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.
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.
You haven’t seen Grim D Mise at nationals. You might not have seen her ever — but the people who have seen her skate remember her. Grim is a jammer for Maine Roller Derby. She’s speedy and jukes and jumps unlike anyone else in derby. Jammer got style.
And she’s a really, really nice human being. When her friend recently made a “get Grim to Team USA tryouts” kickstarter (girl be broke), she raised her goal within hours, then an extra few hundred bucks the same day. Because once you see Grim play derby, you’re a fan. She’s just unicorn magic sparkle dust.
Grim could jam for any league in WFTDA — and I happen to know she’s been wooed by a few — but, the skater, although from Florida, is a Mainer. When I asked her a while ago why she didn’t just move to Boston, New York … Portland, Oregon … she said: “I’m definitely not knocking the skaters who do decide to move to a certain city to pursue higher roller derby challenges. That’s just not my plan. My plan is to help facilitate the growth of the league that I owe so much, to the point where we ARE competing at Regionals regularly and at Champs, and ultimately earning the Hydra.”
Finally, she’s trying out for Team USA. We’re going to follow her through the tryout with periodic updates. We’ll talk to her right before her July 1 tryout, right after, and when she hears she makes the team*.
I tried out for Maine Roller Derby in October of 2008. When I tried out, the league was experimenting with a “process of elimination” style type of tryout so there were actually four separate tryout dates that I had to attend and pass before making it onto MRD. Twenty-five girls tried out, five made it. I passed tryouts have been skating with MRD ever since!
Previous to roller derby, my background in skating was strictly aggressive in-line skating. I lived in South Florida where I could skate outside yearround. I would do laps around the neighborhood, skate to and from school, get my friends together for street hockey and visit the skatepark on weekends. Let’s put it this way: Growing up, if I was outside, I was on skates. Having that background was a major factor for finding myself comfortable on quadskates and it made the transition that much easier.
Why didn’t you try out for Team USA last time? I know you’d talked about it.
I registered to tryout but I failed to get myself to Pennsylvania on time. I was late by a whole day. D’OH! I’m never late for anything, but I completely dropped the ball on that one. It goes without saying, but I also clearly lacked the focus, drive and desire to try out which tells me I wouldn’t have stood a chance to pass tryouts two years ago.
So what is different this time?
At first, I didn’t regret missing tryouts. “What are the chances that I actually would have made it anyway?” I told myself. “You’re a big fish in a small pond.” Was something I also told myself a lot too. Then I watched Team USA skate. I had a patriotic fever I could not shake. The best of the best representing USA in the first ever Roller Derby World Cup. That athletic talent, drive, teamwork and show of sportswomanship made me feel all crazy inside. Comparable to the time you went to your first bout except you’re really jacked up on pixie sticks and Red Bull.
I grew to regret missing the opportunity to even skate on the same track as some of “the greats” during tryouts, and even if I had tried out and not made it, I would have walked away with the experience and feedback to help get me to the next level. Two years is a long time to regret something, but it’s been fueling a fire ever since.
Why try out now?
Last year, I made a promise not pass up on a single derby opportunity that came my way in 2013, whether it be traveling to Regionals just to watch, or full-on competing in a banked track tournament, or trying out for Team USA.
Up until this year, I was really limiting myself in my derby pursuits due to the financial aspects of this sport and it has been the biggest mistake of my derby career. I’m super ultra hyper broke now, and it’s been a serious struggle this year, but I wouldn’t change anything about the decisions I’ve made regarding roller derby.
I’m fully committed to devoting the great majority of my time, energy and resources to this sport, my league, my team and my own derby path.
What are you doing to train for the tryout?
I’m reaching out to several different skaters who were previous Team USA skaters (or who tried out last time). I’ve received a lot of informative feedback on what I should be working on and I’ve been working on it in my own time.
I am training one-on-one with a speed coach one to two times a week to help build my speed and endurance.
I have been a sponsored athlete at CrossFit Vindicta in South Portland, Maine since the beginning of February 2013. The amazing coaches at CFV have intensified my programming specifically to prep me for Team USA tryouts. Without going into too much detail, we are working to improve my balance, agility, endurance, stamina, (explosive) power, and overall physical strength.
Last but not least, I’m doing a lot of research and a lot of mental training. In 2011, the first round of tryouts lasted for four hours with very little water breaks. I’m mentally preparing for one of the toughest physical challenges I’ve probably ever had to face and complete better than anyone else there. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be harder if I’m not prepared both physically and mentally.
Not making it. I honestly can’t think of a time that I’ve wanted something so badly. I don’t want to think about the possibility of not making it though because that’s not going to help me succeed.
Anything else about how you feel about trying out?
Earning a spot on Team USA would mean the world to me and would be a privilege and an honor, no doubt, but my ultimate goal is to be a primary skater on the final roster for the team so reminding myself of what I plan to accomplish has been helping me push through the toughest of workouts on and off-skates.
Although I’m not originally from Maine, I’ve lived here long enough to learn that Maine is a place with a strong, supportive community full of people who genuinely care about each other. I take a lot of pride in the fact that I skate for a Maine team and I’d like to represent our state and its wonderful derby community on an international roller derby platform.
Last but not least, I want to be an asset to this team. I recognize that I encompass many skills that still need to be honed and fine-tuned in one way or another but I have been working toward that since day one. I still feel like I have a lot to offer and could prove more than useful if chosen for Team USA … but that’s what tryouts are for so let’s let actions speak louder than words, shall we?
I’ll be talking to Grim again in June. If you have a question for her, post it in the comments and I’ll add it in next time.