Get to know the Inferno’s coach, Ann T. Social, in our latest installment of “Five Questions For…”
ick-ass playlists. But by the time I was in the car, headed to my next practice, I was forcing myself to sing “Unstoppable” and fighting back tears and anxiety. I was NOT unstoppable. I was a ridiculous middle aged woman clutching a pair of roller skates.
You might think Roller Derby is not for you. No place for someone who believes she’s 26.3 pounds overweight and would look terrible in leggings. No place for a baker, or a painter. No place for someone who loves yoga and butterflies, or to Contra dance and quilt. No place for someone who never kicked a soccer ball, played hockey, or ran track in high school. That it’s not a place for a mom of three little kids. Or two. Or one. Or five. Or for a teacher or nurse or accountant. No place for someone who likes to sit quietly and read for hours. Or for someone’s Nana. Or for someone with a disability. It’s definitely no place for someone who has never even been to the roller rink, right? There are a million reasons why it could never be for you. But you’d be wrong. In my league, there’s a place for everyone
You can join my league and become a tribal skating machine that flattens women left and right for the glory of your team and our league. If you want to do that, then yes, we want you, please join ASAP. But maybe that’s not you…yet. Or maybe that’s not you ever. And that’s okay. You still belong.
Maybe you’ve put your all into parenting–which is an important and respectable pursuit–but now you’re ready for a little you time. Maybe you need a kick start to get some exercise. Maybe you’re looking for someone to dance or laugh with on Friday night after practice, or a chance to run around in a rainbow tutu at a community parade. Maybe you have some pent up frustration toward the older brother who used to make your life hell and you’d love to roll around and crash into people as a way to vent. (Umm, I might be getting too personal here.) Anyway, my league can offer all those things.
We have skaters at all levels, from “Bambis” to experts who’ve played derby for years. We have a new training program for officials who skate and those who don’t. We have members who don’t skate very much or at all, but who enjoy the camaraderie, the committee work, and the community service aspect of membership. I am a trainer for our Derby 101 program. You can join AFA and we’ll teach you how to skate as safely as we can, and we’ll also support you in every step of your individual journey. And we’ll love you for being you and be happy with whatever niche you settle into as a member.
The only people who don’t belong here are those who are not accepting and supportive of every walk of life. They’re the ones who are judgy and demeaning. They might think that girls who play roller derby must come with a master’s degree in beating people up and an attitude tailored toward destruction. They’re mean and intolerant. I’m sure that’s not you, and that’s why you do belong.
We’ve all heard it. Change is good for the soul. Well, I believe that derby comes into your life at just the right moment when you need it. It will provide something for you that you’re not going to find elsewhere. This sport is so unique, it’s hard to explain what happens when you fully embrace it. Scientists have proven that your brain changes when you take on new challenges. New connections and pathways erupt, and all this improves your mental acuity and longevity. Derby is doing that for everyone who joins, and it’s also cutting new pathways in our community. Our fans see what this large group of individuals have achieved–a sustainable, healthy nonprofit league with a board of directors and eight committees that handle everything from training, to bout planning, to community service, for the purpose of fostering “teamwork, empowerment, and community engagement” (AFA Mission Statement). And I believe it’s inspiring to those who want change, not just in their lives but in our world. Yes, if people work together toward a common goal, great things can happen. The lovers and skaters of roller derby have not just jumped out of the box, they’ve stomped it flat and kicked it to the recycling bin. They are a new breed of independence and acceptance, and frankly, I believe we desperately need more of just that.
I wanted roller derby because I wanted to prove something to myself, that I’m strong and capable. And I also wanted derby because I could do this proving of things while roller skating and making friends and smashing into people, which I happen to think is fun. I also might be going through a midlife reinvention, known to some people as a crisis, but so what? What better way to change your life than with an instant horde of companions who’ll push you, and challenge you, and help you, and be there for you?
All those people I wrote about at the beginning, all those people who don’t belong, I guarantee that all of them are or could be playing roller derby. Just like you could be if you’re looking to fire up some neurotransmitters and pave a new path. And personally, I think you’ll look awesome in leggings. Everybody does. And they’re comfortable and practical and stretchy, so who cares anyway? Anyone who gives a fig about your leggings–this is not about them. This is about you.
(AFA will be recruiting new skaters to start in our Derby 101 program, beginning in September. For more info follow our Facebook Page, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Cherri Boom
A few years back, I was taking a public speaking class. We were given an assignment to write a speech themed, “If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?” I had one week to write the speech and I spent six days crabbing about how lame the assignment was. This was a college course, for cripes sake, not sixth grade. In my mind it was just one step above the old saw, “What I did during my Summer vacation”.
But then my aversion to poor grades kicked in and I started to try to figure out a way to make the assignment interesting. The night before the assignment was due, I began in earnest to try and come up with an animal I could relate to. My “go-to” favorite animal from the time I was about five was a horse, so I started imagining what it would be like to be a horse. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the life of any domestic animal would probably not be so great in most cases. I started thinking about wild animals. Again, the prospects weren’t great, unless you’re at the top of the food chain, and even then, well, let’s just say that I realized that A. Being human was preferable to living as any other type of life-form, and B. Humans were the number one reason living as an animal was a frightening thought.
I didn’t anticipate this line of thinking when I started the assignment, nor the difficulty I would have in choosing an animal. Ultimately, I fulfilled the assignment by choosing a fictional creature, the magnificent blue Na’vi in the movie Avatar. Physically, they had amazing animal abilities and they exemplified the loftier human qualities that we frequently lose sight of. It was then that I realized a distinction in how I feel about humans in general. And that is this: I really dislike people. HOWEVER! I have a very strong attachment to many, many persons. (And yes, some of those persons are my dogs, Jesse, Maggie, and Opal.)
When I watch the news, or hear about a tragedy caused by selfishness, or when I see injustice or harm caused by greedy corporations, it makes it easy to view the human race as a type of parasitic infection. I feel sometimes that we are a doomed race and that eventually, the planet’s immune system will kick in, and with a raging fever, will wipe us all out. I know, it’s pretty heavy stuff. People suck.
But, when I start focusing on the persons around me, seeing the good in each individual I meet, watching how kindness is enacted, reciprocated, and then spread, it gives me hope that maybe as a human race we will figure out how to be stronger in our good qualities than in our destructive ones.
So what does that have to do with roller derby? It is always so uplifting to hear positive comments, encouragements, and supportive words from other derby girls. How weird is that, because, after all, derby is an aggressive and competitive sport. On the track, maybe you’re a Tasmanian devil, or a grizzly bear, or a badger, or a rattlesnake. Then the whistle blows, the jam is over, and a girl who just buffaloed your ass, is reaching down to pull you off the floor. Why? Because we are all in this together. A derby girl understands that supporting other derby girls is imperative to the survival of derby. We have to stick together, push each other, and learn from each other, so we can go head to head on the track and play some effin’ derby. If we destroy each other, then ultimately we destroy ourselves. How is that for a real life lesson?
Introducing a new column: “5 Questions For…” in which we will interview members of AFA who represent a variety of roles.
It’s an exciting time for AFA! Among so many big changes we have gone through recently we also have the formation of our very own Officiating Committee. Stepping up to steer that committee is Goff Da Track, who joined AFA earlier this year with a goal of becoming a skating official. Here are 5 questions for AFA’s Head of Officiating
How exciting is it to be getting the Officiating Committee started?
It is very exciting! I am truly humbled and honored to be leading this great committee. Its definitely something I feel every league should have as officials are needed ALL the time.
What steps have you taken to research and learn about roller derby officiating?I have attended 2 Officiating clinics, helped NSO 3 scrimmages and have reviewed some of the WFTDA rules and regulations. I have also been recommended to shadow Coconutz Chanelle on Monday nights in Portland for MRD’s scrimmages. It also helps when our league has become friends with so many wonderful officials who have offered to help numerous times.
What is the biggest challenge to forming this new committee and training officials?
I believe the biggest challenge is that we are starting from scratch. Being that this is a new program, everyone is in the same boat with learning as we go.
When and how can people get involved as officials with AFA?
We will be starting Officiating training on July 3rd. Our practices will be on Tuesday’s and Friday’s after Freshie warm ups which will be either on or off skates. After which we will be working in a classroom like setting at least for the first couple weeks.
What is your favorite thing to do on skates?
Honestly just being on skates is the best feeling in the world! When I am on skates, it’s just me and the track and all of my worries go away. This community is truly 1 in a million and I wouldn’t change my derby journey for anything in the world.
by Cherri Boom
When we talk about roller derby, sometimes it can sound like it’s all rainbows and unicorns. Don’t get me wrong. I can gush about derby all day, and sincerely. I mean every word. There is something about it that just gets me so inspired. But today I’m going to step back from that and talk about the stuff that scares me. After all, darkness and light kind of define each other, don’t they? Don’t worry, it will be okay. We can hold hands.
This Freshie training session will be my third. I have hovered somewhere between Basic Skills and Contact level for quite a while and a lot has happened since the first time I put on skates and gave this roller derby thing a shot. It started with breaking a skate at my very first practice. I was so disappointed, but still, I was pumped! After I got my skate fixed, I went all out. Every time a new skill was introduced, I knew I could do it. I felt it before I even tried. And I have to say, I was pretty proud of myself. When the cones and noodle contraption came out, girls were stressing and psyching themselves out, but I visualized myself jumping easily over the bar and that’s exactly what I did!
Knee taps, double knees, dives, awesome! I struggled with T formations and finer footwork but I felt no fear. I fell and it was awesome. I stayed upright and that was awesome too! I passed my first benchmark, took the coaching tips and began contact skating–nervous but excited. Roller derby was my therapy, my stress reliever, my happy pill.
But then things started to go wrong. Really wrong. From the little things like Plantar Fasciitis to catastrophic things, real foundation shakers. We lost a home we loved. We lost a mother to cancer. Two more cancer diagnoses, my father and a beautiful little girl who is like a niece to me. I lost a dear friend to Alzheimer’s. She was in her mid-fifties and had been my guardian angel during one of the most difficult times of my life. We lost a brother to suicide. My wife lost hope that her career dreams of thirty-five years would come to fruition as she was betrayed by an employer she had placed her faith in. And then, on the day I was to take my benchmark assessment for the second time, my wife, Mo, discovered she had breast cancer. This all happened within a two-year window, and I am here to say that kind of stuff changes you. It changes how you look at the world and at life. It changes how your heart and mind work.
The day cancer came through our door I stopped, pulled in the oars, and did everything I could to cover our heads and keep our boat from sinking. It felt as though we had been pushed around by storms for so long, but now the water was coming over the sides and all I could do was keep bailing.
Thankfully, after the tests and treatments, Mo’s prognosis is excellent. The best case scenario, and for that, I am so grateful. We haven’t had an easy run, but it has settled down and I am back on the track. For that, I am grateful, too.
But, I’ve noticed a change in my perspective regarding roller derby, and really to life in general. I used to get all pumped up about the rainbows and unicorns. Fishnets, tattoos, and derby kisses. I was in love with badass “derby-ness”, and I still think those things are awesome. But I’ve noticed when I skate, and in life, everything seems a little scarier. I never used to be bothered by the “what if’s”, I just went out and did stuff.
But, now that I have experienced some of the really hard things that life can hand out, I have started to “what if” myself. What if that stupid foot cramp is the start of another round of Plantar Fasciitis? What if I fall and break my wrist trying to jump? What if some new hardball life event comes along and throws me for another of life’s diggers? What if these aching muscles and bones are some sort of stress triggered illness? What if, after all this, I just can’t cut it?
For all my will and desire to stay positive, there is this counterbalance of fear that the next thing to come around the corner will be too big for me to cover up with rainbow paint and rhinestones. And if I’m going to be super real with you right now, I am superstitiously hoping that writing all this for you, maybe by putting it out there in the open, I’m blowing up the next sneak attack the universe has planned. (Hold on. Where is my purple rabbit foot? Oh yeah, I stuck it inside my lucky dirty sock.)
So, I’m a little less “balls out” now. I’m a little more cautious when I skate, and just cautious in general. And I really don’t believe that I can control the Universe by telling you that sometimes it scares me, but I’m crossing my fingers just in case.
I don’t know who said it but there is a quote out there that boils down to this. Courage is not about being fearless. It’s feeling fear, but continuing anyway. Fear sucks. But the thing that is so much worse than fear is surrendering to fear. Surrendering to fear means that you’ve lost hope. It means admitting you’re helpless. I’m not there yet. I am afraid of failing. I’m afraid I will not be able to overcome my physical condition, that it’s just all downhill from here. I’m afraid that even if I succeed through all the benchmarks, that I will embarrass myself by forgetting all the zillion rules of derby in my first bout. BUT! I still have shit I want to do. My guess is you’ve got shit to do too, otherwise, you wouldn’t be spending the money for skates and gear, spending the time sweating and burning on the track, or spending your mental energy thinking about derby every damned day.
So forget that “No fear” nonsense. There’s not much difference between fearlessness and stupidity. Being afraid is an intelligent response to scary stuff and there’s a lot out there to be afraid of. Life is beautiful but it’s effing scary, too. Feel the fear. Then face the fear. Because when you stare down fear, pitted out and shaking in your boots (or skates), no matter what happens, you’ve already won. That’s courage.
Beautiful, scary benchmarks are coming up. If that scares you, then get out there and be afraid. Then do your best, and go home knowing, no matter what, for that one moment in your life, you conquered the single most devastating force on the planet. Fear.
By Wild Violet
Early on in my Roller Derby journey, one of my trainers introduced me to the power of using the word “yet” when I came up against a skill or drill I could not do.
“I can’t do a stutter stop!”
“You can’t do a stutter stop YET.”
Adding that one word to the end of any frustrated statement helped to transform my outlook. I didn’t completely stop feeling frustrated when I hit walls, but I regained optimism that I would eventually scale over them.
The language we use can be powerful. The words we say inside our heads when we try something and struggle have the ability to hinder us further in our progress or give us a push to keep going.
“I can’t do it.”
“I suck at this.”
“I’m not good at this skill.”
“My body doesn’t work that way.”
Are we telling ourselves things we wouldn’t dream of saying to another skater? What if we change these types of thoughts?
“I can’t do it-YET.”
“I haven’t mastered this-YET.”
“I’m not good at this skill-YET.”
“My body doesn’t work that way-YET.”
See the difference?
We can only progress by trying-and sometimes failing-first. Forget what Yoda said, try and try again. In all new things we do, we need to put in the work to get where we want to go. We may not be there-YET-but moving forward is the only way to get there.
The next time that Negative Nelly voice in your head starts criticizing you, remember the power of language and turn it around. Look how far you have come already, and instead of seeing the road ahead as long and daunting, see it as an epic journey to be conquered. Each drill, practice, scrimmage, or bout is part of the adventure.
Don’t ever allow the one stopping you from getting there to be you. Change your language, and you can change your derby experience.
Learning to skate as an adult seems a lot harder than when I first put skates on about a hundred years ago. For one thing, my bones and muscles and joints don’t have that wonderful rubber band quality any more. Also, my skull has a lot farther to go when I transition rapidly from upright to horizontal.
I am thankful for muscle memory that spans the decades and allows me to remember how it feels to skate. But through those decades I accumulated some physical deficiencies that keep me on–or rather, off–my toes.
The toe-torturing skill that tends to get the best of me is called a stutter stop, specifically a left stutter stop. To execute you start by assuming the ever-praised low derby stance: “boobs up, butt down”. With burning quads, shift your weight to your right leg, reach your left foot out in front of you and–while maintaining the low derby stance and your balance–you tap your left foot, toes inward, on the floor in a “stutter” to bring yourself to a stop. Right!
It’s a challenging skill, and one I can do in a reasonable fashion with my right foot, however, my left foot hates it and I get instant toe curling cramps.
Last week, it seemed that everything I did caused my foot to cramp. I would start a skill, get a cramp, skate it off and try again. Eventually, I wound up on the bench, battling the abusive monologue of my inner mean girl. Shall I give her a name? Okay, let’s call her Joy Kill’r.
Kill’r is a relentless bitch. I’ll admit, she has made me cry more than a time or two. She says some pretty hurtful things. Last week, her rant went something like, “You’ve already fallen apart so many times. Why put yourself through the humiliation of doing it again? You know you’re not going to make it, sweetheart.” It’s crazy how she knows exactly what my fears are.
Lucky for me, Havoc was there on the bench, too. We chatted for a few minutes; she provided counter arguments to Kill’r’s diatribe. And for my part? Well, I may have gotten a little emo about the whole thing. (Insert sniffling sound here.) I halfheartedly heeded Havoc’s pep talk, got up, and tried a few more skills, still babying my foot, still feeling deflated.
By this time, practice was nearly over. Only one thing left on the agenda. That’s right, endurance skate! I cringed a little when Sugar Baby announced it, even though I knew it was coming. Perhaps I inwardly whined a little about endurance skating at the END of practice. (Because derby is all about making things easy, right?) I didn’t want to sit it out on the bench, but I sure didn’t want to skate only two minutes and have to bail. Dilemma!
I decided to compromise with myself and also stop whimpering about stuff being hard. I would bench Joy Kill’r and her stupid mouth and skate, but not full throttle.
I haven’t yet reached the elusive 27/5. My best is only 24. I was thinking that night it was probably going to be more like 18-20 if I was lucky, but I wasn’t even going to count. No sense giving Kill’r any ammunition.
The whistle blew and I started skating. I focused on two things: not popping up in the turns and hitting the points of the diamond. I started skating and I began getting that skate buzz. My crossovers were smooth. My focus was good. I was finding all the holes on the crowded track. Next thing I knew I was nearly keeping pace with some of the Scrimmage girls. My low back was fatigued but not burning. I was breathing hard but not gasping for breath. It felt amazing! At four minutes I was still feeling winded but strong. At five I felt exhausted and fantastic.
I didn’t count my laps. I don’t even want to know what my count was. It felt like I did my 27 just because I could feel I was doing more of the right things than I had ever been able to do before, and that was progress. That night, I got to go home knowing that I showed Joy Kill’r it was MY track.
Sometimes derby is more about what’s going on in your head than what’s going on with your body. We all have our struggles. That’s easy to forget when you’re wiping your nose on the bench. But Joy Kill’r is not the boss. I’ll try to remember that. You try too.
I had a nice chat with Bull this week. We talked about some of the things that intimidate new skaters. One thing in particular that she touched on had been on my mind for a while so, after hearing Bull’s perspective, I wanted to air it out with you all.
I haven’t spent much time with Bull in the past. She has always been friendly and supportive, but I am kind of an introvert haven’t gotten to know many of my teammates. There have been many times I have felt like I just didn’t fit in. So, imagine my surprise when she shared with me that she has struggled with the whole “fitting in” thing too.
We talked about how we can really shoot ourselves in the foot because of how we perceive how well (or not) we “fit” with a group of people we are just getting to know. Especially when a bunch of those people are good at something we want to do but really suck at. Like skating.
I’m being transparent here. I still feel like I don’t fit most of the time! But the truth is, it is really my perception and not the reality. The people I am getting to know in AFA have the most supportive attitudes of any group of women I have ever met. And this is what keeps me coming back. Not only do I want to be the recipient of that attitude, but I want to be the kind of person that shows others “Hey! You do belong here.”
Before derby, my social pool was kiddie sized. I lived for most of my adult life with no close friendships. So, trading my kiddie pool for an Olympic sized derby pool meant making a decision to let faith, rather than fear, dictate how I interacted with people.
For example, before derby, I had never known a transgender person. But because of derby, I had the opportunity to meet a woman who started her life, biologically male. I will tell you, this gave me some anxiety. Not because of her, but because I felt my inadequacy to mentally roll with ease over the hurdle of what I didn’t know, to what my heart wanted, which was to make her feel welcome and at home with us. I was afraid because I knew it was very likely that I would unintentionally say or do something that would offend her. Like slipping and using the wrong pronoun or saying something that betrayed my ignorance about what it is like to live as a transgender woman.
But, by pushing through the anxiety, and into the desire to show friendship, I gained something wonderful. I gained a friend that I came to know as sensitive, funny, vulnerable, and incredibly strong. She and I would chat here and there, and as I got to know her, she described some things from her point of view that helped me understand her better, and to appreciate her class and her sense of humor. She helped me feel like I fit in with her, despite my anxiety about my own shortcomings.
So, you can see how inclusiveness works. You make an effort to include, and then wind up feeling included yourself. You figure out that whether or not you “fit in” there’s a place for you at the track and welcome and friendship too.
Now, we have a bunch of brand new skaters, and I’ve seen enough new skaters to recognize a few things. EVERYONE feels like they don’t “fit” at one point or another. Everyone has anxiety about something or about someone who is different from themselves. At some point, I believe everyone has a moment, or six, when they think it would be best just to quietly slip out the back door. But that would be a loss in so many ways.
If that is you, if you feel like you don’t fit in, if you feel like bolting, please don’t. Not only will you miss out on getting to know some incredible people, but we’ll miss out on getting to know you. Give yourself a chance to find your place. Look for someone who looks like you feel and say hello. Just stick around for a while and see what happens.
Derby Love, Angels
“Ode To a Bruise”
By Wild Violet
I arrived and walked through the door
of the Armory for the practice du jour.
As a newbie skater
my skills would come later
after many falls to the floor.
I lined up as my legs did shake,
my insides seeming to quake,
to practice a drill
hoping not to spill
or to cause my body to break.
The trainers announced: “Time to jump!”
and into my throat came a lump.
What were they, nuts?
We’ll fall on our butts!
The adrenaline started to pump.
I watched wide-eyed as one by one
the skaters lined up for the fun
of clearing the hurdle
or falling to turtle
but catastrophes- there were none.
As I stepped up to the cones for my turn
my stomach continued to churn.
“Ok, here goes!”
I silenced my woes
and took off feeling my face burn.
With all my hesitation to go
I arrived at the hurdle too slow
and pointed my nose
down toward my toes,
as my legs tangled I shouted “Oh no!”
Onto the gym floor I thumped,
landing on the side of my rump.
Though I felt some slight pain
I mostly felt shame-
for my fear caused me to miss the jump.
I stood back up and shook myself out.
Trainers gave an encouraging shout:
“Try it again!”
So I lifted my chin,
and skated back round’ fighting doubt.
I fell again and again on that day,
thinking “Oh, Derby Gods, show me the way!
To master this jumping
and get my legs pumping,
so this skill I may finally slay!”
Back home after practice I felt
how the side of my left thigh swelled.
Tender and blue-
hot to the touch too-
from the repeated blows it was dealt.
As days passed bigger she grew.
My first “derby kiss”- something new!
I named her Big Bertha,
for she was big as the Earth a
symbol for pushing through.
I wore her with pride and wincing smile,
for she proved I’d gone the extra mile,
and not given up
when the going got tough
as I endured my roller derby trial.
She transformed through many hues-
yellow, green, purple, black, and blues.
To me, Bertha meant
that I’d tried and tried again.
So I sing this Ode to my Derby Bruise.
(Though jumping I still need to practice,
and wonder if I’ll ever quite hack this,
I shall never give up
If I fall on my rump.
Bertha would want me to attack this.)