Halfway Through Start Out

My roller derby class has been going really well. I’m almost halfway through with the 12-week Derby Lite Start Out, which is kind of crazy. The toe stops on my skates are still a slight hindrance, but I am getting better at navigating the track with them. We learned how to properly do T-stops — as my uncle pointed out to me via email after my post about trying it on my own, I made a large error: The skate making the top of the ‘T’ is supposed to go behind your other skate — not in front of it. It’s so silly now to think of myself doing that — it’s no wonder I crumpled over immediately. Live and learn.

Speaking of learning, this past Saturday, our instructors taught us something I’d been waiting for ever since my Windy City Rollers skate clinic experience: How to do crossovers. This is the technique Lindsey told me would make me a much faster skater, and what would get me to my 27 in 5. As this blog post explains, being able to round the derby track 27 times in five minutes is a major milestone for any derby girl in training. Making 27 in 5 is the speed trials bench mark for WFTDA players, and now that I can (almost) do crossovers, I would love to see soon how much I improve on my initial speed trial result of 20 laps.

Crossovers are largely a battle of mind over matter — you have to convince yourself to put one skate directly in front of the other and push off from there — then lift your other stationary foot to meet the one propelling you. It’s best if you just watch (skip to the 1:10 mark):

I was able to get to the point where I was comfortable putting my right skate in front of the left, but I couldn’t quite master moving my left to follow suit. I hope I get a chance to work on that on my own at some point soon. I could already feel myself going so much faster with my partial crossover move, so that’s extremely encouraging.

I’ve been having a great time getting to know some of the other women in my class and learning with them each week. My favorite recent interaction was a moment off-track, when I took my mouthguard out of my mouth to speak. Frustrated, I turned to a teammate and asked, “Where do you put this thing when you’re not wearing it?”

Without a word, Lisa pulled down the neck of her shirt to show her mouth guard looped in a ‘U’ around her bra strap for safe keeping. Genius. I’ve been doing this ever since.

My next class is Saturday — week six of 12.

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Welcome to Derby Lite

Me and my helmet.

Me and my helmet.

My first class of Derby Lite was Saturday morning. I was so excited I got to the Arc in Oak Park a half hour early and suited up, well before anyone else arrived. A higher-level class was wrapping up, so I watched the more advanced skaters round the track and finish their drills.

Queen B, our class leader, reminded me that for our first class we would be starting out in gym shoes. I immediately felt silly, as I already wearing full pads/guards and looking up at her from under my brand-new royal blue Triple8 helmet. “Oh, okay,” I said, trying not to sound disappointed. Despite having my skates with me most days of the previous week, time hadn’t allowed me to make it back to the suburban rink by my office during their open skate hours to try them out. It was kind of killing me. I fumbled with the laces of them longingly and set them back in the rolling suitcase I’d repurposed the night before as my temporary gear bag. I took off my helmet and pads as well and set them aside.

Then I realized I hadn’t thought to bring gym shoes to the class — I’d worn my yellow rain boots, which currently serve as my Chicago winter boots when paired with multiple layers of socks. I’d taken the boots off at the door to avoid tracking in snow and knew wearing them on the slick rink, much less running drills in them, was out of the question. I panicked — then I remembered I’d left my gym bag in my car from a couple days earlier, and thought there was a chance my shoes were still in there. I ran to my car, and luckily, there they were. I carried them back inside and put them on.

My class mates slowly trickled in, including at least two women I remembered from Get in Gear Day. I greeted them and at 10, we were asked to come out onto the rink with our gear AND our skates — yessss. Queen B showed up how to properly strap on our helmets, our knee and elbow pads, and our wrist guards. A lot of the things we went over had been covered in Get in Gear Day, but not everyone at this class had been there for that introduction. Finally we were told to put on our skates, but asked to put in our mouth guards first.

My heart sank again. I’d been digging through my suitcase/gear bag and didn’t remember seeing my mouth guard in there. I’d also forgotten to boil it the night before like I’d been supposed to, to make it malleable and conform it to the shape of my upper teeth. I knew I wasn’t going to be allowed to skate without it. I told one of the co-instructors and she gave me a brand new mouth guard — for three dollars. I’d paid $20 online for my boil-and-bite one. This new one wasn’t fitted to me specifically, obviously, but it meant I could skate. I thanked her and rolled back onto the rink, relieved.

We did a series of drills, including a couple of new ones from Get in Gear. I noticed that when I tried to do a toe stop with my left skate, it was more difficult than it had been with my right. I think now it may have been because that’s not my dominant foot and also because we were skating clock-wise for the first-time and not counter-clockwise, the traditional skating direction. Queen B noticed when I faltered on that one and told me she’d take a look at my skates after the class ended.

At the class’s end, I brought my skates over to her to see what she thought. She told me that the skates my uncle gave me are great, but maybe a little too professional for the level I’m at — the toe stops on them are smaller, and therefore cover less surface area, and are also intended for speed skating.That makes sense, since that’s my uncle’s forte. They also present more of a hurdle because the gym floor we practice on isn’t intended for skating-only, like at traditional rinks. She said I could get different ones, but that eventually I’ll be good enough to be able to rise to the challenge the toe stops present. Part of me wants to just leave those toe stops on there so I force myself to get better, sooner.

I thanked her for her help and packed my bag to leave. I didn’t get to skate as much as I’d hoped, because the more I’m on the rink the more I love being out there, but at least I was able to tell that those skates fit me perfectly. I’m still blown away my uncle got them for me. I can’t wait until next week’s class.

The Birth of Penny Pain

Photo of Meryl in wrist guards, knee pads, and skates.

Those wrist guards are on backwards.

My interest in roller derby started, like so many other of my interests, with a movie I once saw. Five years ago, in November 2009, “Whip It!” came out, and my then-boyfriend and I saw it. That Christmas I asked for derby skates, even though I didn’t expect anyone to actually get them. Owen and Jamie did, and I started skating at a rink by where I used to live in Columbus.

I love skating. I am not a graceful person and I am not a fast runner but I feel stronger and bolder and faster on skates than I ever do on my feet.

Like the joy I experienced when I realized I loved riding my bike this summer, I feel similarly when I lace up my skates. I already knew I loved skating but I had forgotten how great and freeing it felt. We can always still manage to surprise ourselves and continue to let ourselves be surprised. I love that about life. I hope I always feel this way.

I’ve been subscribed to Derby Lite’s emails for a while now. Around the time of my breakup last winter I toyed with the idea of taking a class but decided I couldn’t afford it. That was absolutely true then, when I lived alone in an apartment I couldn’t afford and still had my old job that didn’t pay well enough for me to stay there. But when I saw an email last month with the subject “FREE ‘Get In Gear’ Day for Derby Lite: Chicagoland,” I knew I wanted in.

“How long have you been thinking about joining Derby Lite?” the email read. “Is 2015 your year?”

Yes, I thought. Yes.

I say yes now, to most things. Yes to biking. Yes to reading my essays in front of audiences. Yes to climbing the Sears Tower. Yes to talking to strangers. Yes to being brave. Yes to going to Portland by myself for a week. Yes, yes, yes.

May 2015 be the same, if I can be so lucky.

Image of the outside of Derby Lite in Oak Park.

Derby Lite in Oak Park.

I drove to a roller rink/gym in Oak Park on Saturday morning for the intro class. I walked in 10 minutes late, but a pretty, short-haired blonde woman asked me if I was there for Get in Gear. I smiled shyly and nodded. She told me almost immediately that the skates I’d brought were not going to work and I felt disappointed. Part of the reason I was even there was because I already had the most expensive piece of gear. She said I could borrow knee and elbow pads, wrist guards, and a helmet like everyone else and see how the skates went, so I suited up with the rest of the women who had shown up.

There were six or seven of us, all at varying levels of skate experience and roller derby knowledge. Some had already registered for an intro class and some, like me, were still mulling it over. We were given a rundown on the gear and how to put it on, then asked to sign a waiver before rolling onto the rink. Some had never skated before, or not since they were kids.

I had felt hungry to get on the rink since touching my skates while sitting on the rink’s bench, carefully lacing them up. Mine looked out of place here, bright white with purple rubber front brakes and purple plastic wheels. The borrowed, proper derby skates the other women wore were black and orange, uniform. I’d been told the brakes on mine would prove insufficient, but I was skeptical.

Out on the rink, I felt amazing. The pads made me feel foolishly brave, even though I knew I was still afraid of actually falling. I skated faster than I ever have in my life, feeling so strong and so full of energy.

After about 30 minutes, the tall, short-haired blonde leader, Queen B, led us in some drills. The first was stopping: That’s when I realized she had been right about my skates. Everyone around me was able to stop by letting down the front of their skates in an easy toe stop. When I tried, my front brake skidded bumpily on the rink’s floor like a tire going over a rumble strip. I frowned. She’d been dead on just from seeing them.

Then we practiced falling drills. Queen B showed us a two-point fall first, with one knee going down and then the next. We all looked at each other when she told us to try it, unsure it was a great idea. But we did it, one knee first, and then the other — we couldn’t feel a thing through our thick, borrowed knee pads. We moved on the a four-point fall (knee, knee, elbow, elbow). She described a six-point fall and told us to click our wrists together first.

“If your wrists make a clicking sound, you’ve got your wrist guards on right,” she said.

I moved my wrists together and heard no click. She saw, and pointed out I had my guards on… backwards. Like a boss.

I quickly corrected them and joined my squad members in our first six-point fall and felt nothing.

It was awesome.

After we did some more drills, our first-ever roller derby lesson was over. I told Queen B I wanted to register for class and buy their discounted gear, but that I wasn’t sure I could afford new skates, too. I knew I couldn’t — I wasn’t totally convinced I could swing both registration and gear at the same time. She told me I could keep using my skates for the class if I wanted, and I was grateful. I suspect I’ll need to invest in some new ones with better brakes soon, but for now I know I’ve got the very basics I need.

I can’t express to you how great it felt to be on skates again. Maybe my uncle’s skate and cycling abilities have finally taken hold in me this year? Probably not — but it feels amazing to be (kind of) good at something. I can skate. I am comfortable skating. I want nothing more than to be skating right now.

I’m glad I said yes to this.

Image of my white and purple skates.

My white and purple skates.