Sunday, February 28, 2010

Trying Out & Trying to Relax and Have Fun

It’s been a strange few weeks that led up to my definitive decision to try out for the All Stars this morning. I destroyed the inside of my right foot by trying to break in my new skates, my grandmother died, and the day of my grandmother’s funeral I still didn’t know if I’d be able to skate in that night’s bout – I had made attendance (barely), but my foot was still open and raw and in pain. I didn’t have much hope that I’d be able to skate that night, which was yet another blow to my already deflated ego. After all that’s gone on since September, I really needed a notch in the “win” column – not necessarily having to win that night’s bout, but merely being able to skate in it. I had been missing skating so very bad – so very, very bad.

To my surprise, after taping the shit out of my foot and breaking out the old skates (which rub in a DIFFERENT location than my open wound), I lasted the entire game! Not only that, but I played a great game, I had so much fun with my team, and we won by a landslide. It was an amazingly fun night that gave me a bit more confidence heading into tryouts this morning.

I’m not going to lie, the 24-hours prior to this morning’s try out had my head spinning, my thoughts racing, and my stomach in knots. “I’m not ready,” the little voice in my head would say. “I’m up 10lbs from the end of last season. I’ve been using the practices I’ve been able to go to in order to break in my new skates, not improve my skating. I’m slow. I’m out of shape. I’m going to make a fool out of myself. What happens if I don’t make it? I’ll be mortified.” To make matters worse, competition for the roster spots has been more difficult lately – we have a lot of transfers from other leagues, and the transfers are good. We also have some brand new prodigy skaters who blow away the skaters I thought were prodigies last year. And then I realized why I made myself absolutely miserable at times last season. It’s the same reason I was stressed about the tryouts: instead of wanting the best for my league or my team, I was fighting against the current and only wanting what I thought would be the best for ME. And I’m never going to be happy or satisfied if I’m constantly trying to find a way to put an “I” in “team”. So, I figured, I’ll go, I’ll remain calm, and I’ll do my best to show the captains and coaches what I got. It’s up to them to determine if I have the potential to be a valuable contribution to the team. And if I don’t have what the team needs right now, that’s cool. I get it. It will be sad, but I get it, and I know what I’ll need to do try again: work harder. Spend the time I haven’t been able to spend getting my game back (and then some).

How did it go? It went. I’m really not a good judge of my own abilities, and I certainly AM my own worst critic. That said, I was surprised by the endurance I still had, but I felt like I had an “off” scrimmage day. I kept getting my wheels locked up in other people’s wheels, and I kept going down. I got back up, but I’m not usually on the floor that much, and when you’re on the floor, you’re not being effective, so essentially, I didn’t feel all that effective. I did have a really rad flying-leap block when I was jamming (which I never do for TT) that was probably completely illegal, but we didn’t have refs there to call me on my foul, so the action itself was just spectacular. I was coming round turn 1 and had 2 people to beat. The inside blocker was about 8” off the inside line, so I got a running start and jumped the turn boundary, about to land on one skate just inside the line and just ahead of the inside blocker, when as I was coming down I threw a hip and punted the inside blocker who shot off the track via the opposite boundary like bullet. Before I could turn my head to see where she went, I heard the collective “oohh!” from onlookers. I definitely hit her before I had a foot on the floor, and when I came down I landed one foot on the right-side of the inside line, but I managed to put the other down over the line. She was already on the floor when the second foot went down, so if I had not been mid-air when I made contact, it would have been a minor penalty and not a major. Had refs been there, I’m fairly certain I would have been sent straight to the box. But it was still awesome! I digress… I left the rink a happy lady, thinking “Well, if I don’t make it, I’m definitely going to have a garden this year.” Regardless of the outcome, I feel good just to be back on the track working hard and coming home fatigued.

No word yet. I’m hoping it comes soon, but I have to figure that there’s no use worrying about it now. The decision has been made, I’m sure, I just don’t know what it is yet. And you know? I’m not as anxious about finding out as I typically would be. I’ve been saying that this year is “the year of fun” in derby, meaning “I want to be less stressed out about being on the team then I was last season.” So far, I’m making good on accomplishing that goal, which is both amazing to me and a really good sign of things to come. After all, if it’s not fun, why do it? Okay, okay, I know the answer to that, just like you know that even if it wasn’t fun I’d do it anyway. The bonus here, I suppose, is that I AM having fun and I AM more relaxed. Regardless of the outcome, I want to keep doing what it takes to feel both those things more often in all areas of my life.

**UPDATE** You know, I was initially hesitant to say anything about TT try outs on here, because I didn't want to have to do THIS, but I promised you guys I'd be honest with you, so here it is - failures and all. I did NOT make the team. It stings, but I am completely out of shape, and I have only been back on skates for a month. Was partially hoping I'd make it if for nothing more than the added motivation to get my ass back in gear. Although more difficult, I can motivate myself. And spring is coming. Spring ALWAYS helps me with motivation. There it is! Must remember the "have fun" part, especially, this week.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 Topic: Roller Derby

Last night I completed writing the topic "Roller Derby" for Cracked, a comedic website. Click HERE to read it!

I wanted to ensure I discussed our sport with both humor and respect - hopefully I succeeded. Let me know what you think.

Also, I'd LOVE some pics of y'all in your booty shorts with writing on them to post to the topic page - email me your photos (and include the photo credit), and I'll pick a few of the best to post to Cracked.



Saturday, February 13, 2010

Conscious & Paralyzed

For a very long time before now I’ve been excellent at denial.

What’s the root of denial? For me, it’s always started with a glimpse of the truth or the inevitable, but whatever it was that I saw was something I didn’t want to see, I didn’t want to deal with, I didn’t want to believe or accept, and so I enforced the 5-second-rule with my thoughts and either excused them away or flat-out ignored them, refusing to consider the thoughts any longer. It sounds silly, I know, but there’s a reward in everything we do. Otherwise, we wouldn’t do it. For me, the rewards have always been peace and time.

Some things are things that have the potential to get better if you hunker down and form a plan, while other things are immune to effort and planning – these things are the things in life that are beyond your control.

Thinking back to my earliest recollection of denial brings about a sheepish feeling of embarrassment. When I was 11 I came home from school one day only to unexpectedly find half the contents of my house packed up in boxes. My initial thought was that we were moving again, but I didn’t have any other indication that we would be moving (like my parents telling me), so I asked my mom and to my relief she said no, we weren’t moving. It was as if I had just asked someone if the sky was blue and they told me no. Although I was looking right at it and I knew I was being lied to, I made the conscious decision to ignore what I knew to be true, and I went about daily life as if I had never seen the boxes at all. The reward, although short-lived, was my not having to deal with the stress of moving yet again to a new state, a new school, a place where I again knew no one and would have to start over from scratch. A week later my mom looked me in the eye, just as she had a week prior, and broke the news that we’d be moving in a day. And she wonders to this day why I don’t trust her.

I know now that denying what was in plain sight, even for an 11-year-old, was nothing more than a coping mechanism. I suppose I could have fought to find out the truth a week earlier, but if I had done that my day-to-day would have been so disrupted that I wouldn’t have gotten anything done – I’d have to learn to cope in other ways, which I guess is where I’m at now. Coping with the inevitable is sadly something I’ve never learned to do.

A months or two ago I stopped posting as regularly. I finally mentioned that I had made the tough decision to not try out for the All Stars in Q1 because of some other things that were going on outside of derby, namely the failing health of my grandmother and my dog. A month or so went by, and during that time nothing really changed – neither had yet taken a turn for the worse, yet I was paralyzed, unable to function in a normal way in my day-to-day life. If I were of a typical mental state, I’d say I was depressed, but I’ve been being treated for depression for the past four years, so what does that make me now? Super depressed?! Uber depressed? How about “really fucking depressed”? After a while I began to think I was just really lazy, and then I surpassed lazy and lost interest in the hobby that I’ve dedicated the last 5 years of my life to. Unable to understand what was going on and unable to “fix” anything, I tried on various answers or solutions, because I couldn’t stand that I couldn’t fix the real problems that were causing me stress: the failing health of my grandmother and dog. The one answer I have clung to the most is my desire to accomplish several other goals in my life – goals that in a carefree world I probably could accomplish over time without pulling back from derby – yet I have pulled back from derby and I haven’t done a god damned thing toward accomplishing those other goals. This is how I know they aren’t the answer. So what is?

The answer is that there is no answer. There’s no answer, no fix, no solution to death. It’s a part of life. And as much as I know this to be true, and for as expected as it is, I’m apparently still incredibly affected by the stress it’s placed on my day-to-day life. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m the type of person who thrives on working toward a goal, or in my case, multiple goals. When I don’t like something, I fix it. And now I have no idea what to do with myself since I can’t do anything, and I’m paralyzed by this – completely and utterly paralyzed. As I sit and wait for it to be over, I simultaneously hope for no swift resolution. The time I lose is the time they gain and the time I gain with them, yet while I should be happy and in the moment when I’m with them, I’m distant instead. I’ve somehow isolated myself from everything and everyone I love. I’m not in denial, but I’ve lost peace, and I’m wasting time.

I suppose I should take comfort in the fact that I’m not in denial, and I’m finally learning to face the music. But any comfort is lost to the fact that I don’t know what the fuck to do now, and that stresses me out. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you shit, make a shit sandwich? I think not.

Today we got the call that my grandmother may not last the night. My mom picked me up, and we went to go see her – maybe for the last time. As I sit on the sofa typing this, my dog is curled up next to me. Although I worry a lot about what I should be doing, when I’m curled up with my dog there’s no other place I want to be. Maybe life hasn’t given me shit. Maybe it’s actually given me time – not time to stress, but time to enjoy things as they are while they last. I’m still not entirely sure I’m doing the right thing, but only time will tell. In the meanwhile, I suppose I’ll practice patience and try to let go of paralysis.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Very Merry (Derby) Blizzard: Snowmageddon

Baltimore typically doesn’t get all that much snow during the winter; we usually have a few 3-to-5 inch snowfalls, with several of those causing school and government closings, but this year has been different. After four snowfalls, including one that caused us to cancel our inaugural bout of 2010, Baltimore has clocked 63 inches so far this winter – more than Chicago, Buffalo, and Carribou, Maine. Nearly EVERYTHING is closed.

You’d think this would have us Baltimorons depressed, but not so! If there’s one thing I love about this city (there’s actually many things), it’s that snow = party. During the first blizzard this week the news stations were showing people in every neighborhood partying in the streets: sitting in lawn chairs drinking frozen rum drinks, buzzing around on 4-wheelers, and participating in massive, MASSIVE community-organized snowball fights (that they were announcing on the news, no less).

I’m lucky enough to live several houses away from my teammates, Allie B. Back and Deathany, and about 2 miles from one of our good friends and Indian food bout vendor, John of Dharma Foods, so the four of us and my boyfriend, J, have been participating in the snow fun here in Baltimore together. During the first blizzard we had this week we decided we’d do what we did the previous weekend when the bout was cancelled and head to mens derby-owned bar, Bad Decisions, for hot drinks followed by sledding at Patterson Park. Although practice has been cancelled all this week, we’ve been getting our exercise walking up steep hills after sledding down them. I even have derby sympathy bruises from the saucer sled cutting into my thighs after having traveled downhill on my stomach.
I love sledding at night. The previous week we were the only people at Patterson Park, but this time there were already other neighborhood folks there. Positioning ourselves next to the illuminated pagoda, people stood beer in hand, watching their friends take turns sliding downhill on sleds and beer boxes, dogs galloping through the snow with ears flapping to chase them down. If you had a good run, you could go pretty far downhill, carving a new path for the next person. Thigh-deep in fresh, untouched snow, it was hard to ignore the silence at the bottom of the hill, as you looked upward to see people and pets laughing and having fun against the warm lights of the pagoda. It took several minutes to walk uphill, but that didn’t stop us – it was totally worth the effort to jump on the sled and head downhill again, snow spray blinding you temporarily and numbing your face as you go.

The next day J, Allie, and I headed to Herring Run Park with our dog, Calvin. Avoiding trees and the river, we sledded alongside neighbors and their children, taking helmet-cam footage of several runs that you can see here (including one where I damn near hit a tree head-on).

The day after that I spent all day with my neighbors shoveling the still unplowed street, preparing for the next storm. What started as a joined effort in snow removal quickly became cocktail hour, as bottles of liquor and beer started appearing and piling up in the snow bank next to my car, plastic lawn chairs surrounding the “bar”. One thing I love about snow is the time you get to spend with your neighbors that you otherwise don’t get to see! It took eight of us all day to shovel the street in front of my house (with a break to push a car out of our street), and even though we accomplished a lot, it really felt like more party than work (until I needed an Epsom salt bath later that night to soothe my sore and torn muscles).
Last night marked the beginning of blizzard number two, which is still going strong now. Having a shitload of food left over that he had made for the bout that got cancelled, John suggested we have a dinner party – a wonderful idea! We dined on cheese and crackers, veggies and hummus, samosas, falafel, and rice-and-cheese filled phyllo triangles, ending the night after watching two movies with a coconut key-lime pie I threw together. Mmmm…

At this point, it looks like we’re not getting out until Saturday or Sunday. I foresee more sledding, more shoveling, more eating and drinking, and more time spent with neighbors and friends. As much of a disruption as these storms have been to daily life in Baltimore, I’m really glad we got this collective opportunity to slow down, break the monotony of the rat race, spend some quality time with others, and entertain ourselves without the usual avid consumerism. I think it’s just what Baltimore needs.

Friday, February 5, 2010

195s: First Impressions

There’s just something about getting new things that replace the old and worn out things, especially when those things are things we use on a near daily basis. Last night I popped the cherry on my new 195s, and by the end of practice I didn’t want to take them off.

When I was younger the purchasing of new basketball shoes or a new softball glove or a new tennis racket was synonymous with the beginning of that year’s sport season. Like back-to-school shopping for clothes and shoes, back-to-sport shopping is just what we did. However, although I spent four years playing varsity tennis, I never got quite as into tennis rackets as I have roller skates. Chalk it up to being older and wiser or maybe just caring more about derby than I ever did tennis. Getting new skates isn’t something I’m able to afford on an annual basis, so when I do I’m appreciative. Believe me when I tell you that getting new skates RULES.

Several months ago when I was in PT for my severely sprained ankle, I had many conversations about my feet and their position in shoes and skates. I explained the cramping on the top of my feet to my therapist, and she in turn asked me about my skate boots. Turns out, she thought, the “high top” or high rise of my skate boot paired with the ankle strap limits my full range of motion. Muscles compensate, and I get foot cramps. It was then that I began contemplating the 195s.

Having shared my contemplations with my teammate and co-owner of Black Eyed Susan Skate Shop, Mibbs, she contacted me when the 195 floor models went on sale (the ones people try on when getting fitted). They had my size, and you know what comes next – I had to buy them. After months of discussion about plates and how they impact balance and support weight, I decided not to fuck with a good thing and bought another pair of Power Dyne DynaPros to have mounted on the 195s. I know many people don’t like the DynaPros, but opinions are like assholes, ya know? They work for me and that’s what matters.

In case you’re not familiar with 195s, they are low-cut boots (like a shoe) without a heel. They’re leather inside and out, and the inside of the tongue is lined with sheepskin (it’s furry).

Low Cut
I’ve heard a lot of strong opinions about the cut of these boots. The naysayers reject them because they claim the low-top provides no ankle support. In my opinion, high-top boots don’t actually provide ankle support either. I’ve seen plenty of girls roll their ankles in high-top boots. I’ve rolled my ankles in high-top boots. The low-cut of the boot is, however, something to get used to.

Stride: On my first few laps around the rink I was hyper aware of my inside ankle, and I noticed my stride was awkward, to say the least – I wasn’t making a full stride with my inside leg. However, once I was aware of this, I easily corrected it and continued skating with full strides for the rest of the practice.

Cutting: I think the low cut of the boot does enable a greater range of motion, because cutting seemed quicker and easier on these skates. **It bears mention that I was NOT skating on the Heartless wheels – I put on my old Witchdoctors, because I wanted to eliminate too many different variables until I feel like I’m getting the hang of the new boot.**

Stopping: Stopping’s a bit weird. The first few times I plow stopped quickly, I thought my feet were going to come right out of my laced-up skates – a very weird feeling. I never noticed how much I rely on my skate boot to help me do all different types of stops until last night. I apparently would use the friction of the high-top to help me slow down. Muscle control becomes a lot more important now.

Running: Duck walking to a sprint felt no different on these boots than it did in my old boots. If anything, it was easier.

Dropped Heel
One thing I hadn’t considered much prior to buying the 195s (and one thing I underestimated even after I considered it) is their lack of a heel. Going from heeled skates, even ones that are a mere 1/8 inch, to skates with no heel is, indeed, a bit tricky. Dropping your heel any amount shifts your center of gravity and how you hold yourself on skates, so for the 1st hour last night I felt as if it was the first time I had put on roller skates in years – a quite unsettling feeling for someone who hasn’t felt off-balance for 4+ years. By the end of the night, however, I had gotten used to the heel drop, and I must say that I think I’m really going to like skating like this. I feel as if my center of gravity is lowered and some pressure has been released in my lower back. What I’m going to have to pay close attention to is adequately stretching my calves prior to putting on the skates. Otherwise, I can see my legs being tight and shaky until I’m warmed up.

Skate Materials
After several years of being unable to pull clean socks from my drawer that don’t have remnants of the latex bullshit from the underside of the tongue on the 125s, I’m looking forward to the sheepskin lining that the tongue on the 195s have. I’ve only skated in them once, but the tongues never slipped. The sheepskin seems to do an excellent job gripping, so the tongue stays in place.

The boots themselves are made from double-lined leather, with nice soft leather on the interior of the boot, a stiff and effective arch support appropriately placed in between the leather, and a foot bed with the best insole I’ve seen yet on any skate boot. The 195s are more narrow than other styles, which is great for me, because I have a very narrow heel that shifts back and forth in most shoes I own and in every pair of skates I’ve owned up until now.

I was proactive in breaking in the boots at the heel – a location known for causing nasty blisters. At the advice of Mibbs, I rubbed a tiny amount of Vaseline into the inside of the heel and then rubbed the leather back and forth with a butter knife until the leather was no longer stiff but instead pliable. Last night I found several other spots in the boot I need to do this – the arch of my right foot and the pinky toe area of my right foot.

I typically wear both blister socks and the calf-high athletic socks from American Apparel. That combo worked well to fend off blisters in my 125s, but proves to be way too much bulk for the new skates. After a few laps I ripped off my ankle brace and the American Apparel socks, leaving the blister socks on, and changed into my super low, super thin athletic socks I wear for running, which seemed to work well.

In conclusion (hello?! Am I in the 4th grade here?), I think I’m really going to like these boots. It’s going to take me a while to see exactly how I want them laced (where they should be tight, loose, etc), but that’s the case for any pair of skates. Once I’m used to these babies, I’m going to throw the Heartless Creepers on them, and then so help me dog, I’m going to be cutting across the track like a bat out of hell!