sitting on a rock, staring across a moonlit lake. He’s having a heart-to-heart with Sully, talking about his new (painful) realization that he is NOT SCARY. He says “I thought if I worked hard enough and wanted it badly enough, it would happen.” An arrow to the heart–my breath caught and I’m pretty sure I teared up a bit. Jon reached for my hand because he knew exactly what I was thinking.

So much of this disappointment comes from the fact that I’ve always believed that if you work hard and do the right things, it will pay off. There are always consequences to your actions, whether good or bad; reactions to every action. I worked really hard and did everything I was told and it still didn’t yield the results I wanted. I pushed myself further than I thought was possible and I thought it would be rewarded. It was jarring to my understanding of how the world worked, it was upsetting to feel I couldn’t have done anything different. And yet, I am somewhat comforted by that–I could not have done anything more. I did my best. There is no shame in my effort.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like that big of deal to someone, maybe they think I’m making too much of this and just need to move on. But try to imagine it from my point of view: my whole life, I’ve never been an athlete, never been able to succeed in anything physical. I was the bookworm with an atheletic sister. Then finally, as an adult, I discover something that I not only enjoy doing, but I’m good at. I spend the next eight to nine MONTHS working out several days a week, eating a nutritious diet avoiding my favorite sweets, spending my spare cash on gear, and devoting my energy to this sport. I sacrificed time with my boyfriend & friends and tripled my gas just getting to practice three times (at least!) a week, all with the expectation that it would pay off. And it did in some ways, but not in the really big way I was hoping for.

I briefly toyed with the idea of not returning to the classes and closing this chapter in my life. So many others didn’t make it on their first try, but it really catches you by surprise at how much it hurts. The night I got the call, I just accepted that it was a horrible night and really felt how sad I was. I allowed myself that, but then I tried to recover. Re-reading my old blog posts reminded me how much I love derby, and skating. I would be doing myself a great disservice in quitting, because I’m unbelievably happy when I’m skating. I have made such incredible friends and it has done so much good for my health it would be the epitome of selfishness to only think of my pride. There is no shame in not succeeding my first time through, I am simply one of many who had to try try again. And try I will.

I’m looking at all this as an opportunity. An opportunity to heal, since my rib still isn’t 100% and my knee occasionally pains me. An opportunity to work on the things I didn’t feel comfortable doing, and the chance to absolutely master the skills I already have. Walking into the Thunderdome for class this Saturday was unbelievably difficult, and I kept second-guessing myself, but I know it was the right decision. There were so many familiar smiling faces that welcomed me back, and the track still felt like home. I have a choice: I can let this either break me or strengthen me. I choose to work harder as the next tryout approaches, work to be as intimidating as the other second-round New Girls were to me last time. I want to be as ready as possible so the next time, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind I belong.

 

The Little Engine That Could

I know i’ve been a little quiet around here lately. It isn’t that I haven’t had much to write about it, it’s that I don’t have the time in which to write. Buying a house and training for a very intense sport does not lend itself to lots of free time. If I’m not headed up to the warehouse for training, I’m running around Lowe’s, gathering items for my newest project. Right now i’m finishing up installing rain barrels, just in time for another drought! I installed a cat door and am trying to get my new front door up as well, and I’ll be buying the first few gallons of paint for this place just as soon as I have a free weekend.

But today I want to talk about derby. I didn’t recap my New Girl training experience because I didn’t want to say too much, but the experience was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It wasn’t nearly as emotionally draining as that first weekend, but there were a few physical setbacks that were frustrating. My knee inexplicably pulled out of alignment halfway through training (an overdeveloped quad muscle was to blame). As a result, my mid-point evaluation was terrible: just good enough to eek through but nothing to write home about. I did whatever I could to help speed along the healing process, and just as it was on the mend, I took a  hit by a vet at a league practice that sprained a rib. Did you know you could do that?? The impact of my spine on the rail (admittedly my fault for trying to back out of the hit rather than run it out) knocked it out of place, and although it was easy enough for my chiropractor to put it back into place, four weeks later I’m still feeling the pain if I overuse that particular muscle.

So going to extra practices was tricky: I didn’t want to risk a further injury, and i definitely didn’t want to have to sit out in front of league members and look like the New Girl who couldn’t cut it. But I also didn’t want to just not show up and miss the opportunity to hang out with the vets. It was a balancing act, and one I was constantly adjusting to. I had to listen to my body every day; I’ve never been so in tune with myself. There were a few nights after practice I would cry a little in my truck, because I was so frustrated with how my body was holding me back. I just wanted to be able to give it my all and really learn and get better, but I would get hit a certain way or breathe too heavy too long and I’d have to sit out.

Last night was our final evaluation. It was a three-part tryout that left us all exhausted and soaked by the end of it, but I must say: I am prouder of that tryout than any of the others. I did my very best and put it all out there. After each section, as I came off the track, I couldn’t help but think that I was not ashamed of any part; there was nothing I regretted or wanted to do differently. No matter what the results are, I can say I was proud of how I ended it.

I was so nervous when I got to the warehouse, and when we started warming up on the track. My legs were a touch shaky, and my mouth was drying out. I was the third person to go, which I thought would be a bad thing but ended up being rather nice. I gave myself a firm talking to: “You’ve done this a thousand times before. Stop it. You are not new to the track. This is something you CAN do, so just go out there and show them what you’ve shown them in all the other practices. Chin up.” I then proceeded to sing my toughen-up song to myself right before hitting the track in a burpee. And you know what? It worked! Yeah I was still nervous, but I wasn’t incapacitated. I felt in control and like I could handle what I was doing. That’s one of the things I wanted for myself, so if I walk away from this with nothing more than that, I will be content.

This evening I will get a phone call that will determine how much work I get done on my house this summer. I am trying my very hardest to not have any expectations: there are several spots open, but there are also several very talented skaters in my class. I am balancing my good evaluation with my not-as-good last few weeks, and I honestly will not be surprised if it goes either way. I have looked deep inside myself to some fairly raw places, and I am not ashamed of what I saw. I learned that I can grow from hardship, that crying does not admit defeat, that I do not have to buckle under pressure, that I am able. If nothing more, I CAN. And that’s a win-win no matter how you look at it.

An Overflowing Cup

There is so much I want to write about. So much to catch up on from the last few weeks of silence: completing the purchase of my first home (!!), navigating the first five weeks of intense New Girl training, a knee injury I was sure would be my downfall, and finally, surviving the first round of cuts in derby.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude, so incredibly thankful for the things that have happened in my life (Also, a bit stressed). I have worked, planned, saved, stretched, skated and sacrificed, all in the pursuit of two very different dreams. And when they BOTH became possibilities literally on the SAME DAY, I knew I was living under a blessed (rhymes with stressed) star.

As I’m not being too subtle about it, let’s just address the stress and have done with it. Since I have tried hard to maintain a chronicle of the different stages of both dreams, I don’t expect it is much of a surprise to hear that these past five or six weeks weren’t all rosebuds and rainbows. I don’t really want to relive the stress in detail, because then the journey becomes more negative than positive, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge its existence. I’m still trying to recover from the very real physical consequences of that much cortisol flooding my system for so long, and I’m trying hard to reestablish my workout and eating routines. I do not like chaos, and that seems to describe most aptly the last few weeks. I am a creature of order and routine: I have always been a person adverse to change.

BUT. I have been amazed, astounded really, at how a little hard work in your life can yield such fruitful results. I don’t know how or why I lived my whole life in such a state of laziness, because this whole “accomplishing things” kick I’m on is pretty damn awesome. While positivity can sometimes be impossible (especially in the face of a title company or a bench of evaluators), making sure I always did what needed to do was the key to surviving and mastering these challenges.

Because that’s what dreams are: challenges. They aren’t easy or for the faint of heart. There were so many hurdles, every day, that needed to be faced head on. Making the best eating choices. Choosing Pilates over thrifting. Getting together the W-2s and tax returns from the last 3 years. Facilitating a monetary gift. Making your dreams come true is something you have to do EVERY DAY. It wasn’t the one moment I signed my name (or rather, the eighty times I signed my name), and it wasn’t Monday night’s evaluation. It was every time I laced up my skates or did a squat pyramid. It was saying “no” to shopping sprees and “yes” to more money in the savings account. Our daily choices are what get us there. One step on a very long road is still progress.

This last weekend was very very full and while I felt overwhelmed at times, there was still a layer of gratitude blanketing it. Sure, packing up and moving is no one’s idea of fun, but I had so many people there to help me, people who love me and were only excited and proud of me. It didn’t take me nearly as long as I thought it would to get out of that tiny space, and the house I thought was smaller than I remembered turned out to be enormous compared to my tiny, apartment-sized furniture.

Leaving the apartment was a surreal moment. As everything finally went out the door, I turned around and felt like surely two whole years couldn’t have passed since I first walked into that place. I was not sad to leave it behind (who could be, moving to this fantastic house?) but I had lived a very good life in that apartment. My time there was sweet and full of nothing but good memories; memories I will carry with me for a long, long time. So saying goodbye was bittersweet.

Finally buying a house that satisfies so much of my wish list is only half the magic that is my life these days. Of course, what has dominated my blog since October? I don’t think i need to tell you how much derby has come to mean to me. It represents a side of myself I didn’t know was there: a bookworm who could become an athlete. I have worked hard and learned discipline and accomplished things

More than a few people have said “I remember when you saw the first bout, and now look at you!”. It makes me smile and I get a little mooshy inside when I think about how excited and inspired I was, seeing these amazing women. Now, I get to skate alongside them (practice only, really). And while I am not yet a league member, I am so much further than I ever thought I could be in such a short time.

We had our first round of cuts this past week, and I wasn’t really nervous about them until I was on my way to the warehouse. I think most of that was due to the fact that I had just spent the entire weekend moving, and my heart and mind were playing in my new house still. But once there, the nerves came back quick and fast. The first portion was identical to the tryout, and I didn’t do NEARLY as well as i would have wanted to.

i injured my knee two weeks ago, and don’t ask me how it happened–I woke up one morning and it was inflamed and painful. There was the constant feeling of needing to pop it. My chiropractor confirmed that the kneecap was out of place and was due to an over-developed quad muscle. Yes, my muscles are so hardcore that now they are PULLING MY BONES OUT OF PLACE. Well, let’s not be dramatic about it. (Even though that’s what’s happening). I had kinda slacked off on keeping all my other leg muscles strong as I kept skating, and it cost me quite a few points during my evaluation. I couldn’t do the falls right (or rather, the recoveries) because my knee didn’t want to hold my weight when I needed it to, so I looked like a girl who just fell down a lot. But luckily, I did well enough on the second part to survive the first round of eliminations. I know I didn’t look like a rockstar or anything, but I take comfort in the fact that my eval scores aren’t really indicative of my abilities–just an injured knee.

My friend Theresa and I began our Level 1 classes together last October, and I remember some of our conversations riding home about what we wanted derby to be in our lives, and what kind of timeline we were working with. She was ok with taking a year or so to really learn it, but I was determined to get in at my first tryout. Well, I wanted it badly, and was afraid it would just end up being another disappointment. It is incredible to me that eight months later, this crazy ride is still going and the thing I had hoped for most is the thing that is happening to me.

My tagline, “She turned her can’ts into “cans” and her dreams into plans” has never felt more appropriate in MY LIFE. A month or so ago I mentioned that I was overcome with happiness and satisfaction with myself because I had managed to accomplish something. Today that has never felt more true. Today i am bowed over with gratitude and pride and humbleness and determination and love; love for the life that is unfolding before me. Thank you for coming this far with me. I am so excited for what’s next.

Needing Vs. Getting

Anyone who says buying a home is easy is either a liar or very, very wealthy.

This has been one of the most stressful things I have EVER done in my life, including applying to college, college itself, pledging a sorority, deciding not to go to grad school (two weeks before it started), moving to a new city where I didn’t know anyone, moving out on my own for the first time, and even roller derby.

If you read my last post, it’s pretty obvious that I was not in the most positive frame of mind when I wrote it. Today I wanted to clarify something, since some people have seemed to get the wrong impression from that post. After two AMAZING New Girl practices this weekend, I realized that I didn’t really understand how much of my stress about the first two practices was actually stress from home-buying. It probably isn’t important to anyone but me, really, but it is my story to tell and this is an important part of it.

The week before I started New Girl, I found out from my lender that even with all the assistance programs I’m using to buy my house, I still needed to come up with $5000 extra. As in, in order to buy this house and not default on my contract (two very important things to me), I had to figure out a way to beg, steal, or borrow five grand. FIVE. GRAND. That is a small number in the grand scheme of things, but a grand number in the small scheme of MY things. That is money I DO NOT HAVE, hence the down payment assistance programs & first time homebuyer loans. I was so upset the evening I found out I laid awake most of the night, crying and scheming and going crazy. I spent that next week talking it over with very important people in my life, and still couldn’t come up with a solution that worked. I worried I’d have to end this ride before I’d even got on, but I didn’t want to throw in the towel just yet.

The best things in my life have come to me gently, floating into my current without invitation or manipulation. I am NOT saying hard work isn’t ever involved–I would point to derby as a perfect example. It very unexpectedly came to me at the perfect time in my life, when it was appropriate and best. I am such a firm believer in NOT forcing or ‘striving’ for something, because it has been proven to me over and over again that when the timing is right the thing you need will come to you. [Case in point: Jon is my first real relationship, and it is a healthy, successful, mature, loving one because I didn’t agonize over finding a boyfriend at that time in my life. He appeared when I was happy and loving to myself, when I was interested in discovering new things and learning more about myself. Our relationship came about easily & organically, and it continues because we adjust ourselves fluidly to the changes in our lives.]

But I am also learning, throughout this whole process, the difference between “forcing” something, and working hard for it. My old boss Lisa has really been an encouragement to me in positive thinking & working hard to achieve your dreams, and I have to say, she’s converted me. I believed I could get into New Girl even though six months ago I had difficulty staying upright on my new skates, and today I write this recovering from a late-night practice. Of course to get to this point took hard work & self-discipline, but it was about making the choice to go work out when I wanted to go home, or skating for another fifteen minutes, or waking up even earlier on Saturday mornings to get some alone time on the track. That’s the difference between forcing your life versus working hard. One is dangerous and the other is laziness, and wisdom is knowing the difference. When I found out about the extra money that was needed, I was afraid I had reached an obstacle that I couldn’t overcome, something that would necessitate “striving” and would ruin the beautiful thing that had come to me.

So there I was, so stressed about money and watching one dream slip through my fingers, trying desperately to save the other. I was sleep-deprived and hadn’t been eating very much, and everything seemed impossible–work, sleep, Primal eating, relationships, DERBY. I was in a sad sad place where I felt like crying at the drop of a hat. Luckily, I was able to recognize at the time that the reason everything seemed so dark and dreary and unconquerable was mostly because of this whole home-buying situation, but that didn’t make it any less miserable. To add the stress of an even more disciplined workout/lifestyle felt impossible, an insurmountable mountain.

I feel very blessed that these times in my life have been very brief, although they feel like a consuming eternity each time. Approximately a week after that initial heartbreak, I was able to work out a deal with a very generous person that will still allow me to purchase the house. The relief I felt was overwhelming, although it took a few hours for the stress to start seeping from my body.

When I thought about writing blog posts that would help other people through this first-time home-buying process, I envisioned each post looking much different than this. I thought maybe I’d tell you what forms were important to have on file, let you know what & when your lender will tell you or need from you. I wanted to give out useful information to other people like me–young adults who think they want it but aren’t sure how to get it. But it is being revealed to me with each lesson, each life event, that I am such a creature of sensuality & emotion that the emotions and feelings of an experience overwhelm the logistics of it. I am not saying this is right OR wrong, simply that this is how I experience the world, ergo my writing can only reflect that.

This evening finds me exceedingly grateful, as I am still on the path to home ownership (so soon!) and I am thoroughly enjoying New Girl training. Each day brings its own challenges, physically, emotionally, and financially, but am I also learning how to handle those challenges: one day at a time. Each day has it’s own trouble, and it doesn’t make sense to worry about what might happen tomorrow when I can only do something about what’s happening TODAY. I am being pushed further than I ever expected but I am actually growing as well, and that is as astonishing as anything in my life.

Derby Recap: Defeat.

I wasn’t sure whether or not to post this, as circumstances have changed and I’m not really feeling this way (too much) anymore. But, in the interest of preserving the truth of this derby journey, I felt it was important to tell the WHOLE story, not just the nice bits.

Defeated.

That’s how I feel. Defeated by this house-buying business, defeated in personal relationships, and defeated by derby.

We worked on blocking last night, which isn’t anything new to me. We worked on it in L2 classes and I thought I had a good handle on it. But then the NG Coordinators hit us. The first time I got seriously hit I heard and felt a neck vertebrae move into/out of place, which kind of freaked me out but it didn’t hurt so maybe it was helpful? Don’t know. The second time , Nicki hit me and OH GOOD LORD. I couldn’t breathe. She seriously knocked my breath out–I couldn’t understand the level of pain. Holy crap.

It just made me think–why am I doing this? Perhaps I’m not cut out for this. This HURTS. This isn’t FUN. I’m afraid of the pain these girls are going to cause. Do I REALLY want this? Do I REALLY want them to try to hurt me all the time? So doubting myself, in this sport I’ve spent the last six months training for? Yeah, that sucks.

If ever I had any doubt this felt like pledging, our last drill completely eradicated it. We did a plank tunnel that translates to basically a five minute plank. I can barely, barely by the skin of my teeth hold onto a 30-second plank. This was the hardest thing I’d ever done–holding that position. I cried because I hurt so bad and I didn’t want to do it and I didn’t want to be the cause of anyone having to do punishment suicides. I did it, but I broke. Those damn things broke me. I cried as I recovered, completely unable, completely drained. I had nothing left to give.

That’s another heart-breaker: I have been really pushing myself, working hard at this for six months. I work out all the time. Why is this still so hard? And then the trainers were like, “Do squat pyramids every day. Do 20-40 lunges each leg every day. Work on your planks. Do push-ups. Cross-train.” It doesn’t sound quite so bad in the light of day (although still bad), but at the end of a two-hour workout I couldn’t even fathom how much more they were telling me to do. As if, ‘It doesn’t matter. Do more more more more, because what you’re already wearing yourself out doing is still NOT ENOUGH’. It was overwhelming and deflating–I felt like there would be no way I could catch up to where I should be by the time I need to be there.

And then, just when I was getting proud of myself for making it through another endurance drill, I drop and hit my knee. Hit it HARD. And they’re saying, “get up ashley you got this” because normally I do just pop right back up, but this time all I can think is ‘owowowowowowie!’. So I slide down and ice it for a minute and then I think “i’m going to get back out there and show them I won’t be held down by this”. Where I promptly lose control because my knee hurts and I’m on the ground again. (validation: even through my tough knee pads, I still have a pretty significant bruise on my kneecap from this fall. my first) Not my proudest moment–my derby idol was teaching the class and I felt like I wasn’t making the impression I wanted. Not that she even noticed: I get the distinct and unpleasant feeling I am not. standing. out. To any of my trainers. And that is NOT good–I don’t want to be forgettable. Because forgettable gets cut, forgettable doesn’t make the league.

I so badly want to show them I deserve to be there. I wish they could see how I AM giving it all I got–how I AM pushing my lungs and my legs just to make it through the drill, that I’m not intentionally slacking off. I want it so badly I will do anything to get it, I just wish that “anything” wasn’t so damned hard. But I guess that’s the kicker–dreams aren’t easy. They aren’t readily available on your supermarket shelf for convenient purchase. I don’t know why I thought this would be such a breeze. Is it because skating comes so natural? It does. It’s the self-discipline, its the endurance and the breathing through the pain and the pushing through my muscles tiring that doesn’t come so naturally. People keep saying “if it were easy everyone would be doing it” and I guess that’s true, but the fact of the matter is that some people ARE doing it and they’re making it look easy and that is NOT encouraging.

But this is MY journey. No one is going to live it for me. No one is going to do those squats but me and if I don’t work on my lung capacity then I am always going to lag during endurance drills. It’s just that the thought of so much hard work is exhausting if I think about it in the long-term context: four more weeks of round one, then maybe five weeks of round two, and that’s before I ever enter the league. But as long as I take it one day, one workout at a time, it doesn’t seem so impossible. Maybe skating is the same as cycling: it doesn’t get easier, you just go faster.

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.

BEFORE THE TRYOUT:
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.

THE TRYOUT:
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.

AFTER THE TRYOUT:
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.