Last night was the practice that I was dreading for a couple of weeks while, at the same time, looking forward to it with tremendous exhilaration. That’s ’cause I was about to get coached by a world champion–
Over this past weekend–3, 4, and 5 November–the WFTDA Division 1 Championships were held in Philadelphia and the best roller derby leagues from around the world when there to compete for the title and trophy, which is known as the Hydra, named after the first WFTDA President and excellent derby skater in her own right. (Just so you know the name of our current president is Master Blaster. Yeah, we’re cool–) One of the past champions, Gotham Girls Roller Derby of, where else, New York City, came in third and got the bronze. That left former champions Rose City Rollers of Portland, OR, to square off against Victorian Roller Derby League of Melbourne, Australia, for the big title. And while Rose City put up a gallant effort and manged to be the only team to score over 100 points against VRDL, they lost 101 to 180.
That means for the first time a roller derby league from outside the US became the champions and prepared to take the Hydra back to their home country–
All save for one person.
Lorrae Evans, a blocker with VRDL, was asked by one of my teammates, Pixie Panzer, if she’d be interesting in staying over a couple of days and coming to Harrisburg to do a special coaching session. She wouldn’t only coach us, but we’d invite players from other leagues to join us. Surprisingly, Lorrae said yes, and the day after their championship win she’d take the train from Philadelphia to Harrisburg and join us for a night at the rink.
Besides my team, HARD, and members of our sister team the York City Derby Dames, showing up, we had players from the Dutchland Rollers of Lancaster and the Black Rose Rollers of Hanover in attendance as well. All together there were 28 of us on the floor, with me and one of my teammates being the only uncertified players in attendance. Also, with the exception of one other person–one of my teammates–I had the least amount of time skating, only four months, whereas so many more players had 1 to 8 years of experience.
Like I said, I was dreading this for a couple of weeks. However, yesterday I decided that I was going to show up and do my best, so rather than get into a negative head space over this, I’d see what I was capable of doing.
What I learned right away is that I have a lot to work on.
We started out simple: stake forward and backward, then weave back and forth, the skate and plow then skate backward and plow, then do airplanes–go from one track side to the other, moving your arms like the wings of a plane and trying to touch the line–also skating forwards and back. We finished off with trying to skate around on one foot also going forward and backwards.
Easy, yeah? That was a line we’d heard from Lorrae off and on during the night. As a coach she was easy going, but she was also in charge: she let us know when she did a double whistle it mean we were to come to the center of the track right away and form up so she could speak with us. No dallying: get in and listen up. It was also like that with drills: we’d do one, then come in and find out what we were doing next, usually get shown an example of what we’d do, then it was out to do it. Not a lot of rest in between, not a lot of banter and chatting between players. Just listen and do it.
And it went on and on.
Like I said went with the attitude to do my best, but I knew I wasn’t going to be as good as the others there. I knew instantly that we were working at a far higher skill level than I’d seen before and I felt it through all the sweat pouring from me. But I felt something else as well: every so often a chill would pass through me and that was an indication that I was starting to get overheated and my body wasn’t responding well. After 45 minutes I went through 40 ounces of water and at one point I hurried off to the bathroom ’cause I thought I was about to vomit, but after a couple of minutes there I felt better. I refilled one of my water bottles and headed back out.
It wasn’t going to get any better for me, however.
During the middle of a three-person drill where we were pushing each other laterally from one side of the track to another I was pushed to the inside and thought for a moment I had a slight groin pull. I didn’t and one of the women with me laughed and said to shake it off. What happened after that was me going “Wait a minute–”
And then things got fuzzy.
I know I was told I should go sit down. I was told that more than once, in fact. I made my way off the floor to a bench and, I was told, a coach from Dutchland asked if I wanted to lay down, where then I would ask, “You want to lay down?” That went on for a bit before my coach and one of the refs who is also a registered nurse came over and sorta helped me lay down before getting some ice for my neck to cool me down–I was told that my head was pretty hot at this time–and remove my gear, which is a sign that you’re done for the night.
I lasted 90 minutes, which is pretty good considering that’s pretty close the amount of time we actually spend doing drills in a two hour practice. But this was nothing like our practices; this was way beyond anything I’d done up to that point. Some of the York women who made it through the whole three hour practice and who are in fantastic shape said they were exhausted at the end of the night, so you know it was ass busting.
After I cooled down my coach wanted to make certain I was okay and I told her that I was and I wasn’t upset that I didn’t make it all the way through: I did my best and there was no shame in not being able to keep up with women with far more experience and in better shape. She said she’d kept an eye on me and saw I was pushing myself, which made her proud. The ref who helped me check to make sure I was okay and was glad I wasn’t upset with myself over not being able to make it all the way through: like she said, “You didn’t have to do it, but you’d have been kicking yourself in the ass if you hadn’t gotten out there.” And there’s a lot of truth there.
I not only learned a lot on the floor while I was there–and one of the things I learned was I have to improve my footwork–but I watched the rest of the practice from the sideline and saw things I so want to do when I get the chance. I told my coach that I know now that I need to work on being a blocker and pivot, as that’s likely where I’ll help the team the best, as I’m not as crazy fast and quick as a real jammer, but I can do great defense as a blocker and run offence in the pack for the jammer as a pivot. Hey, Lorrae is a blocker and she helped her team win a championship. Not too shabby.
After practice we gathered around for a team photo that I also joined as I was out on the floor when this started so why not?
We also got to pass her gold medal around–which she just happened to bring–and take a few selfies with her. Like this one, which was taken for me by another person:
After practice was over I spoke with Lorrae for a few minutes. I told her I got heat exhausted about half way in and she was sorry to hear that and said that she saw me and said I’d done well. I did ask her if she meant that and she said yes, she did. I told her I’d only been practicing for four months and that did elicit a moment of surprise from her, as I suspect she didn’t think someone with that little experience would be on the floor. She also let me know that the practice we did last night was pretty much the regular practice her team does–
Which means I was actually doing a practice meant for world champions.
It was a good night. I learned from the experience and while a bit humbled by what happened, I also know I can push myself when necessary. I’m not as good as the other out there, but then, I’m not supposed to be–at least not yet. I have months of experience as compared to women with years behind them.
What does that mean?
I means that by working hard, I’ll one day I can be as good as most of the women with whom I shared the floor last night.
Which is the most important thing you can take away from any practice.