I signed up for a Windy City Rollers skate clinic a couple of weeks ago. I’d emailed to get information about it and was told a series of five clinics was wrapping up January 11, and by the time I emailed, there were only two left. I asked if I could drop in on the final one and was told I could. The clinics are intended to practice skills players would need during a tryout for the Windy City Rollers farm team, the Haymarket Rioters, and I was curious to see what tryouts looked like.
All levels of players attend clinics, and after being evaluated at a tryout, they are sorted into three different skill levels. You might start out at Level 1, basic skating skills, but if you progress quickly enough, you can transfer to Level 2, which covers blocking/hitting, rules, and derby basics. You can’t get into Level 3, however, until you’ve passed a minimum skills and written rules test. Level 3 skaters are eligible to be drafted for the Rioters. They’re scrimage-ready and will learn strategy and game-play skills.
It’s possible for a skater to move through all three levels within a single 10-week session — it’s a matter of how much you pick up and how quickly.
At the clinic’s start, a group of 12-15 of us started out doing warm-ups and stretches in gym shoes. We were sorted into four teams of three or four people and each team was assigned to an instructor. I was lucky enough to be put on a team with a girl named Lindsey, who was an extremely good sport about keeping me posted on what the hell was happening and/or about to happen the whole time. We did some endurance stuff like planks and squats, each for a minute straight. Then we ran laps and did timed suicide drills in our gym shoes. Everyone knew what drill was coming next except for me, and it became clear to me that Lindsey and all these other women had been coming to clinics for weeks in legitimate preparation for trying out for the Windy City Rollers. I was 100 percent in the way and looking like an idiot. Still, I wanted to skate. So I stayed.
At last, we laced up. I felt momentarily validated after seeing that lots of women use rolling suitcases to cart their gear around — albeit theirs were mostly solid ones, and not a polka-dot canvas one made by Totes.
While skating our first warm-up laps, a girl I knew from Groupon saw me and called my name. I was so surprised and thankful to see her.
“I didn’t know you skated,” she said.
I told her I’d just started two weeks earlier. She wished me luck and we skated on.
The instructors at the clinic were helpful, but they also weren’t messing around. No one said I was wasting their time, but there were moments when part of me worried I was. The woman whose team I’d been assigned was cordial, and kindly told me to just do my best, but she was also tough. When I did knee push-ups incorrectly, she drolly corrected my poor form. When she made her way around the track with me as I tried to round turns on only my wobbly left foot, she looked at me, sighed, and said, “Okay, you’re good,” before skating off to the next person. I don’t blame her for a second — It was not her job to babysit me and teach me basic moves during the final week of training for people who’ve been working on their drills since August. I do wonder why I was allowed to just “drop in” when I was so clearly going to be in over my head — I didn’t want to put anyone’s safety in jeopardy with my cluelessness.
This skate clinic was also the first time it occurred to me that not being able to hear well might pose a problem. One detail that had always stuck with me about the movie “Whip It!” was the fact that two of the players on the team were deaf. I had assumed that the game was more visual than auditory, but there was a lot of confusing yelling going on at the clinic that now makes me think otherwise. I don’t think my hearing aids were visible because of my hair and my helmet, but I wish I’d felt comfortable bringing this up to someone at that training.
Overall, the skate clinic was an extremely humbling experience. Doing drills of different types of stops was humiliating because I didn’t know any of them, and mimicking Lindsey’s awesomeness only got me so far. Even the one part I thought I’d have a chance at succeeding in backfired: The speed trials. I was assigned to keeping count of Lindsey’s laps around the track for her. She cleared the track nearly 27 times in five minutes, and I was determined to come as close to that as I could. She began counting for me as I skated off but on the track I got lapped, again and again.
At Derby Lite, I’m a fast skater. At Windy City Rollers, I’m pretty lackadaisical.
When the instructor called 40 seconds left for us to complete our laps, I gave it everything I had and skated as fast as I could. At the end of my last lap I almost knocked someone over as I desperately lapped her on my way toward the finish line. I slowed to a stop and sat in the middle of the track with everyone else. I’d made it around 20 times.
“That last lap,” my instructor said, and I froze, thinking for sure she was going to yell at me for almost hitting the woman. “I want to see more of that.”
Lindsey told me I’d get better and that I just needed to learn how to do crossovers. I’m still not entirely sure what those are, but I’m intrigued.
“Once you learn crossovers, you’ll skate faster than me,” she assured me.
At the very end, I opted out of doing the final exercise: Jumping in skates. I had been game for everything else, but I had to draw the line somewhere. I was sweating and sore and I’d managed to not fall hard on my ass up until this point. I stayed in the middle of the track instead, and ended up talking to two of the other instructors. They asked me how it was going.
“I was told I could just drop in!” I said with a laugh.
They politely lied and told me I was doing well, and I hoped that meant I was getting credit for basically being a good sport. I’d shown up so wholly unprepared I didn’t even bring a bottle of water. I had to take bathroom breaks and strip off my wrist guards to get water from the sink three times in two hours.
They both encouraged me to come to tryouts even if I was feeling less than ready, because I would be sorted into the best class for me (Read: Level 1). I thanked them and said I’d think about it. I want to go to the tryouts Saturday to be assessed and placed, but I also am not sure I can start the Windy City Rollers class while I’m doing Derby Lite — on top of all of the other things I do in life. I don’t know when their Level 1 class starts, but if it’s offered again in March or April, I wouldn’t hesitate to sign up.
I’m just going to do whatever I can to get better and see how this goes. So far I love doing roller derby basics, bruised ego and all.