Derby Recap: Week 10

“Talent is a pursued interest. In other words, anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.” Bob Ross

It’s like Bob Ross has been watching me the last six months and decided to give me a mantra–as my Level 2 course ended this weekend, there is nothing that can sum up the last ten weeks better than this. I have learned, through trial and error, that the best way to master something is to simply do it. I wish that I had learned this earlier in my life, as this simple realization has empowered me to try so many more things, to brave the unknown (like red lipstick, or cauliflower). It has honestly been one of the most eye-opening and self-affirming lessons I’ve learned in my entire life. I don’t know if it’s simply the result of growing older and realizing that my dreams are best pursued by ME, or that I am finally outgrowing the laziness that has characterized any endeavor, but I am finally discovering that power really does live within me. I can be either my own best friend or my own worst enemy.

Ok, I’ll quit with the touchy-feelies. On to my final recap.

This Saturday started with another extended warm-up that ended with a one-minute endurance sprint, which always inspires me to really push myself. I love seeing how far I can go with it–how much faster can I be today? Can I actually make myself go hardhardhard for an entire minute? Can I keep breathing all the way to the end? It’s usually just a race against myself, although this week others could tell I have been working on my speed. [side note: Riley if you’re reading this, you have no idea how your words gratified me. Everything you said to me I hold close to my heart in moments of doubt–it was appreciated far more than you can know]. Although I have been trying to build my endurance and really look forward to maxing out, by the end of the sprint I had to take myself to the rail because y’all, I seriously thought I was going to THROW. UP. I hadn’t even eaten much for breaky but all the blood left my stomach to help my limbs and I figured if I was gonna yak it’d better be off the track. In the end I just coughed a bit and had a laugh. I’ll figure this breathing thing out yet.

But the best part? One word.


We divided up into teams, promised not to get our feelings hurt, and proceeded to actually skate a derby bout. And? It. Was. AWESOME. I started out in the pack because I really wanted to see what blocking felt like, and because I didn’t want to assert myself immediately into the jammer position. I’m glad I started with blocking, because it gave me a very keen insight into what actually happens in a pack, how very little you are thinking about your feet or movements, how aware you must be of all the other players, and how key muscle memory is. At one point I fell and landed in the “All-4” position, which I have spent considerable time practicing lately. Because I didn’t need to think about it,  I was able to land in the correct position and then jump right back up–an affirmation that with practice anything can become second nature.

Without vanity, can I tell you how proud of myself I was? When I finally put on the star panty (jammer’s helmet covering), I was nervous–so nervous!–but when my whistle blew I was impressed with how my feet just knew what to do–how they knew how to run to gain enough speed to pass the other jammer (something I don’t remember teaching them). How smoothly my mind and feet settled into the game, how all thoughts of doubt vanished in the pace of the game. Variations of I CAN DO THIS and THIS IS NOT FOR GODS ALONE and ITS ABOUT DAMN TIME all ran through my head, and I allowed myself a moment of pride when I slipped through the pack unimpeded for four points, or when I caught up to the pack after a collision. (I do think it’s important to note here that I also fell quite a bit during our scrimmage, but I’m of the opinion that falling means you’re trying, so I’m not embarrassed). I know a lot of my “success” during jamming was because there are some seriously kick-ass blockers in my class and also it was our first time playing, but I don’t want to allow that to diminish my victory over doubt. It was confirmation of the most important kind, that I am not making up either my accomplishments or my passion for this sport.

Yes, I have wondered, occasionally, why I trained for something that doesn’t really fit the mental image I have of myself–I do not consider myself hardcore or an athlete of any kind. But week after week, I have eagerly looked forward to my two hours on Saturday. Even now I cannot pinpoint the why of it, I only know that I love it, I am good at it, I want to keep doing it, and that is enough for me.

Driving home from practice, I was struck by how profoundly happy I was. There was no big smile on my face, no one moment to pin my elation to but rather it was the humbling, overwhelming sensation that I had been given the gift of a beautiful journey. I had dreamed, I had discovered discipline and pushed myself, and then I had proven that I, Ashley, am capable of accomplishment. Anything after this point is bonus. No matter what happens this next weekend, no matter if my derby career stalls out, there is nothing that can take away the deep-seated satisfaction of knowing that I am able, if only I am willing.

All that said, I’m still ready for this next weekend to be done with, so that I can know, one way or another. I have spent the last six months working towards this moment, six months of trying to hurry up to be good enough, six months of falling and getting back up, six months of learning how to be an athlete, all in anticipation of this Saturday. And now they are here. Tryouts are in five days. We are counting in days now, not weeks.

I’ve been trying to prepare and psych myself up for it–I spent the weekend trying to visualize myself actually skating the tryout but could only “do” one lap at a time because my heart kept doing that dropping/skipping beats thing. But I have been practicing those basic skills anytime I’m on skates. At the rink with my friends, I do those I doubt myself most in–falls, plow stops, and of course the box turn, over and over and over again. But it’s not my skating skills I’m worried about. It’s knowing I can practice as much as I want, but in the end it’s all about my mental game.

I keep telling myself that of course I can do this. They’re looking for controlled skaters, they’re testing you to see if YOU skate your skates or your skates skate YOU. And I AM controlled, I AM comfortable on eight wheels. I know I can do this, I know if I can keep it together mentally for about five minutes it’ll be alright. It’s just that I’m fearful that in that moment I’ll lose my nerve. So I’ve been practicing that moment before the first suicide, when I’m waiting to hear the first tweet of the whistle. I imagine what I’ll say to myself, what prep talk I’ll give: “You’ve done this a hundred times, it is no different than Lacy or Polly standing there. Just hold it together and show them what you show yourself. You are here for YOU and they can enjoy the show if they’d like.” Something like that. I don’t think I’ll turn into a nervous blithering idiot–I already did that the first time, and there will never be another first time (thankeejesus). If I can convince myself that I am hardcore and deserve it, then I just might stand a chance. I guess I’ll just have to practice.


Derby Recap: Week 9

There wasn’t much incentive to write this week’s recap. Sometimes I feel like I write the same things over and over again: it was hard, I’m learning there’s so much to learn, tryouts are coming up, I need to work on _____, blah blah blah. But then last week I went back and re-read my blog from last September to now, and not to sound narcissistic, it was pretty amazing. Not because I’m a Nobel-winning author, but because there was a lovely reminder of a time when skills that are so basic and fundamental now were difficult and felt impossible. It was an encouragement to consider that the things I have difficulty with now will one day be a fond memory. And it was kind of beautiful to read the entries just a few weeks before I found derby–I was bored and trying to find a way to fill my time, trying to feed my soul. And then, voila! Into my life skated this amazing opportunity, and it was everything I’d been hoping for. I really enjoyed reliving the excitement of starting a new journey, of being nervous about T-stops & plows, of being so in awe of all rollergirls I couldn’t pick my jaw up off the floor. It’s just so great to see how things unfold in their own timing, how what you want doesn’t really come until it’s needed. I’m trying to keep that in mind as I search for my home. Perhaps in six months I’ll look back at THIS post and smile at how I couldn’t see what wonderful thing was headed my way.

And in the interest of finishing SOMETHING, my plan is to recap this week and then next week’s, and of COURSE you know I’m going to recap the tryouts. Where I go from there is pretty much up to the evaluators. I’ll try my best at tryouts, and then either progress to New Girl training or back for another round of Level 2 with the ever-amazing Lacy & Polly. But, I would like to really work on blogging about some of the other things in my life, and hopefully, once I find a house, I’d really like to document some of my decorating tips/journeys, as i plan on stamping my mark quite emphatically wherever I land. I’d like to discuss gardening, my newest attempt to learn basic sewing/quilting, and of course, eating Primally.

But let’s begin, eh?

This last week began with a snake drill warm-up that lasted 45 minutes. Yes. FORTY. FIVE. MINUTES. of continual skating. Thankfully it wasn’t tough–no sprinting–it was just 100 or so laps of pace line while each girl weaved from the back to the front, back to the back, and back to the front AGAIN. You can see how this would take a long time with 17 girls. It wasn’t hard: the difficulty with snake drills can be when you’re part of the line and you need to maintain consistency to provide a learning experience for the weaving skater. (i.e., don’t adjust your skating to fit hers–the whole point is that she will have to adjust to you). When it was my turn to zipper, moving forward wasn’t the problem, but moving backwards through the line was a little more difficult than I anticipated. And we weren’t supposed to “coast” between skaters, but pick up our feet. Admittedly, this is something I’ve been trying to work on, but the physics of stepping UP the banked track require more energy than simply pushing off and gliding to the rail. However, when you step up, you’ve got more potential energy and more power, so it’s a useful tool to have in your toolbox. I’ve been trying to become more comfortable by doing “fast feet” exercises and being deliberate about it during personal time, but in practice it isn’t a default mode yet. So, something to work towards.

Next we worked on more advanced blocking–hip checks. Oh friends, if you know me at all you know I am A) proud of my hips and B) NOT afraid to use them. I didn’t have much difficulty with this, excepting that I wanted to use my shoulders as well, and this is an exclusive hip maneuver. I don’t think I mentioned this in the last post, but we’ve also learned a block that involves stepping in front of you opponent and basically controlling her movements with your hips and butt ALL UP IN HER BUSINESS. I have a little difficulty in keeping my back straight and not bent over in this position (“tits up”), to give me more strength and maneuverability, and this hip check sort of uses the same ideas–keep your back up but let your hips swivel freely. I like to pretend my hips are well-oiled swinging machines!

There wasn’t too much time in this training session because of the insanely long warm-up, so we ended by doing a few of my favorite things–one being the whip drill. It’s so much fun, and basically you get to go as fast as you can and there’s only two or three other girls on the track with you–the best setup imaginable. But if you think THAT sounds like fun, you should try playing Duck Duck Goose….in skates…on the track. Because that is the absolute best way to end a hardcore training session: with a children’s game. We all squealed and played like we were still little girls. Amazing.

I’m sure I missed something, because here it is Wednesday and Saturday was five days ago and I have done quite a bit (ish) since then. But basically, we’re coming to the end of our Level 2 course, and we’re all counting down the days until tryouts. At this point, we’re all figuring out if we think we’re good enough to get through tryouts. I’m trying to work on my “mental game” here–psyching myself up for the day itself, mumbling reassuring mantras to myself as I practice falls, box turns, and backwards skating. I know that I’m going to do all I can, and that’s going to be enough no matter the outcome. Remember that Ashley, when you read back over this in a few months (weeks?).

Derby Recap: Week 8 or, Derby Broads

You know what I love the very most about roller derby?

the women. the badass, hardcore, soft-hearted, ass-kickin’ women. they are lovely and real. Sure, it feels awesome to push myself beyond my “limits”, and there’s not much that feels as good as knowing like I’m finally pretty good at something. But when it comes right down to it, the friends I’ve made in the five short months I’ve been skating have been well worth any discomfort, displeasure, or disappointment. I still feel a slight squee in my heart when I think about sitting on the track half an hour after practice, still in skates, talking about makeup skills & pinup clothes. It’s making plans to hang out during the week or all seeing the bout together. My derby friends feel like my sorority sisters from HPU–girls who get where I’m coming from, and who want to go the same places.

When I watched my first bout, I remember thinking A) how awesome it was B) what a great workout it must be! and C) how amazing it must be to hang out with women that badass ALL. THE. TIME. And you know what? Even though I’m not in the league, I STILL get to hang out with badass women, every Saturday. They’re genuine and loud and sweet and helpful and intimidating and sometimes I can’t believe I’ve been lucky enough to find women like this again.

Sure, we’re not all skating at the same level. Some of us are ready for tryouts, and some of us are not. But when we’re all on the track together, we’re interested in improving ourselves, but I also get the feeling that we’re all there encouraging each other in this journey as well. Soon enough, it’ll get more competitive, I know. But at some point, the skates come off and we’re all just silly girls again, giving makeup advice in one breath and weight-lifting advice in the next. It’s how derby girls roll. (wokka wokka!)

This week was pretty awesome as far as training went. I just absolutely love when we do snake drills. I see it as a personal challenge, because they still scare me a bit. I think I’m afraid that if I can’t do them, it means I just shouldn’t be a jammer. And then I always end up having a blast, so I like to think maybe THAT’S not true either. This snake drill was all about maneuvering around other people on the track, so we had to catch the back of the line, circling around each girl before moving up to the next. I learned how to skate super-close in front of and behind a girl–yet another drill that helps move my focus off my feet and onto the track. And whenever we do these snake drills, I try to work on looking behind and around me, to build my awareness of the pack and jammers around me. I have a tendency to look at the ground in front of my skates, but when I keep my head up I do much better overall.

We also covered shoulder blocks, which I learned in bootcamp last Sunday, but the more work I can do on my blocking, the better. I can see how I’m having trouble with staying engaged with a girl, like when taking her to the rail. I get the initial shove in, but keeping her out of place and moving her where want her to go is proving a little more difficult. I think if I work on my left crossovers/stepping up, that will help with maintaining momentum, and I’d also like to work on getting lower and keeping my legs and hips filled with that “potential energy” they’re always talking about. I can do squats just fine, but it’s the holding that position that I don’t like (and therefore don’t practice). Looks like there’s some wall sits in my future.

The best part of the day, however, was when Polly asked for someone to come try to jam around her while she demonstrated elbow blocks. No one was saying anything, and I thought, why the hell not? So I jumped in there, and almost squeaked by once or twice. Of course it’s much different when you have your own blockers there to try to help you through, but I was pretty proud of myself. I wasn’t thinking about everyone watching and judging me, I was focused on how to get around Polly. I tried juking her out, but she’s a veteran. No fooling that broad 🙂 . But yeah–definitely working on my fast feet.

There are two more weeks left before the session ends, which seems impossible. I cannot believe it has gone by so fast already, and this session is two weeks longer than the last! I’ve decided that even if I don’t make it past tryouts this time, I’m still going to keep taking the classes and pushing myself. Because the money I pay for ten Saturdays of a hardcore workout is well worth it in friendships and bruises. And it’ll only help me get better. I know I still have work to do (and don’t we all, really?) but I’m still excited to be facing tryouts in a few weeks. The not-knowing is the worst part.

Derby Recap: Week 7 (Which Feels Impossible)

This weekend went very differently than what I’d had planned. I knew it was going to be a derby-filled weekend: I had two bootcamps, Saturday training, and a private lesson all scheduled, and I was ready to be exhausted and happy.

My skating partner Jenna and I took a private lesson Friday with a world-class derby player. (LITERALLY world-class–she’s on Team USA!)  It was…interesting. I learned I’m not quite doing the box turn like I should, but I did learn how to correct my issues. In the long run its only going to help, but still, there is nothing quite like the feeling of your ego deflating. A necessary moment, but still unpleasant.

Saturday morning was a whole other hell, however. We did a run-through of the tryouts–two at a time on the track and we had to go through basic skating skills in front of “evaluators”. They sprung it on us and I went into my turn pretty damn nervous. I stumbled coming up out of the first skill into the timed laps, so that threw me off and I ended up botching quite a bit of the “tryout”. I was so frustrated my brain felt like it was on fire: I couldn’t concentrate long enough to do the skills I know how to do.  My mouth was dry and my heart was beating super fast, and I could feel my throat start to burn halfway through the drill. I knew what that meant, so when me and my partner Tasha were finished, I hightailed it off the track and skated to my bag. I knew that as long as I could get to my inhaler, I would be fine. Just a few more seconds, Wilson, and you’ll be fine…don’t panic. It’s…gonna…it’s gotta be here! Where the hell is it?!?! That was a very scary moment. A lot of people can’t understand how it burns, how the pain just kills any rational thought (or is that just me?) and the only thing you can manage to think of is the relief a cool spray of albuterol will bring.

Luckily Tasha had seen me get off and saw me freak out, and because she’s had asthma attacks before and knew what was happening, she knew what would help me the fastest. She helped me lie down on the cold concrete and worked on getting me to relax, because that’s the only way to “come down” if you don’t have a vasodilator. The whole event was excruciatingly painful, and it was even worse because I KNOW I put an inhaler in my derby bag, a brand new one just for that very purpose. I still haven’t found it.

After I could breathe again, I knew enough to be very disappointed.  There was a “jamming bootcamp” scheduled for that afternoon that I had been looking forward to for a long time. I debated it for a few hours, but my lungs and chest and throat were sore, and I knew if I tried to push myself again, I would end up with another attack and still no inhaler. Plus I was coughing pretty intensely, and I knew I really just needed to recover. Gelato and the couch were my best friends the rest of the day. I was just so frustrated because I haven’t had an asthma attack in years and I’ve been eating really well & pushing myself at the gym just so this wouldn’t be an issue in derby, and yet it kept me from doing the most bootcamp I was most looking forward to. My chiropractor (whose medical opinion I highly value) said he believes that it was more from the anxiety of the moment combined with the heightened number of allergens in the air than from a preventable cause. Little comfort as I lay coughing on my couch.

Luckily I was feeling much better Sunday and went to the “Blocking Bootcamp”. It was a lot more fun than I was expecting. I know in derby you play more than one position, which means eventually I’d have to suck it up and learn to be a good blocker, since I can’t be just a jammer. I learned a lot, and it’s so much easier to not think about your skating when you’re playing the game–the wheels just become part of your feet. And the more I learn about playing the game,  the deeper I get sucked into it. Skating is fun on it’s own, but when you can use the skill for something more, it’s deeply satisfying. We learned several blocks, how to be a wall with your teammates, how to take the rail (feels real badass), and how to take a girl to the rail yourself (feels even better!).

So even though I didn’t do so super great on my tryouts during class, I’m glad we did them on Saturday so that my first time wasn’t the tryouts themselves. And as disappointed as I was, it has given me a good idea of what I can spend the next 4 weeks working on, so that even when my brain turns off, my muscles can stay switched on. Between that and the blocking bootcamp, here’s what I know I need to work on:

1.) Fall recovery: building the muscle memory to fall correctly.
2.) Fast feet–moving up & down the track quickly, not sliding but my feet coming OFF the track
3.) A fast start from a stopped position–out of the jamming gate, and up from the floor.
4.) Executing a box turn confidently and correctly, with speed.

So, plenty to work on, but enough time I feel it’s manageable. As long as I can keep my mental game intact when I mess up, I think I have a shot. It’s gonna happen, because no one can skate perfectly all the time, so it’s important to be able to shake it off and move on. I’m not quite sure how to “work” on that, but as the time approaches, I’m going to be doing a lot more meditation and calming exercises. And tons of lunges.

Derby Recap: Week 6

First contact.

Today we learned our first block–the elbow block. Apparently Polly is famous for this: it was impossible to get around her when she threw this block. And it’s trickier than it seems–I kept wanting to use it to push myself off my partner, as opposed to slamming my upper arm into her solar plexus. Luckily I partnered with Tasha, who was in New Girl Training for a bit and is more than willing to teach a girl what she knows. She always gives me bits of advice, and is very encouraging when I’m working through a difficulty. She showed me how to deflect a block, the best way to throw it, and let me throw more than she did. She gave me good usable advice, as did my next partner, Erika, who’s a scrappy ex-New Girl too. Get to the side but more to the front of them–they are in YOUR space, so make them move back with that elbow. Throw it out there and commit. Good stuff to remember.

But it was an off day. I had pizza and too much hard cider Friday night, so my system was feeling clogged up and run down. It’s amazing to me that just six weeks after giving up gluten/grains I can tell so easily that I’ve cheated. I also didn’t go in to the warehouse until right before class started, so I didn’t warm up much, and ended up doing a very painful slide because the cold floors+ cold wheels= loss of control. It was the very first time climbing onto the track seemed like more than something I wanted to do. It was not a pleasant feeling.

The worst part, however, was when we were practicing our stepping up/down the track. I have GOT THIS, except that on Saturday, I didn’t. Off. So off. Kept using my toe-stops, kept losing my balance and doing the torso shuffle. I got frustrated with myself for not managing to nail it, ESPECIALLY as I had really mastered it at bootcamp last weekend. But I just reminded myself to breathe and tried to refocus, and told myself it was an off day so I should just accept it and move on, as opposed to being all dramatic, even internally. Everyone sucks sometimes.

I felt better after we had warmed up and stretched. We did some clock-wise skating around the track, which is the opposite direction and can be quite unsettling. Everything you’ve learned gets thrown out the window, which is the point, I suppose. It just feels unnatural to be leaning the other way, and trying to do a crossover was out. of. the. question.

We also did some backwards skating, and I always appreciate getting some backward time on the banked track. The only problem is that some of my classmates aren’t quite used to it yet, so it was difficult at times to maneuver around them. Of course, I’m sure there were several others who thought the same of me. It’s all relative, I suppose. I was really loving that I’m finally getting to the point where I can actually use the box turn to transition from forwards to backwards skating, which is, you know, the ENTIRE POINT. I’m feeling more confident on my feet–I’m not thinking about them most of them time anymore, which is helpful when we’re doing pack work.

I’m just gonna be honest and say it though: I don’t want to be a blocker. I want to be a jammer. There is something in me that just wants to make my way through the pack. I don’t want to be hunkered down in it. I understand that’s part of being a team player–I can’t jam every time. But I feel like that’s where my strength lies–I’ve got speed and I’m good at getting past people. That’s how I see myself–star panty on my helmet.

All that being said, when we did our pack work, and practiced using the elbow block as a way to maneuver through, I really tried to use that time to improve. That’s one of the 3 rules of a good practice: don’t waste your time. If I’m going to pay good money for this class and spend my time here instead of sleeping, I might as well use it to my advantage. If I don’t need instruction for the moment, I want to make sure I’m focusing my energy on something I DO need to work on. So I tried to work on my in-pack communication, filling the holes, skating closer to the others, plow stopping to keep pace or “packing up” the back, and slaloming instead of striding. I’m learning just how much I need to sit down into it, or my lower back is gonna suffer long-term, so that means more (and longer!) squats.

(Sorry if it’s a lot of jargon. I’m trying to get it right so that I can keep an accurate journal of my Derby journey. These entries are more for me than for you.)

Blerg. By the time practice ended, I was finally comfortable in my skates and ready for REAL training. I guess I just got a slow start, and that taught me more in one morning than I could have imagined: eat & drink properly, show up early to warm up, and always be willing to climb on the track.

Derby Recap: Week 5

Every time I sit down to write a derby recap, I think “Why is this the only thing I write about?” It seems just as I’ve written one week’s recap, it’s time for another. But I have five or so days in between, and I do plenty in between that I could write about. I could talk about how I’m still searching for a home and at times it feels like it’ll never happen. Or my decision to switch my cats’ diet to a wet food that I someday hope to transition to a homemade diet (I promise it is much more interesting than it sounds!). I could write about how lucky I feel to have moved into a new job that is such a plum, that has been the answer to so many prayers and really fits the type of life I’m interested in living. I really keep meaning to write the Primal Eating month-long recap, but that’s almost two weeks overdue, and honestly I don’t know if I”ll ever get to it. I may simply write, in a few months, of my experience with switching to this new eating lifestyle, and how it’s helped me in so many ways (hint: it’s been 5 weeks and I’ve lost about 10 pounds!).

The honest truth, though, is that for once, I’m not actually being lazy. It’s that derby is consuming my life. Every day, every meal, every workout is geared towards making my legs even stronger, my tummy leaner, and my lungs fuller. Not one minute of one hour spent skating (four days a week) on my own is wasted–I work on skills, speed, footwork, falls, and endurance. If in the end I fail to accomplish what I set out to do, I do not want it to be because I lacked the willpower or discipline, but because I’m just not there yet. This weekend reinforced my beliefs that all must be given–time, calories, and toes; that even more work and dedication and true discipline will be required of me before I can get where I want to go. It will mean falling harder and more often, pushing back, sucking it up, and increasing the weights. I spent this entire weekend either on my skates or on my back recovering–five hours that started very early on Saturday morning followed by a three-hour bootcamp on Sunday have made me a sore, tired, inspired skater.

We stepped it up from just skating to pack work, which I really enjoy doing because it’s an aspect of derby that I don’t know much about, and I like learning the game itself. Pack work involves not thinking about your own feet or skating, but rather trying to accomplish something using those skills. It forces you to be better simply because you can’t think about what you need to do–you just do it. For example, at one point someone else’s skate get locked into mine, and down I went. But instead of losing it and spinning out, my muscle memory kicked in and I took it down on a knee, held it there for a few moments (while struggling to disengage my skate), then recovered, still in my spot in the pack and ready for more. (“Fantastic recovery!”) It was proof to me that not only was it a good idea to have practiced that fall earlier in the day, it would be a better idea to keep practicing

I came into the warehouse early, before the level 1 class even got there, and spent some time on the banked track by myself, trying to get this box turn down. I’ve finally got it no problem on a flat track surface, but the difference in angles throws me off. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t ready for tryouts. So I spent some time on it, and I also worked on my backwards skating on the track. I used to have problems coming out of the curve, but a little course correction and I’m doing much better. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to working out my entire thigh. Strengthening the entire leg with squats, lunges, abductions/adductions, leg presses, and ham curls has really helped with “pumping’ around the track, and I was grateful for the extra strength while “slalom-ing” in the pack. I had a surreal moment when I stepped off the track to let the L1 girls on and one of them, lacing her skate, had this look of awe on her face as she said to me “Backwards skating, huh? Wow. I’m nowhere near there.” And there I was, red-faced and out of breath, trying to figure out if she was talking to me with that look on her face. It’s the same look I get when I’m talking to a league member.

My favorite thing about the Level 2 class is how quickly I’m progressing. Each week, I know I’m a better skater than the week before.  Lacy says I’m doing…awesome….and there is nothing quite like hearing your trainer recognize that you are actually improving with each class. While I have never been a runner (or athlete of any kind, really), I’ve been trying to push myself with every round of sprints–going even when it hurts, putting power into every stride–and it’s paid off: I can go harder, longer. My lungs have adapted. It’s ALL adapted, and that’s the beauty of pushing yourself–you begin to do what once you thought impossible.

It was a long, hard weekend. And it’s not the last of them. Thank God.

Derby Recap: Week 4

This is a week for celebration: on Wednesday, I finally figured out how to do the box turn!! If you read my last recap, you will surely understand how frustrated I’d become at failure to master this basic skating skill.  I had spent weeks practicing a tip for skating sideways that one of the derby girls had given me to help with box turns. It basically helped me to get comfortable spinning around, which seemed to be the biggest hang-up I had: the motion of not being either front-facing OR backwards was throwing me off.  Your brain doesn’t want you to be on eight wheels, and it doesn’t want you to go backwards (or sideways). So when you want to change directions, your brain tries to put the kibosh on it. “Derby’s about tricks”, I hear every week. But it basically came down to me just telling my brain to shut it. And of course, I had a pretty bad fall first, but then right after it, I got it. It’s like I HAD to do it before I could do it–a rite of passage that would not be side-stepped.

I practiced my turns and stopping all week on my own at the skating rinks, and then before practice at the warehouse. I’m comfortable with the box turn and swivel turn, but the thought of doing it at high speeds is still terrifying. Baby steps–I just need more practice and more time to build muscle memory. It’s simply nice to know now that I CAN do it– that I can progress in derby. 
At practice this week we focused on practicing our falls, left-arm- and hip-whips. There are several types of falls, but there is one in particular that I found especially challenging in the Level 1 class because it involves a lot of core and leg strength. Since then, I’ve been working steadily on both, through weight training and Pilates classes, so imagine my surprise when I could actually do the fall (the “rockstar”) during the drill! I am constantly surprised at how action leads to results. If I spend time on weight training for my legs, and suffer through Pilates classes, eventually that work will pay off in a stronger core and faster skating. Or if I keep getting up while learning to jump, at some point I won’t fall. 
That’s one of the reasons I love derby: it has taught me that if I practice and practice something, eventually (and usually not long after) I’ll get it. I just have to be willing to fall, or be sore, or go to the gym when I don’t want to. I may feel like throwing up afterwards, but I will have finished that sprint. I know it isn’t the only sport to teach perseverance, but it is the one that has worked for me. 
Sometimes though, I wonder why I want this so much. I’ve never been an athlete, I’m not an adrenaline junky and I don’t have any latent aggression. But I enjoy the speed, the skills necessary, and the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. There are some really amazing women in my class and on the track, and it feels good to be counted among their company. And of course there is an element of vanity to the entire thing: I am excited to be skating in front of a crowd of fans who think I am entertaining and hardcore.  But most of all, I think it’s that I am finally, surprisingly, gratifyingly good at something. This is something that comes a bit naturally to me (as natural as eight wheels can be) and I want more of it, I want to be better at it. 
My goals for the rest of this training sessions are to improve by leaps and bounds each week. I improved 100% since last week by working super hard to get that damn box turn down, and I’d like to say the same for each week–I am a better and stronger skater this week than the week before. I’d like to be more comfortable skating/turning/stopping on my weak side, and I definitely want to build endurance. Eventually I want to be able to skate sideways. I want to spend even more time skating–as much as possible, and as hard as possible. I want to master falls to the point that my body automatically knows what to do when I do go down. I want to get really good at pack work-communicating, staying low and slow with the pack, and moving through it. Of course that’s a fairly long list, but it’s a lot shorter than it used to be. And that’s a pretty damn good feeling.