Wow. What a week. Derby season officially started for the Brawlin’ Betties as we bouted against the Santa Cruz Derby Girls’ Harbor Hellcats last Saturday night. Aptly titled, “The Battle of the Saints,” the bout drama started building the week before with many threats being exchanged between us and, no, not the Hellcats, but the weather Gods at large.
Our normally mild and sunny seaside town had been experiencing a flurry of freezing temperatures, rain, hail and even tornado warnings the week leading up to the bout. Saturday was predicted to be no different. Operating at an entirely outside venue, this can be a problem. However, so many things had been set in motion (programs printed with Saturday’s date, rental chairs ordered, venue paid for, presale tickets completely sold out, visiting team travel reservations secured, just naming a few) that unnecessarily canceling an event is way more than a headache and a half.
So balls to supposed tornado-force wind, the decision was made to forge ahead and hope for the best. Pacts were made, prayers were waged, no-rain dances ensued and, perhaps most importantly, our very own Derby Pope (and if you don’t know Derby Pope, I suggest you go to Facebook and request a Friend Add toot sweet) was consulted on the matter.
Our Bench Coach, Danger Kitty, was granted audience with Derby Pope two days prior to bout time and tendered one question, “Your Eminence, what would God want in return for clear skies on Saturday afternoon?”
To which our Holiness replied, “The Derby Pope accepts cash and booze bribes. If your wish is granted God was happy.”
Still, the storm continued, dumping buckets of rain and hail. And even late into Friday night, as we gathered for a team-building and carb-loading potluck at P.S. I Shove You’s house, the street gutters turned to rushing river beds. Getting out of the car and hopping to the sidewalk, in and of itself, made one appreciate all the skating leaps and hops rehearsed at many o’ practices.
One cheese dip was lost as it slipped into the rushing gutter and sailed away into darkness. Though, lo’ and behold the cheese was recovered by light of a cell phone under a truck tire a half block away. Maybe God saw this devotion, or maybe Derby Pope was sufficiently gifted. No one really knows. Whatever happened, we all awoke Saturday morning to clear and sunny skies, providing enough time to dry the rink and develop a cocky attitude about our fortune. Facebook boasting started almost as soon as the sunrise.
However, by mid afternoon, enormous thunderheads formed over the mountains and chilling winds began to blow through town. Stories of snow in various parts of city and nearby urban areas started filtering in. Clearly, we were not off the hook. Already lipsticked and fishnetted by this point, we ignored the threat and let it be said a little denial runs A LONG way. Fans poured through the gates and took their seats.
Officials convened, merchandise was sold and beer flowed as looming clouds seemed to be barely wafting southward of us, leveling an errant rain drop here and there. Unwavering, our very own Booty Ninja flawlessly belted out the Star Spangled Banner, bringing tears to eyes. As the first jam started, snowing clouds were visible just a neighborhood away and as the first jam ended enough raindrops were falling that an official time out was called.
Our valiant announcer, Deuce Bagalow, expertly kept the crowd entertained with humorous derby banter, all-the-while promising the squall would pass – almost using the same method of Saturday Night Live’s Subliminal Message Man (if you’re too young and don’t understand, go ask your parents). For about 15 minutes, Deuce peppered her speech with “this squall will pass,” between words, in the middle of sentences, under her breath until the crowd wasn’t even consciously aware of it being said, and until, it did indeed pass. I will never knock mantras and positive affirmations again.
Around the rink, coaches pushed hunched over derby girls who, in turn, were mopping dry towels over the wet mess. Others jumped up with brooms and swept all rain remnants away. Girls raced onto the track, the jam whistle blew and we were back in business.
Before moving on to the after party, I noticed a photo frenzy taking place in one of the back corners of the rink. It struck me as unusual, as most of the post-bout photo fanfare takes place mid-rink. Upon investigation, I came across the raison d’être. Apparently actor Matt Damon was in the house. According to rink gossip (and judging by the black and blue T-shirt he was sporting), Matt has family connections to the Hellcats. However, and to the delight of our ladies, he humbly requested an autograph from our Head Coach, Dita, and our Team Captain, Viva Violence!
My guess? As in the words of Derby Pope, God was happy.
For more amazing photos of last Saturday’s bout, Battle of the Saints, visit Kenji Jacklio Fukudome’s online photo album of the event at: www.moshimoshikenji.com
Assessments have come and gone. And we now have a whole new derby schedule. I’m really trying to figure out where I belong, and sometimes wondering if I belong. For now, the schedule is one that doesn’t allow for much rink time for my group, which I feel is desperately needed in order to improve. For those of us still working on passing assessments, official skate time has been narrowed to two hours per week, down from the previous six. In addition, that same group of us have formed a ref team, are studying the game and sitting in refereeing scrimmages for the vets, all-the-while working toward passing the next round of assessments mid-year.
In the transition of it all, there seems to be a different feeling that has settled over my team. In fact, I even feel weird saying that – my team. I’m in this strange place of limbo. I’m out of boot camp, in a ref group and still working on passing assessments, but am I really a team member, or “part” of a team, or merely a wannabe? I don’t know. I do know I miss my girls from boot camp and the tight camaraderie we enjoyed practicing together several times a week.
The girls (many of which who are “my girls”) who have passed assessments have now moved on to being Prospects. This means they are training for the upcoming team tryouts. I wonder if this means they are more of a team member than me. And in all honesty, I don’t know if they feel any better off than I do. I watch them practice. In fact, I make a point of it. I figure if my actual skating time is limited, then I will dedicate myself to watching from the box and learning as much as I can.
But when I watch practice from the sidelines, a few things come into mind. One thing for sure is that I’m damn glad I didn’t pass assessments because plain and simple, I’m not ready to do what they’re doing now. But the thing is, I don’t even know, for that matter, if a lot of them feel ready. Some of what I have seen going on in practice highlights the rocky nature of this change we’re all experiencing.
Nothing brings up baggage for people more than change. So lately, when I walk into practice and notice an absence of conversation, shortened smiles and tenser attitudes, I remind myself change can be difficult for people. I try not to take it personally, when I feel slightly more division between veterans and newbies, a division that wasn’t as palpable during boot camp. I know a lot of the nuggets have been feeling weird about this but also think as the dust settles so will the uneasiness.
I completely recognize our coaches have definitely got their work cut out for them. They’re trying to make a “B” league team into an “A” league team, but clearly there’s a lot of work needed to get there. Then there’s this group of newbie Prospects flooding in that ideally will become the new “B” league team, but are nowhere near that level at this current point.
And then there’s this handful of pit bulls, like me, who have clenched on, jaws locked and are refusing to give up.
I think what I’m sensing is perhaps how overwhelmed the coaches feel, like a mother with too many mouths to feed. So with every email notice I get about practice time getting reduced, it’s not just the shaking of a leg designed to test just how determined my resolve is, but perhaps to see how hungry I am. So I’ve chosen to use this as another derby training skill. My mental endurance is getting fine-tuned. I’m smart enough to know that I’m only in the beginning of a long run. Before I even consider getting tired, I remind myself how capable I am of going longer with less to eat than everyone else. I’ve just got to get in the zone and find my happy place.
A while back, I could see this coming like a steam engine and wrote about it in my post called Rainy Days & Sister Wives. But now that it’s here, knowing about it ahead of time doesn’t make it feel any less awkward.
When a team is looking for its strength, and a way to define it, I think it’s important to remember strength comes from unexpected places. And not always from the girls who seem to effortlessly cruise through the rigors, but rather from the determined, thirsty wolves who circle the pack.
Amazing coaches are, well, amazing. I’ve spent years analyzing different coaching styles (including being pissed at a handful of idiots who have the nerve to call themselves coaches) as my son has navigated his way through a childhood of individual and team sports. With years of surfing, skateboarding and hockey under his belt, we’ve also cycled through seasons of baseball and football.
The worst coaches, if you’re lucky, show you how to do something and then expect you to just magically do it. However, the best coaches, have this innate ability to break any skill into a chain of micro actions/movements then pinpoint where in the chain you’re falling short. With creativity, compassion and encouragement they’re able to convey this, re-direct you and deliver an epiphany which, in turn, begins to deliver the correct body memory.
Whenever I’ve worked with my mentor, Lem, and her derby wife, Kiki, I feel like a lucky bitch to have landed in their hands. They are both in the gifted coach category. I’ve written about them before (I Got Kiki La Screw’d and I Liked It), when I was first attempting standing crossovers, so my Lem/Kiki love is nothing new. But last night I was filled with gratitude again.
I’ve been repeatedly working on my plow stop, many times to the point of frustration. I’d watched others do it successfully many times over and it appeared to me that it was all in the ankles, specifically getting them to pivot outward with a good amount of force.
Kiki checked me out and instantly sized me up. I’d been trying to model my plows after two of our team’s most awesome plow stoppers, Semper Fatale and our coach, Dita de los Muertos. They both also happen to be about four-inches shorter than me and weigh at least 160 lbs. less than me. What they do so awesomely simply wasn’t going to work for me. Kiki helped me understand how plows have more to do with core balance and weight distribution (THE most important part of all derby skills) and less to do with pivoting the ankles.
She showed me how to lower my center of gravity, sit into my plows while taking my legs into a wide stance and how, just as a matter of physics, this will bring me to a stop.
“If I told Cherry (tall, strong, beautiful, Amazon!) to stop like Dita and Semper,” explained Kiki, “she’d fall over. It’s that simple. The same goes for you. Stopping in that way isn’t going to work for you.”
So I got it. Pivoting the ankles out is more like icing on the cake. Lowering my center of gravity with a wide leg stance is like the cake itself and is tremendously helping to control my stop.
In addition, Miss Kiki broke down the movements of doing a two-foot weave, something else that has been eluding me. Again, my problem was using my knees instead of my core. Once I started fueling the move from my core (swaying my ribs from side to side and the rest followed), I picked up both speed and rhythm.
Also, I discussed one of my major challenges with Lem – getting up from a fall without putting my hands on the ground. She’s given me a new off-skates homework assignment – practice sitting on the ground, getting on my knees and going to a standing position without using my hands on the ground. If needed in the beginning, use my hands on my thigh for leverage until I have enough strength to go hands-free.
This might seem like simple stuff but when you’re trying to integrate all these new skills, it’s easy to lose track of how to break each skill down into micro movements then paste them all back together again.
A little while back I wrote a list, my directive really, of all the derby skills I need to work on. I have a ways to go, but am making headway! The things I’m starting to accomplish, albeit in a rudimentary fashion:
- One-Knee Falls
- Two-Knee Falls
- One-Knee 180s
- Baseball Slides
- Plow Stops
- Two-Foot Weaves
- Hip Whips
My Inventory list of where I still need a lot of work:
- Getting up from falls – (as mentioned above) Need to develop more strength to stand up without using my hands.
- One-foot glides – Still don’t have the balance or confidence, but I believe the strength is there. I keep practicing standing on one foot when off skates.
- One-foot weave – See above.
- Crossovers – I can do this in a *very* minimal fashion around a corner. It’s not full and complete. I think I’ve got the concept, just need to go bigger and also figure out how to do it on a straight-away.
- Endurance – this is my biggest challenge. I still need to strengthen my cardio a LOT in order to go faster and go longer. I’m definitely improving, but just no where close to where I need to be.
I’ve got my work cut out for me!