This weekend I had the absolute honour and privilege of skating with my team, the Nottingham Hellfire Harlots, in our first official WFTDA tournament in Ghent, Belgium – A Skate Odyssey (SKOD).
SKOD was my first experience of roller derby outside the UK and my first time participating in a tournament. The Harlots were one of 10 teams, some European, some British, all competing for the 2015 SKOD title. Going in to the competition, the Harlots were seeded number 2, putting up high expectations! We didn’t achieve the placing we went out there to achieve, but what we took away from the weekend was so much more.
Throughout the tournament, we played three games, one per day. I wasn’t too sure how well my body would do with bout and recovery time, but with some stretching, TLC and foam rolling I was actually OK! Come bout 3, I was still feeling pretty good physically, I actually impressed myself with my physical fitness and ability to recover! I do need to continue with my fitness and stamina, but also up my mental game.
Each day brought something different for the team and for me personally. We experienced different styles of game play and circumstances out of our control with penalties and zebra calls. This weekend I learnt that yes, I still need to work on my mental and physical game, but that I am not actually as bad a skater and player as I thought.
Friday, Day 1.
Due to our number 2 seeding, we weren’t due to play until 6pm against the winner of an earlier game. This saw us taking on Finnish team Dirty River Roller Girls in a very tough and close game. DRRG are a very physical team and a brilliant example of European roller derby which gave us a great challenge! I am generally a blocker and spent much of the game on the blocking rotation. As a blocker, I am way more of a positional blocker than I am a hard hitting blocker. I am working on my ability to land an effective hit, but it definitely relates back to working on skills as both a jammer and blocker. But I felt positive with my blocking for the game, working together with my team and improving on my pack awareness. Towards the end of the first half, I was thrown in to jam. I cannot describe how excited and anxious I was standing on that jam line for the first time that weekend. Hearing my team mates cheer me on, the crowd cheer the Harlots on, seeing my blockers hold the jammer and pull out some fantastic offense, it made all the nerves go away and I just enjoyed every second of that jam. I found myself a bit more on the jamming rotation throughout the second half, with some on to block, continuing to do my best for my team. Working as a team, we managed to regain the lead again, I continued to jam – until the last 5 minutes of the game I did a silly. On a power jam, I ended up throwing it away by falling foul of a cut track when I should have just called the jam for a fresh set of legs. This put DRRG into a power jam situation with a strong jammer on their side, and sadly we lost. I felt awful post game, I did beat myself up and do still feel pretty rubbish about it. I put a bit of weight on myself for a poorly timed trip to the box as a big reason for DRRG pulling back the points we put up.
Initially, I felt like maybe it was a mistake for them to have put me on as a jammer and that I let my team down. I have made no secret of my low self-esteem and lack of belief in myself and my own ability, so at first I felt as though I was not good enough to have been given that level of trust as a jammer. As a team, we put a large amount of trust and faith in each other, we know that we are there for each other and have spaces covered. With the Harlots, I know that we wouldn’t be given a role if we weren’t capable of it.
Watching the footage back on Saturday morning with Louisa, I actually surprised myself. Blocking I was doing good and could definitely see the improvements I have made. When I watched myself back jamming, it took a moment to set in, seeing the improvement in my confidence and everything I have learnt at the Harlots on show, I was actually very proud of myself. The track cut was gutting, yes, but seeing the difference in my skating and knowing that any time I re-joined my teammates on the bench they were so supportive, it all meant the world to me and make every moment so worth it.
Saturday, Day 2.
Out second bout was against fellow Brits – Middlesborough Milk Rollers. A team the Harlots have played against numerous times before with wins and losses one each side. My blocking was the stronger of my skill sets in this bout. I think I put too much pressure on myself to jam like I did the day before and avoid silly penalties – which I guess made me more wary of using my edges which is where my strengths lie. I did some alright jamming, but my blocking was more effective in this bout. Again, we sadly lost, but fought hard and played some good derby!
I haven’t yet watched this footage back – but I hope to have similarly positive feelings to the first bout!
Sunday, Day 3.
Playing for 7/8, we were up against Paris Rollergirls. Another strong team which resulted in another close game! I jammed and blocked again. I felt positive in my confidence jamming and blocking, trying to take my good jamming from Friday and my good blocking from Saturday and merge the two into a strong game on the Sunday. Physically I wasn’t tired or aching, mostly down to naps, food, stretching and the trusty foam roller! Mentally, the mean person inside my brain decided to kick in. I am a careful player and generally avoid penalties, however this game I ended up with five penalties. With these penalties and some play on the opposing side being not so positive and lack in penalty calls, I let myself get down and was unable to refocus. I continued to play as hard as I could in order not to let my team mates down, until the last jam I jammed in. I took a bad kick to the wankle and heavy hit and lift onto my bad hip. Any skater with previously broken bits will understand the initial pain and panic your body enters when that previously broken bit is hit. Laying on the floor with the lovely paramedics checking over for an OK, I missed watching the last jams of the game and the high-fives around the track (one of my favourite bits!). We lost after a few lead changes but it was hard fought. On a more positive note, I am really chuffed with my blocking on this bout. My ability as a blocker and my teamwork with blockers such as Wrenegade, who together we were able to hold the jammer for quite some time and stop their pivot getting anywhere near for their attempt at a star pass!
Also – TEAM METAL LEGS REUNION!
This whole experience taught me so much more about myself, the Harlots as a team and league and roller derby itself. We have great support. Support as a team, support from our entire league, support from those involved with our league as extended Harlots. Every single Harlot and those who are integral parts of the Harlot family, each and every one of you makes me so proud to be on this team and I love you all so much.
I learnt this weekend that I am stronger than I think I am. I am a better skater and player than I have ever given myself credit for. I have a higher fitness level than I realised, that I can push myself past the walls and keep going. I know and accept that I need to continue to improve my fitness and stamina, but that I also need to work on my mental state. Yes. I beat myself up about the negatives, I put too much pressure on myself to do well and achieve, to make my team proud of me. I am Private from The Penguins of Madagascar…to quote: Private “I just want to be a meaningful and valued member of this team” – YAY TEAMWORK! I need to work on focusing and powering through instead of letting the not so good affect me, to rise above all the chaos that is happening around and play for the reason that I am there, that we as a team are there.
Whilst we may not have necessarily achieved what we wanted to, we went out there and played some damn good roller derby. By doing so we gained so much more than any medal or prize. We did that together, as a team. Every moment I get to play with these ladies, whether in practice, in scrimmage or on track bouting, I am so proud to be alongside them and be learning continually. I want to continue to grow and improve as an individual and as part of my team and be fully worthy of my spot. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us, we are only going to continue to get stronger and go further.
I put my heart out to everyone who has supported the Harlots throughout this weekend. To my teammates who were amazing both on the track and off the track. From our time on track to the after party and return journey. To our inspirational Captain, Elke – a lady who I only started getting to know a bit more recently and has now sadly left to pastures new for work, whichever team ends up with you are very lucky people – hopefully it won’t be too long til we see your face once more.
Together. All of us. X
Til next time little blue monsters xx