4 Years Down, Maybe 4 More…?

Today marks 4 years since my darling Venkman and I embarked on this wacky roller derby journey. We tottered out–I moreso than she–onto the silky wooden floors of Oaks Park skating rink and started learning the basics.

Here we are 4 years later, and a lot has happened. This year, in particular has been eventful.

Venkman moved back to town, after being away in Wisconsin for a large chunk of that 4 years, and hot damn, friendship is magic. ❤

I won my first MVP award during 2014 Season Championships, and only narrowly avoided ugly-crying over it.

And, well, there’s also this:

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Let me tell you, that didn’t register in my brain as a real thing that actually happened, until I saw the footage over a week later. Still, that moment is so much of what I love about derby. Sportsmanship is awesome, you guys. ❤

And, tomorrow, I fly away to LA with the rest of Travel Team, to play in two bouts with the travel B-team. My grandparents have tickets to come watch, too. I honestly have no idea if they’ll like it even a little, but they’ll be there!

Just, wow. In two days, my 84-year-old grandpa will be watching me play derby in a city that’s ~1000 miles from my home. I definitely didn’t see that one coming.

It’s kind of staggering to think of how much has happened. I never saw any of this for myself when I started derby, but now, things that once taxed my body and my brain have become instinctual, and being on wheels feels more like a natural state of being than I’d have ever imagined. I remember when I couldn’t turn around backwards, for instance, much less propel myself in that direction, but now backwards blocking is becoming one of my favorite things. And tomorrow, I’m getting on a plane with some of the best skaters in the world, because I get to train with them every single week.

We try a lot of things on a whim in our lives, but there’s no telling when one of those whims might take you somewhere you never expected. It’s nothing short of amazing, when it happens.

Heroes

Tomorrow is the last game of the season with my beloved home team. It’s been a long season of bouting, and we’ve had our share of challenges, self-doubt, and games where we didn’t win at scoring the most points. Right now, however? The only thing I can feel is excitement and optimism.

When I look at the people I skate with every week, I can’t help but be amazed. There were some very large skates to fill at the beginning of our season. We may have felt scattered, unsure, and quiet then. We may not have been sure what our role would be on this team, or even what kind of skaters we were yet. I know I had all of those feelings.

Still, as the season has worn on, we’ve grown by leaps and bounds–not just as individuals with skills and strategies, but as a team that works together. More and more often, I go to practices and scrimmages, and see my teammates have moments of brilliance they’ve never had before. I get to have moments with my teammates where everything clicks, and we’re perfectly complementing each other’s actions.

We’ve come together and combined our powers for awesome. We’ve found leadership within our own voices, to fill those empty, quiet spaces. We’ve become stronger, harder-hitting, and more controlled. We’ve gotten smarter, more aware, more focused, and more connected with each other. We’ve found confidence in realizing that, hey, we’re actually really good at roller derby. We’ve made world-class players struggle and sweat and fight for every single point they try to score against us.

I remember being completely blindsided when I got drafted to this team, but those wise captains knew what they were doing–I look around at your faces, and I know that this is exactly where I should be. The soul and the spirit of this team strengthens and inspires me, and it’s what makes us as strong as we are. “Family” was a word that came up at the beginning of the season, and it rings true. Support means trusting each other on the track, and caring about each other’s well-being off the track. We challenge each other and we lift each other’s spirits. We never stop fighting, and we do it with grace.

I always used to dread being asked who my personal hero was, growing up, because I always wanted to find my own path, rather than emulating someone else’s. I never had a good answer for that question.

Now? It looks like I have not just one personal hero, but 18 of them. I see how hard we work, how much we care, how much of our hearts we pour in, and how much we sacrifice to make ourselves better in this sport. When I look at what each of you do to make this team great, that’s nothing short of heroic. The beautiful thing about it? We don’t just do this to improve or fulfill ourselves–we do it because we want to be better support for each other.

Because of you, I understand what being a part of a team truly means, more than I ever have in my life.

Look how far we’ve come. Look at all the things we can do now, that we couldn’t have done a few months, or even a scant few weeks ago. Look how much more we’re going to do, whether it’s tomorrow night, or in the Fall, or in the 2015 season.

Together, we are heroes, and there’s no limit to what heroes can do.

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A few of my favorite things about derby

Inspired by these last two weekends of bouting:

  • Doing your ritual, whatever it is, to get pumped up for a bout. On an ideal day, I like to watch kung fu movies and paint my nails–the kung fu is a one-two punch (hurhurhur!) of inspiration that comes with watching people do amazing thing with their bodies, and also reminding me of where I came from. Wushu paved my way to derby, and I wouldn’t be standing on that track without it.
  • Having an amazing moment of teamwork with your teammate. You’re working together and mentally in sync, sometimes without even having to say anything, and for a brief moment, everything around you almost feels like it’s in slow motion.
  • Sitting on the bench between jams, and seeing your teammates who are on the track be so incredible that you just want to scream your head off and jump up and down and fall over because you’re SO. EXCITED. to see it. Your heart feels like it’s going to explode, but in the most wonderful way.
  • Little kids who are so excited about derby that they practically fall out of their chairs when you skate up to the crowd during halftime to say hello. Especially when they know that you’re supposed to explode your fistbumps. 😉
  • Having someone in your life who, even if they don’t do derby, still knows exactly what you need, and what you need to hear, whether you had a great game or a really upsetting one.

Catching up

WELL. We have a lot to catch up on since I last posted, eh? A lot has changed in the 6-or-so months since then:

  • Several people retired from my home team, after last season’s championships, and they left some pretty big shoes to fill.
  • After skating through the summer, I’ve gotten a lot more time on the track in the 2014 season than I did in 2013. I even got to jam, occasionally. (I’m unreasonably happy about having actual stats in my Rinxter tab. Nerrrrrd.)
  • Our league doubled up the home team schedule, which has meant a lot of bouting–to the point of it being fairly exhausting, at times.
  • I tried out for Travel Team, and despite my total lack of expectations for the day, I actually made it onto our B Team! WUT.
  • I started a new job around the same time as starting Travel Team, which led to a lot of exhaustion, isolation, and burnout feelings. (you can probably guess how much you’d feel like blogging about roller derby when it feels like that’s the ONLY thing you’re doing, heh.)
  • My derby wife moved back to Portland! (and there was much rejoicing)
  • I got my first taste of international roller derby, when Auld Reekie came all the way from Scotland for tournament, and scrimmaged our B Team the Wednesday prior!
  • Travel Team went down to Eugene (a.k.a. my old stomping grounds from 1997-2006) for The Big O, and had an awesome time playing, watching, and talking about derby with my teammates, my wifey, my main squeeze, and all the awesome leaguemates who came down to support us. Talk about giving burnout a good swift kick in the ass. 😉

Anyhoo, I fully intend to blog about how awesome The Big O was, in the near future. But until then, a sneak preview of what’s to come:

On-Track Communication for Introverts

DISCLAIMER: I don’t claim to be an expert at communicating on the track–it’s very much something I’m still working on! That said, framing things this way has helped my communication efforts, so hey, maybe it’ll help my fellow quiet kids.

Some people are awesome at communication. The people I know who’ve worked as teachers and instructors, for instance, are fantastic at expressing themselves effectively, and there’s a reason for that: A) they’re probably extroverts, or B) if they’re not extroverts, they’ve spent enough time trying to explain things to others that they know what works. Communication is a skill, and it takes practice.

For some of us, however, finding our words is, um, not the easiest thing. A major reason why I enjoy blogging and shy away from public speaking is because I’m pretty great with words in writing, but when I have to speak, it’s a whole mess of BLEEP BLOOP DERP HURRRR. I have the introverted instinct, and I do eleventy-billion times better when I have an extra few seconds to think about what I’m saying, before I commit it to words. Writing makes that easy, and but conversation? Eh, not so much.

If you’re one of those people who’s a little less outgoing than the rest, it’s okay–you can still communicate effectively on the derby track. You’ll just have to practice thinking a bit differently.

Be obnoxious.

If you’re an introvert, you’re the type of person who values a conversation that’s a little slower. You listen well, and you appreciate people who actually listen to you, so you wouldn’t want to speak out of turn, talk over someone else, or (GASP!) be too loud. On the track, however, all of that goes out the window–you and your teammates have to think fast, and do whatever it takes to get the point across quickly, and sometimes, the words can sound a little harsh.

Everyone understands that when you’re playing derby. If you have a good relationship with them off the track, shouting on the track isn’t going to make those people think you hate them. It’s okay to yell. Speak up, and tell those ladies what you want from them. Even if you think you’re being obnoxious, you probably aren’t being anywhere near as big of a jerk as you think you are.

Any words are better than no words.

Another thing about introverts? We don’t like wasting words. We’re not the type to talk for the sake of hearing our own voices, and we’re more likely to stay quiet until we have something meaningful to say.

Bad news, friends: we have to kick that habit, if we’re going to communicate well in a game. Teams who work well together and communicate well talk a LOT. And not every word is going to be super-valuable–as another skater I know recently said, “it’s like they have diarrhea of the mouth.”

So, hey, remind yourself that not every word that comes out of your mouth has to be genius. Even if you think someone sees something on the track, they might not have seen it, so be on the safe side and just say it. Even if your neurons misfire and you suddenly forget how to string words together, saying something, even making a ridiculous caveman grunt, might be enough to get a teammate’s attention and get their help. SAY WORDS. Lots of them. It’s okay if you waste a few.

Moved: a story of a body.

I originally wrote this in response to a blog post by Hard Dash, but it ballooned into more of a blog post of its own, than a comment on someone else’s. SO, I’m re-posting it here.

Much of what I say here, as well as my personal reactions to fitness imagery in the media, spurred me towards my upcoming photo project, MOVED. There is something wonderful that happens when we start thinking of our bodies as the capable, powerful things they are, and I hope y’all can explore that with me. If you’re up for being photographed, please consider signing up.

I could write forever about my weird, strained, and oftentimes awful relationship with my body, but in short: I was a two-bottle baby, a chubby kid, an overweight teenager, and sedentary throughout. Always large, clumsy, and awkward. Constant input from the media, and from my Size-2 Chinese mother (I got my dad’s sturdy German body type) had me thoroughly convinced that I was a fat blob. As fat as I thought I was, though, I didn’t become actually-fat until I went to college. Once I got there, depression and the ramen-noodle lifestyle kicked in, and I packed on 50+ pounds.

After a few years of that, I started dropping that weight in 2003, when I took up martial arts and actually stuck with it, but even after getting down to my current size, it didn’t seem like enough. I knew I wasn’t fat anymore, but I still felt like a behemoth whenever I went to tournament, and stood in a sea of competitors who were shorter and thinner (and more graceful) than I could ever conceivably be.

Various parts of my body have fluctuated here and there since starting derby, but although martial arts made me lose the physical weight, derby is absolutely the thing that helped me start to shed the emotional weight of being heavy. Derby is a sport that has room for all body types, and my inherent hugeness finally seemed like an asset, rather than something to put up with, or be ashamed of. My legs have probably gotten even bigger over the past three years, but if I can keep skating faster, hitting harder, growing stronger, and becoming more awesome, who really cares if I never hit a single-digit dress size? I’ll take my strong and capable body over my mom’s frail Size 2 frame any day.

I now weigh about the same as I did when I left high school, but I look much different: fitter, leaner, happier. Scales are dumb. Fact is, I’m always going to be a large person, but I’ve stopped feeling so hopelessly sad about that. Every time I complete a set of push-ups, run through a pack, or absorb a hit like it’s nothing, a little more of that sadness goes away.

I really, really hope that derby continues to be a place where others can find self-acceptance, and start seeing their bodies as the wonderful, potential-filled machines they are. There’s room for all of us, both on the track, and in the world.

3 Years

Happy 3rd Derbyversary to me and my wifey. I don’t even know how many weeks upon weeks that Marykae Beater Venkman Owens and I talked about trying derby before we finally took the plunge into Wreckers, but it was the start of something huge. Some things just stick, no matter how hard they get, or how many miles or minutes or dollars might seem to be in the way.

It feels a bit funny to be saying all of this, on a day when my derby love feels so weak, but every high AND every low over the past three years has all been a series of steps towards something better. I’d be a fool to trade that in for anything.