Derby Practice: The Next Level

Like butta

Like butta

I wrapped up my 12-week intro class, Derby Lite Start Out, at the end of March. Last week, I went to my first practice at the next level. I signed up for the Tuesday night class, which is held at a roller rink in Lombard, IL. Since it’s far from my house, I stay in the suburbs after work and head there after traffic has died down. The other option was to do the verrrry early Saturday morning class in Oak Park, and so I decided to do whichever my friend Lisa was doing.

Lombard is possibly the best rink around. The Windy City Rollers just recently switched to the Lombard rink for hosting their home games, and its floor had been described to me as “buttery.” That sounded confusing (and unappetizing) but as soon as I set foot on it for the first time last week, I knew what that girl had meant. The practice space at Oak Park is fine, but it’s not a dedicated skating track — it’s a multipurpose floor, for things like playing basketball and other sports. It’s tiled, whereas Lombard’s floor is one gigantic, marble-smooth surface. It’s a huge difference, and you can go a lot faster than you mean to, as a result.

Going accidentally faster can only help me at this point, because in level two, almost everyone is faster than me. My days of speeding past my teammates are done — the level I’m in now is stacked with former derby players. They may not want to play the sport on a league team anymore, but they still want to skate, and this level is their place to do it. And now, it’s my place in which to get lapped.

We did speed trials on day one, which I was really excited about. I hadn’t done one since my pathetic 20 laps in five minutes back in January, before I knew how to do crossovers. Because there are about twice as many women in this level as there were in my intro class, we couldn’t all skate for five minutes and get timed. Instead, we were timed, two at a time, skating three laps. I felt pretty confident in my time, but was disappointed to see it in hard numbers, listed next to the new teammates’ times, once we were done.

I did my laps in 54 seconds, or at 18 seconds a lap. Most of the former derby girls had done theirs in well under 50 seconds. At the rate I skated, it would take me a sad eight minutes to get in 27 laps. To get 27 laps in five, I’ll need to shave my time down to 11 seconds per lap.

To get from 18 to 11, I’ve got some work to do. We don’t do another speed trial until 11 weeks from now, at the end of this level, on July 7. The good news is, friends and family are allowed to come see us skate that day. If you want to hitch a ride to Lombard with me, I’ll thank you forever for shooting some video of me going.

The class I’m in now is different from level one in almost every possible way. I know how to do the basics now, but I still struggle with my T-stops and turning around (gracefully). In level one, I felt like I couldn’t go as fast as I wanted to. Now, I’m struggling to keep up. I can’t complain — I wanted to feel more challenged, and that’s exactly what I’m getting.

I don’t think I mentioned this before, but after every class, we do some stretches to cool down. We sit on the floor, still in our gear, and basically do yoga in skates. Every single week, I start stretching feeling disappointed I have to stop skating, and not really wanting to waste time stretching. And every week, by the end of our stretches, I am so comfortable lying on the floor that I don’t want to get up. After my first level two class, I lingered longer than usual, closing my eyes, laying on smooth, cool butter.

I was starving after that class, having worked harder than I’d expected. A craving for Arby’s struck me out of nowhere, and I was suddenly a woman obsessed. Luckily, I was in the suburbs, and I suspected the odds were pretty good there was one between me and the interstate drive home. I looked on my phone, and there was an Arby’s less than a mile away. Being able to sense the presence of mozzarella sticks is a pretty underrated superpower, in my book.

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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.

Running with the Windy City Rollers

WCRI 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.

So continues my tradition of obnoxiously taking selfies in skate gear and hoping no around me catches me.

So continues my tradition of obnoxiously taking selfies in skate gear and hoping no around catches me at it.