12 days in to the new year, I have already slipped up on my aspirations for 2015. But you know what? I’m not beating myself up about it. I have not failed and I have not given up, simply hit my first wall in a long line of bricks to break down.
(Let’s just ignore the fact I posted before saying 10 years. It turns out I can’t actually count…..)
In 1994 I first began my skating journey. It seems crazy to think about it being 20 years – two whole godamn decades!
In the last 20 years, I have trained and grown as
- A figure skater
- An ice hockey player
- Roller hockey player
- Roller derby skater
That seems manic. Time on ice, time on roller rinks, time on sports courts. Time on blades, time on in lines, time on quads.
It also seems manic when you think about how, although the principle is the same, there is still a fine art to the abilities learned, grown and refined in each of these skate-based sports. Differing weight distributions depending on the surface or skate type and the fluidity of movements or strength and finesse required.
To think at one point I was prancing around on the ice, in lycra dresses, performing solo and group routines, competing against other very talented skaters. Then at another point spending time with strong ladies and men having enjoyed ice-hockey for years suddenly learning to play the game from the teams standpoint, hitting a puck around, scoring angles and defence plays – heck even pulling the goalie for the last few minutes to freak the hell out of the opposing team confused me for months when playing! Then to adapt the skills learnt playing on ice to briefly playing on in-line skates. The sudden difference in effort used in pushes, crossovers and ability to dig in with hockey stops! Then the move to roller derby – the sudden change and difference in being on quads rather than inline blades/skates. Again the same principles yet so different!
Sometimes I look at this and contemplate why I am still not at a place where I feel happy with my skating ability.
Other times? I realise that I have been on one hell of a crazy ride.
I still own hockey skates. I probably still have my figure skates somewhere in my parents loft! I have seen my old lycra dresses somewhere at my parents. I have a file of rosettes and shelf of trophies from figure skating. I still have my Nottingham Ladies ice hockey jacket which to this day I wear with pride! (And also as it is so comfy and so warm and toasty!)
I have come quite a way. From that first day my parents put me on skates at the local ice-rink and sent me off to lessons, to learn how to skate and then gradually grow into this (not-so) graceful ice-dancer. Then somehow move into contact sports, team sports.
I have met so many wonderful people through skating in the last 20 years. I have had so many experiences. Experienced a variety of emotions. At times felt like I wasn’t good enough, times I felt I could take on the world, and other times I just stopped and asked myself what the hell was I doing.
Even though I have spent 20 years skating, I am still learning. Finding new and different ways to skate, new moves, new styles. Meeting wonderful people who inspire me as a person and skater, learning from them and using their experience to make me better. I have reached a point in my life where I can really look back at what I have achieved in the last 20 years. But I know that I still have a way to go.
Even after 20 years of skating experience, my laterals to the left? Like a hot knife through butter. To the right? A little less refined. Yes. I had the hip operated on. But it is about learning again, building strength and having the finesse to finish it off. I had my operation in 2006, and it essentially put me back to square one with anything involving my right hand side, though it is still – somehow – my stronger leg? But it has been learning with baby steps as any new skater would, how to lateral right again, how to distribute that weight, the strength you use to push, the way in which you turn sections of your body.
To the fresh meat skaters, to the vet skaters, heck – to the referees and others involved in skating (which ever style you skate or sport you work hard in) – wherever you are on your journey. Take a moment to look back at how far you have come. You don’t need to be at my 20 years, you may have been skating longer, or are still working things out in your early days, weeks, months, even year. But look at it and be proud. Every move you mastered, no matter how easy or hard, big or small… even simply standing up on skates – that is one thing you could not do before. Work through the frustration, the upset, annoyance and the obligatory swear words. Don’t let that one bad day, the move you didn’t make or the fall you took that night ever stop you. Get upset, cry it out, but do not let it stop you – get back up, try again. Keep falling, keep going wrong, keep trying. One day you will get it. Do not hate yourself for not being where you want to be, take the time, don’t over think anything and just breathe. Most importantly breathe. Steady yourself and compose yourself before you move that foot, relax and allow skating to just be part of you. One day you will reach a point you no longer think about what you are doing, skating will become a natural thing, it may not seem like it now, but one day you will be looking back wondering why you worried so much. And that moment, the point in which everything clicks and falls into place? It doesn’t always happen as soon as you think, it sort of just creeps up on you. It could click early on, it could come to after months or years of work. But work hard and believe in yourself. In the last 20 years, I have experienced emotions where I felt like giving it all up, but I have worked too hard to throw it away. The ability to skate. The joy of skating. One key piece of wisdom I would pass on to you today? Enjoy it. Relish it. It sucks but one day, your body won’t let you do the things you want to. So yes, work hard! But make sure you experience the joy it brings you. The smile you get when after weeks of trying you finally master that transition. The warmth you feel when you help others who are learning and see them progress. The strength you feel when you overcome your fears. Enjoy those moments, they are fleeting moments but do not let them pass you by.
One day you will be where I am. You will be standing, looking back, figuring out where you want to go. If you look around you, you will notice you are surrounded by wonderful (or in some cases not-so wonderful) people – one day they were you. One day they didn’t know how to skate. But today they may be skaters who you look up to, sometimes envy and hate that it all seems to be so easy for them. Once upon time, it wasn’t easy. Yes, some people find it easier than others but it does not mean that they personally didn’t find it a personal struggle. Do not ever once think that you are alone, do not hate yourself or envy others because of ability, we all skate the same path no matter how many different ways it takes us to get there. We have all learnt, struggled and overcome all the challenges we faced. And when you reach this point, take a moment to look at the people around you. Heck look around at them now! Offer help and support in a positive sense or even ask for help and support. I like to think a majority of people on skates are kind-hearted and will remember when they were struggling and still learning, sometimes you may hit a wall and experience rejection, but do not let that deter you.
You are constantly learning. And will continue to learn. Even when you feel as though you have reached your peak – climb it. At the other side of a hill, there is a mountain waiting to be conquered. No matter how hard it seems, just go for it.
Damn I’m gushy today.
In just over 2 weeks time, my league are starting a new fresh meat programme.
I have never personally/officially undertaken a fresh meat experience. I guess part of me feels a bit like I missed out, and why I’m so excited about being about to teach our new fresh meat with my derby wife. In our last wave of fresh meat – Autumn/Winter 2013, I caught some of their practice time and got to know them later than most of the team due to the committments of a house renovation (still a while to go).
Thankfully our FM are all lovely ladies (and Ben) and have been more than willingly to get to know us all and learn what they can as well as bond with current team skaters. They have become part of the fold and it seems crazy to think that not so long ago we sat them in a hall with daunted looks on their faces as we introduced ourselves and they had their first moment on skates.
Because I missed out on this experience, I put the idea out to some of our fresh meat to see if anyone would be interested in sharing their stories so far. Luckily they were fantastic and put together some pieces on their derby experience to date. Reading through their stories before posting these has made me so proud of them and I feel so happy to be able to share these with you – I have seen them really come into their own and I think the next few months will see them become quite a force on track!
So now for some of our last FM ladies to pull up a seat and tell you about their journeys!
Gemma AKA Bette Grinch #84
My Fresh Meat Experience Dec 2013
For a year or so, I had been looking for something, some kind of hobby to suit “me”. Me being “me”, it had to be something slightly crazy!
I’d heard friends mention roller derby, so I curiously looked up the Mansfield team, who coincidentally were having a fresh meat intake. With no hesitation whatsoever, I was there! I used to love skating when I was a kid so how hard could this be? I’ll just put the skates on, wobble, and off I go… Right? WRONG!!! It was tough, learning to skate your knees bent is painful. The fresh meat program is intense, crippling, exhausting but sooooo good. I feel I’ve made great progress thanks to our super coaches and teammates.
Teammates are a huge help and support and definitely inspiring. The team spirit is admirable and a true sisterhood that even the boys are in on.
So now I’m facing our first bout in less than 2 months. I have no doubt that with my sheer determination and team help, I’ll be on the track kicking ass with the other Misfits. Bring it on!!
Clare AKA Stormy C #L13
“Fresh Meat – OMG what’s that” asks my colleague at work “that sounds horrible!”
Ola, I’m Stormy C, I’m 45 and I’ve just completed my 12 week Fresh Meat programme. I came to Roller Derby through another colleague at work who’d mentioned Roller Derby on her Facebook page. I remembered seeing “Whip It”, I don’t remember how long ago and thinking “Yey I’ll give that a go” although must admit being a bit freaked out by the angle of the track. I’d missed the first ‘meat’ and introductions but contacted Little Miss Chief via the Misfits Facebook page as I was concerned I was too old… she said no worries, just to come along, they’d find me some skates, helmet etc. and I could see how I went. You are only as old as you feel. Well I don’t feel old so……..
I arrived at 5:45 and was sorted out by Gore G’eous, skates, knee-pads etc. and ready to go…. But imagine my surprise it’s not quite “Whip It” it’s Flat Track Roller Derby so not quite so freaked out as I had been. We did an off skate warm-up first as Dorny Darko said warm-up was really important. Then down to the main stuff get kitted up and on track….. Well that was a barrel of laughs… I’ve not skated since being about 14 so there were a few wobbles as you can imagine. I’d missed the skating basics in the introduction session so “falling small” was a ‘you want me to do what’, and “sticky skates”… ‘say again???’ All phrases you will learn and pick up.
Our FM sessions were on Sundays from 6-8. We did six sessions learning all kinds of stuff, like moving on wheels to begin with (sticky skating and crossovers – I remembered those from ice-
skating), different ways to stop, blocking, skating in a pack, how to fall safe and the holy grail – the “27 in 5”…. I’ll explain later. Then we had a mid-term assessment to clear us for ‘contact’ which I think we all passed. We then went onto “contact” – how to block, how to give a hit and take one, learning how to give and take a “Whip”. After so many weeks attendance we were allowed to join the Misfits properly, which meant we could finally chose a Derby name and we could attend Thursday sessions too along with the “Real Misfits” to get more experience on wheels and join in with the scrimming….
In terms of our FM batch, we’ve got girlies like Bette Grinch who is totally “mad for it”, Hawkeye who has been skating with a busted wrist for weeks and didn’t tell anyone (pain, what pain!), NikaBlocker Gory who whizzes round the track like you wouldn’t believe, along with our Emma whose just got new wheels and was flying round the track last night, don’t be put off my her slender frame she hits hard and Fire Lily who puts my plough stops to shame!
Right then “27 in 5” – basically gives you shaky legs…… The aim is to “skate the diamond” round the track and do 27 laps of the track in 5 minutes. Nikablocker is nearly there, she’s got the fastest feet I think and the rest of us aren’t too far behind. Apart from crossovers all the way, you just need to remember to breathe….lol. Get the oxygen into your muscles and “push them legs”.
We’re all different personalities, we all have other hobbies outside of Derby but with us FM and the original girls we make up THE TEAM. Why not come and join us, you may get a few bruises but you’ll have a ball.
We’re Lean, Mean… Purple and Green… Go Misfits!
Nik AKA NikaBlocker Gory #1710
“Mommy! You are on a big team photo!”
One Sunday night, just four months ago, I found myself in a car full of friends heading out for a new adventure. We were going for a trial session with Mansfield Misfits. Until that night I hadn’t given roller skating in any form a second thought having never skated in my life. I just have a really bad habit of agreeing to most social invitations. This one was a bit different!
Arriving in the hall was exciting, daunting and a big challenge. I knew we were going to be supported as non-skaters but I couldn’t fathom how I was going to be close to getting around the track at any rate that would benefit a team!
Oh yes – the team bit! I have NEVER, never, ever played a team sport, never done a contact sport and never really publically exercised. I ride a bike, swim, jog, go to the gym – all very solitary hobbies. This will explain my Californian husband’s surprise when I told him of this new venture. That and I didn’t have time to YouTube Roller Derby beforehand as he suggested. My bad!
Sounds disastrous? Well, we can now fast forward 4 months and here I am juggling my thoughts between the design of my next two tattoos and my Roller Derby experience so far. It has been a Roller Coaster (there’s a pun there!) and my stomach doesn’t churn as much at the prospect of training anymore! That is because I am surrounded, literally, by some really good friends! The Misfits are tight but they let you in their pack, share their group hugs and kick your ass without the usual judgements or reservations a room full of girls might bring.
This is a whole new lifestyle for me. My family are adjusting to me changing family routines so that I get to practice on time. They are getting more used to me walking round in small shorts all of a sudden (because that is how we roll) and we are making plans for a family outing to enjoy the Misfits first bout. I want my kids to meet my new mates! And tonight, I showed my family some photos of a recent session (the first time I have seen myself as a Derby girl) and my daughter exclaimed with pride “Mommy! You are on a big team photo!”. So I am
(Auto publish for Friday 31st so please bear with the blog whilst it does it’s funky auto update thing!)
I feel skating skills are of great importance.
I have noticed lately, more leagues are talking about a higher focus on general drills rather than skating ability, and I have over the years observed and heard complaints that some leagues were undertaking higher level/ability drills with a mixture of skating abilities involved. My main issue with this… is the lack of thought for skater safety. To be able to safely and effectively take part in these drills, skaters must first have the ability and confidence in their own skating skills. Without this – leagues are endangering not just the less skilled skater but also the skaters around them. As my own league has seen, it does not take much for a skater being taken down by those in the pack around her to cause a serious injury.
Part of my feelings surrounding skating ability stems from my many years on skates and the styles of skating I have done. From figure skating, to ice hockey, to roller hockey and to roller derby. All require the same key element, a sturdy skating ability and confidence in your ability. These two parts combined contribute so much to a skater to the point I now feel that you cannot really have one without the other to be an effective and able skater. A low confidence level can greatly impact on a skaters ability and I guess again this refers back to my post on mental wellbeing and the walls we put up in our own minds. Take for instance the skater I mentioned earlier who broke a few bones in her lower leg, whilst she initially wanted to come back, her mind changed once she had thought about life outside of derby and the impacts derby can have on that – which is a brave and hard decision to make. Many of our skaters saw this particular incident and the first couple of sessions following that night some of our girls skating abilities visibly decreased.. why? They said they were scared. Suddenly they are faced with the brutal reality of derby and the consequences it can have. And whilst confidence is pretty damn easy to take down, it can take a while to rebuild.
Infact. I would probably go as far to say that skating is 50-60% ability and the rest is confidence. I believe this is backed up by watching teams with poor morale and confidence at certain points in bouts and the difference between skating skills at this point and at more positive points. With skating lessons, I feel 2-3 are sufficient for the understanding of movement on skates and how/why you do things and they work/don’t work… it’s kind of like with driving. When you learn to drive for your test that is all well and good, but only when you pass your test do you actually learn how to drive.
So ok… problem is sort of established. But.. how do you work with this?
There is no real solution which is straightforward and an easy fix for everyone on the planet. Everyone is different and this is something we must accept and learn from.
I feel trust between team members plays a strong role in skating education. To be able skate side by side and learn from someone without the fear of being tripped up or injured even though you know really that you will fall over again and again, is so important. As is taking a few seconds just to say well done to someone who needs to hear it. Yes, sometimes you will bump wheels and fall over doing the silliest little things, but having that trust in the person you are working with is imperative – especially as a team on track. This trust allows a skater to have a better comfort level when skating and practicing drills, going at a pace to suit themselves. Yes – at the end of the day it is nigh on impossible to teach to all standards/levels of skaters in your league, and differentation can be hard because you do not want team skaters to lose out on practicing key drills yet at the same time you do not want to throw the weaker/newer skaters in over their heads. But you can try to take measures which aids the development of all skaters on the team by simply taking 30-45 minutes every other month or so just to go over the basics of skating and understanding how your body/skates react to movement. Even if just to get some feedback, who knows – that fresh meat skater may be able to impart some knowledge on your team skaters on how she learned to skate a particular move. Just time working on being comfortable on your feet, this allows higher level skaters to further improve on their skills and lower level skaters time to get comfortable and start to make headway. When you feel comfortable, move onto stepping through movements, going through the motions and allow people to understand why this is useful and how it will help them in the future. For instance, a few simple things that do not take long to go over:
- Stepping and stepping cross overs – this motion gets you used to the crossover movement, but can also be used to move from a slow speed/standing stop to get a small boost in initial speed.
- Gliding crossovers – more for jam work rather than pack work. Having skaters understand how the long gliding crossover holds so much potential power for pushing and for speed is pretty crucial if they feel they would like to put that jammer pantie on.
- Edges – Have skaters work on their edges, getting used to transitioning the weight onto each side of your feet, on both feet and one foot. Starting by going to the left/right seperately then merging the two edges. Skaters need to understand how the ball of their foot/pivot point really allows them a larger range of movement than they realise.
- Derby stance – Teach them to get into derby stance but whilst keeping their feet firmly in one place, have them move their upper body then move hips without losing that balance on their feet. This teaches them about their core strength and how if they are in the correct stance they should have a full range of movement without losing their balance.
- “Crazy feet” – just the general ability to pick their feet up off the floor and an ideal way to move into juking once skaters are comfortable with moving their feet. The ability to transition from gliding to crossovers to crazy feet and back again will be of great use on track.
- Pushing home the point that skating is part ability, part confidence. The reason I skate and move the way I do is because I have been skating for so many years, but I am confident in my skates/on my feet. I know from playing around and trying different things on skates that if I move my hips slightly too far into an edge that I will go over. It is comfort and confidence that plays a large role.
Of course the trust I talk about does not happen straight away, the time on the fresh meat journey is important for them to bond with other fresh meat but also team skaters who they will hopefully join one day. Infact one skater made my day, after one night in which I simply offered to help and partner with her to let her go at her own pace and tried my best to make her feel comfortable, I recieved a thank you for simply caring about her. And I was already proud of how well she was doing that night and the little jumps she was making in her ability. And this thank you took me by surprise, because I do not want or expect to be thanked, I simply do what I do because I want to help my girls any way I can in the derbyverse. Yes we are friends/family but let’s face it, the derbyverse can be a tough world at times with you being your own worst enemy.
The relationships on and off the track can play a factor, it can increase or decrease the level of trust but even though I have struggled with things like this I am a strong believer in leaving it at the door when you come into practice. If you let anything outside of derby into derby, it will cloud your vision on the track and will not be healthy.
So I guess my main message with this really is that no matter what you are doing – be comfortable. Push yourself to work harder and toy with your comfort zone, but do not at any point do anything which you are not comfortable or fully confident with. Work up to it, build on it and talk to those around you. Skating requires 2-3 lessons to teach you how/why you do things, but real track experience to actually learn how to skate – and do not forget that confidence is key so keep your heads up and skate your little hearts out. We are all in this together!
A note to the more experienced skater – Remember when you were fresh meat and you craved so badly for someone to teach you the ways of skating and derby? Now is your chance to be that person for someone else. Take everything you know and have learnt throughout and use that to help someone else in the derbyverse. Derby is about sharing and caring too you know!