One year in, what’s coming to

I launched a year ago.

journoskateTo celebrate blog-a-versary, here are the five most-read entries of all time (some topping 20,000 views):

Journalists miss the real ($50M) roller derby story. Every time.
Distracted by the glitter, wheels, hitting and names that are bleach-penned onto our shirts, journalists slip and don’t cover roller derby like they would any other trend news story.

Roller derby finances: Comparing the top-ranked nonprofit leagues in the nation
We know how Gotham sizes up to Windy City on the flat track, but what about at the bank?
By digging through (publicly available) tax documents, I tried to stack some of the top leagues against each other to see how they match up.

Orange is the New Roller Derby
Yes, I’m comparing roller derby to prison*.

7 ways to forgive yourself (for the stupid shit you do) in roller derby
One exciting thing I haven’t mentioned is that I got pulled up to the travel team. It’s a huge honor. With this change comes entirely new challenges. Oh, wait: No it doesn’t. It brings back the exact same challenges. As they say: Derby never gets easier, you just get better.

Take the star — why you’re going to try jamming next practice
It happens in leagues all over the world. A jammer comes out of a drill, sweaty and breathing hard, pulls the panty off her head, smiles and waves it in the air. “Who wants to jam?”

I made this blog in part because I felt the media around roller derby was insufficient. I thought I could add a researcher-journalist voice to the dialogue. I wanted to do big trend pieces, like trying to (in part) calculate the financial worth of roller derby.

I feel the web hit statistics show this is what you want. Sure, a Buzzfeed-type Orange is the New Roller Derby post is fun and caught fire on Facebook for a day, but take the $50M story, as an example. It got 11,000 or so hits the first week. It’s doubled that since. People keep searching for that type of information. “How to Make a Bout” is the top search term leading to this blog each week. To me that says there is a need for quality information and analysis on the sport.

I strive to be a resource. That’s what I’ll aim for in the next year.

What’s coming:
-Something on the new WFTDA playoffs set up
-An update on the financial worth of nonprofit roller derby leagues (this should be a much more in-depth piece because a lot of you told me your leagues have become 501c3s since 2011, which was the last available data)
-More on mental game and struggle
-Something on men’s derby
-Pages (?) Now that it’s been a year of content, I’m considering making pages to organize information. It’s becoming a long long scroll if you read this blog top to bottom. Pages might include: How to make a bout, Fresh meat resources, Mental game, Nerd ($ data crunching)
-My talented web artist friend Alicia Bane is designing some art for the site.

Also, I recently added Facebook and twitter share buttons to the bottom of each post, to make it easier for you. I also added a box to the right that lets you “follow” the blog. If you follow it, you will get an email each time I post something new.

As always, you can comment and I’ll respond. If you ever think to yourself, “WHY DOES NOBODY TALK ABOUT THIS BIG-DEAL TREND?!” email me. That’s why I’m here.

Our changing bodies: How roller derby made me smaller, bigger, bigger and why that was hard

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Roller derby has changed and changed and re-changed my body.

I got skinny, I got bigger in some areas (welcome back, awkward teenage years), I got skinny and worried about myself, I got some nice abs for a minute, my thighs bloated when nothing else did, my calves eventually joined in for the ride, my arms shrunk, my face fat went away sometime, my butt joined my thighs and calves … In roughly that order in the two years and nine months I’ve been playing the sport.

I put a slideshow above with updates for just about every six months.

Sometimes the physical changes have been awesome. Sometimes it’s been hard to deal with. I’ve been socialized as an American female. When your thighs bloat out, it can be hard to be enthusiastic. Even when I felt otherwise “skinny.”

I feel (the very feminine need) to buffer here. Arguably, I’m a skinny bitch whining about gaining muscle. However, I feel my perspective is one that’s felt more widely in the derby community: As a woman, it’s not always easy to accept getting physically larger, even when you’re getting fitter.

I’ve come a long way on this — I had to — and I thought I’d share my story:

I never thought I was fat. I also wasn’t skinny. Being not-fat didn’t make it easy, coming to terms with my changing body (Whoa, hello puberty book). At first, I lost weight, mostly from my stomach and face. After a few months and a couple bouts under my shrinking belt, I kept losing weight.

I knew it was food related. I was eating the same (a bagel for breakfast, maybe some spaghetti for dinner and some days nothing in between), but my activity was dramatically increasing. I wasn’t eating much (if any) meat. My body was starved for protein and calories and it was shrinking. It scared me. But my teenage, anorexically-inclined insecurities kept rising up when I tried to eat more than usual. I had to face that. I had to talk kindly to myself. I had to try to think of food as fuel. It’s difficult. But I wanted to get better at this sport and I knew I couldn’t do that and not eat enough. So, I had a long think, reconciled with myself and made the changes I needed to.

That got harder when my thighs suddenly (add animated plomp plomp plomp noise) — it seemed sudden anyway — bulked up. My pants still fit because I’d been wearing loose pants. My teammates were starting to say that their calves couldn’t fit into their skinny jeans and I was jealous. Calves are cute, I thought, thighs are thunderous*. But in derby — and in life — you don’t get to pick and choose your body parts.

My stomach was staying the same and I was beginning to feel muscle developing under a thin layer of fat. That was encouraging. My calves started developing too.

So then I moved from my small league to Portland, Ore.

This forced a massive attitude change. I attribute this to a few things:
1. Roller derby here sucks up so much of my life that skaters make up about 90% of the people I see in a day. Surrounding myself with beautiful, strong women makes me want to be a strong woman, not a skinny woman***. I don’t compare myself to the thin women in movies, magazines and at the mall — mostly because I don’t have time to read magazines, watch movies and go to the mall. I normalized muscle as beauty by consuming images of that instead.
2. My goals need me to fully dedicate myself to my workouts and that means I can’t have these anxiety hangups about food. I do not have the time and I no longer want to expend the energy on thinking about how much two eggs, a bagel, a fruit, my coffee with too much cream, etc “costs” in calories.
3. I skate so much it doesn’t matter what I eat. With up to 15 hours of derby a week when it’s home and travel team seasons, ain’t nobody got time for that [food worry].

So, changes since the move: I went from the fresh meat pool to home team to travel team in six months. So when I say I ramped up my training, I mean three times (little league>FM>home team>travel team). I ate more meat, more beans, more bread, more fro yo (there is so much of it here.), more vegetables, eggs … I just eat more.

That much ramp-up in activity changed my body all over. My abs, which I felt were cute now bloat my stomach. I feel like that’s a thing the Cosmo magazines, etc don’t tell you: Abs are not flat. Abs don’t make your stomach go in. Real abs, if you have more than 7% body fat, bulk out your tummy and make you look a bit bigger. I had to accept that.

My thighs developed more. Thanks, endurance laps. That muscle on top of my thighs exploded (no, not literally. Gross.) and I have this muscle on top of my knee** now. When I stand straight up and look down at my toes, I can’t see my shins anymore because they’re blocked by my derby thighs. I’m elated. My calves are following suit, especially with off-skates footwork training.

My body has gone through a lot of loss, gain, gain, loss in ways I didn’t expect. I assumed that I wouldn’t change because I was already “average” and so roller derby couldn’t affect me this much physically and psychologically, but it has. It’s a whole process of re-adjusting, changing expectations, changing goals and self acceptance.

Some things that have helped me along the way are:
-I don’t use a scale. Ever. That number doesn’t matter. How fast my laps are, how many points I score, how many points I stop — those numbers matter.
-I now know my body is going to continually change depending on my needs and my training. Whatever my body does is what I need.
-Eating more meat. It’s the easy way to get protein.
-Protein shakes. Same.
-Judging my strengths in non-body metrics. Speed, agility, stopping power.
-Changing my image consumption from main stream to athletic.
-Not reading those “fitness” magazines if they have “10 Ways To Lose That Stubborn Belly Fat” or “Three Ways to Make Him Squirm****” cover stories

It’s been difficult at times. I’m happy with myself and my body now. I don’t focus much on the details of what’s changing month to month. If I see a new muscle, I welcome it. If I continue to grow into a larger human being, all the better to block you with. I expect my struggle now to evolve into keeping this muscle now that travel team season is over. It took a long time to get to this level of acceptance. And some days it’s still hard.

I’d love to open up this conversation in the comments. I’ll watch the conversation and chat with y’all. How has derby changed you, physically? Have you had to readjust your thinking? What has helped/hurt? If you only lost weight, was it a nice experience or was there turmoil too?

*Thighs are wonderous. I know this now.
**What the hell is that about.
***This is where I validate the public and say all bodies are OK and it’s OK to be skinny. Whatever.
****How is that fitness.

Grim D Mise talks about not making the Team USA roster … this time

This is the last installment of the Grim D Mise series. I’ve followed the Maine Roller Derby player through her Team USA tryouts since May. A preliminary roster of candidates was published on the team’s Facebook page and Grim wasn’t on it.

Here’s what she had to say about it:

Team USA tryouts in Seattle had skaters perform plow stops, one-foot plow stops and hockey stops. Photo by Danny Ngan Photography
Team USA tryouts in Seattle had skaters perform plow stops, one-foot plow stops and hockey stops. Photo by Danny Ngan Photography

How are you feeling?
After the Seattle tryouts, I had almost immediately began preparing myself for disappointment. The whole experience of trying out for Team USA twice was something I really needed to help bring me to the next level though. I knew I’d be better athlete having had that experience. It’s really hard to feel disappointed when I can’t stop feeling grateful for the chance to tryout and all the support that came along with it. I’m proud of myself for chasing something that means a lot to me, and it won’t end here. There’s always the next World Cup and another shot at Team USA.

How was the tryout in the West different than the East tryout?
During the East Coast tryouts, there was a wide separation in skill levels between a majority of the skaters. At West Coast tryouts, about 95% of the women that tried out, were very high level derby athletes*. I was pretty blown away. I was looking forward to sharing the track with women I’d idolized from my computer monitor for years, but I did not expect to leave Seattle a fan of so many ladies I’d never heard of.

Did you learn anything about West Coast derby?
West Coast derby is no joke. I got to watch the Rat City vs. Gotham bout while I was in town and had the opportunity to sit with some retired Rat City skaters during the bout, and listening to them talk about what it takes to earn play time on an All Star team out there. It really convinced me that the competition is taken seriously. In addition, learning more about Rose City and exactly what there league does to foster a highly competitive environment was a lot of food for thought.

Who was the funnest to play with/against?
Oh my gosh. I can’t even decide. I will say this, Onda Sligh cracked some funny jokes on the bench.

Do you feel there was anything else you could have done in preparation?
Yes. I wasn’t successful this go around, which means I didn’t do everything I possibly could have. Lesson learned.

Do you feel like there was anything else you should have done at tryouts?
I’m not sure. I followed directions, I tried my hardest and I listened to my teammates. There are definitely things I could have done better, but that’s a given.

What are you proudest of?
I’m really proud of myself for putting a lot of time and energy into something I have an unwavering passion for. I feel like the sport Roller Derby has so much to do with the person I am today. The Team USA tryout experience taught me that although I may have a mild fear of heights, a severe fear spiders and a satirical fear of hicks (like from the movie, “Wrong Turn”**), I have a complete fearlessness on the track and Team USA tryouts brought that out in me. So yeah, I’m pretty proud of that.

How will this experience change you and how you skate?
I need to learn teamwork. I have been competing on my home league for so long primarily as a jammer that I lack the “pack mentality” most veteran blockers seem to have. I’m confident that with more opportunities to scrimmage and bout as a blocker, I’ll get there.

What’s next?
Competing with The Port Authorities and growing Maine Roller Derby. The more our All-Star team improves, the better chances we’ll have competing against higher ranking teams and that will grow us all as athletes. I mean seriously, look at New Hampshire Roller Derby! They are a perfect example of hard work, dedication, focus and improvement. MRD is lucky to have them in our backyard.

That’s the end of this series. I hope you enjoyed it. I plan to … someday … write up my account of how the Team USA tryout went. Plan to see that in the coming weeks when the team posts the final roster.

*Of the 46 people on the Team USA roster (which will be cut) right now, 19 of them were at the Seattle tryout. That’s 41% — a very high figure when there were three tryout locations, plus video submissions.
**So with you there.

What do captains want from me?

We have a lot of skaters here. This was the 2013 home team championships. High Rollers won. Photo by Alan Cook
We have a lot of skaters here. This was the 2013 home team championships. High Rollers won. Photo by Alan Cook

Rose City Rollers has four home teams. Each is a different flavor. In my mind — and I’m bias — The Breakneck Betties (red) are the hard hitters, The High Rollers (green/gold) are beautiful women and speed-skater-like, The Guns and Rollers (black/pink) are creative and The Heartless Heathers (blue) are the strategists.

Our next home team draft is coming up, so I asked the new captains of each of those four teams what they look for when they decide which fresh meat to pull up to a team. I coach fresh meat and have read this list to them a couple of times now. It gave me a great reminder of the sort of skater we’re all striving to be. Here is what they said:

-Drama free
-Hungry to learn
-Brings intensity
-Accept feedback and apply it
-Getting out of the comfort zone
-Isn’t afraid to try jamming
-Drive to constantly improve, try anything
-Fun to skate with
-No suck ups
-I’m not interested in a superstar; I want a team player who works hard and motivates me to work harder
-Coachable (If you have leadership, the ability to execute and urgency, you can come across as overconfident and rude if you aren’t coachable)
-Be a team player and work well with others

Physical skill:
-Doesn’t have to have the perfect plow stop/hit/juking but if they show these things at practice that makes them stand out and they will improve over time
-Overall power (it’s not enough to be fast or have fancy feet, but you gotta back it up with some power)
-Solid hitters (can take a hit too) who hit in good form
-Fall (that means you’re trying new things)
-Communication is good, but the next step is taking that action. Don’t just tell other people what to do
-Someone who is bout-ready
-Mastering the basics (stops, pick-up speed, good form, speed, endurance, solid well-timed hits, etc) is important
-Having a voice on the track
-Execution – being able to do the things you know you’re supposed to (applying smarts)

Smart skill:
-Jammer awareness (they don’t have to be great at communicating but ALWAYS talk about where the opposing jammer is)
-Concept of strategy — a lot of FM struggle with this, it’s refreshing when a FM skaters has these basic concepts
-Communication on the track
-Not going rogue
-Knowing what to do and being confident enough in their skills and knowledge to share with their team what is happening and what should be happening
-Smarts in the pack
-Understanding of the rules
-Can play (my specific team’s) game
-Understanding the game and applying strategy are imperative

-Safe intensity, so many of FM appear nervous to me and then I do not see them bringing intensity as I know they can
-Urgency – do everything on the track with urgency, aggression, intensity, as if it were in a bout. Practice the way you play.
-Utility players
-Being team-focused
-Will contribute to a team off the track
-Ask questions and sweat a lot
-Team players — I need a teammate, not a hero

*Any “redundancies” are real. It means more than one captain said this.

Credit to the smart and pretty captains: Indigo Hurls, Ripley, Scarlene, Yoga Nabi Sari, Bella Constrictor and Feliz Brutality who are/do all of these things.

Take the star — why you’re going to try jamming next practice

Play all the positions. Photo by Masonite Burn
Play all the positions.
Photo by Masonite Burn

It happens in leagues all over the world. A jammer comes out of a drill, sweaty and breathing hard, pulls the panty off her head, smiles and waves it in the air.

“Who wants to jam?”

Happy, huffing jammers approaching the bench with their sweaty panties reminds me of my cat, arriving victoriously at my feet with a bird head. So proud. So happy to share their victory. And frequently, their enthusiasm is met with disgust and resistance.

“Fine, I’ll do it,” is something I hear a lot.
“Oh hell no. I’m a blocker,” is something I hear a lot that pisses me off.

Here’s something I heard once that is entirely true: A jammer is just a blocker in a fucked up situation.

This is a list of things blockers are supposed to do: roller skate, stop, move laterally, hit with power and in good form, control their speed, control the opposing jammer’s speed, communicate, play clean, be strategic and know the rules, otherwise crush the opposing jammer’s soul.

Here is a list of things jammers are supposed to do:  roller skate, stop, move laterally, hit with power and in good form, control their speed, communicate, play clean, be strategic and know the rules, evaluate a pack upon approach, otherwise crush the opposing jammer’s and all opposing blocker’s souls.

Not so different.

Photo by Masonite Burn.
Photo by Masonite Burn.

It’s rare, if ever, that I see a relief jammer goated. When there is a goat on the track, it’s almost always the “oh hell no. I’m a blocker”-skater. Why? She didn’t practice being a blocker in a fucked up situation. She didn’t practice hulk-smashing walls, juking, pushing walls and other totally-necessary derby skills that jammers practice all the time. Her footwork is probably slower. If she hits the jammer out, she probably can’t run backward as fast as the jammer can. Being a jammer is (often) about urgency. It’s a good thing to always practice. Further, I’ve never met a great jammer who can’t block.

Don’t be scared. Realize it’s important at practice to try new things and that putting on a star once in a while translates directly into being a more effective blocker.