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… the small victories. The time here when you managed to not fall down when that notorious blocker slammed into you. The time there when you passed someone you’ve never passed before while jamming. The time when you finally figured out what was going on while scrimmaging. The time when you were able to do skate lunges on BOTH legs down the rink (ok … that’s me-specific since my right leg usually gives out on me).

So much of derby is big and bold and fast and in-your-face that it’s easy to forget all the little steps it takes to get better and better at it. Every once and a while you realize you’ve figured something out that hasn’t occurred to you before, or even better – when you do something on instinct that you remember purposefully practicing over and over again. Those are the little, teeny, impressively important small victories you really have to hang on to when you’re in training. I keep forgetting it’s not my job to compare myself to other players, their styles, their skills. I need to keep track of what I’ve actually done and where I need to go. It’s good to selfishly focus on your own improvement during practice so that when you’re out there with your team – you’re thinking of nothing else but them.

And little by little, you’ll see the game start to open up and make sense to you. It will no longer seem like a chaotic mess of limbs when all you’re thinking about is staying alive. Suddenly you can see – “oh hey there’s a jammer in there” and “oh yeah, I need to be playing defense at this particular moment”. The sport will suddenly make sense to you, and that’s the moment when you’ll forget all the frustration it’s taken to get there and realize you are now a part of it and you now belong.

This roller derby is no longer their derby — it’s now your derby too.

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I see a lot of Superman insignias everywhere I go – from people’s bags to shirts to getting them painted on the rear windows of their cars. Why the obsession with Superman? He always seemed so boring to me. Born with amazing abilities that no one can touch. Ho-hum. I never found him terribly relatable. Only when I was obsessed with Smallville did I get invested in what Superman was up to (and I blame that on the allure of Tom Welling). But then I came across Bill’s Superman monologue in Kill Bill Vol. 2, and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and I started to get it.

People who like Superman are the same people who value natural talent and ability. Have they had to train to get to that point? Yeah. But training just adds on to their already natural ability. They’ve got the talent and have discovered what they naturally excel at doing.

So those are the Superman fans. The Batman fans are a different breed – they value technology and smarts above everything else. Weren’t born with natural talent? No problem. They’ll engineer a solution. They put all their stock in not what they already can do, but what they believe they can figure out. They’re crafty, because they’ve had to be. No one gave them anything they didn’t earn.

Both of these types I find can be applied (among other things) to sports. I’ve met both of these types over and over already in derby. The natural talents who, as soon as they make the league, shoot to the top. They don’t understand why other people think it’s hard, and it all just seems to fit. The Supermans. Fans especially love the Supermans – they’re so glossy and amazing and stand out from the pack so easily. It’s hard not to idolize them.  Then there are those who immediately recognize that they aren’t the Supermans, but have the drive and ambition to get as far as fast as they can with their ingenuity. These Batmans are self aware and not plagued with doubt or uncertainty – they can sum up their pluses and minuses and figure out where to put them to their best use.

Where do I find myself in all of this? My own personal superhero role model? Well, the philosophy I’ve found fits best with my “style” in life is the House of HufflePuff in Harry Potter. Of course I always wanted and dreamed of being a Superman. But I’m not. And I’m too plagued with self-consciousness to be a Batman. I’m a HufflePuff – I work hard, I plug away, I slllooowwwwlllyyy and steadily improve. Supermans burn out, Batmans get bored. I keep going.

But I might need something a little more than just recognizing I’m a HufflePuff to keep me motivated and going in derby. Who’s the superhero who has overcome mediocrity and kept plugging away until they’ve succeeded and become amazing? That’s the one I can get behind. That’s the one who’s insignia I want on my car. Even though I work in comics, I’m sadly uneducated in the majority of current superheroes. Recommendations?

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Year-iversary

That’s right, I almost forgot!

A year ago I made it into the league and officially became fresh meat. For a while, that was ALL that I wanted. I was all, “Hey, I never have to be better than this, I don’t have to improve at any given rate because I’m IN!!”

Yeah, right – that spirit didn’t last. It took my first assessment to bring out my competitve rage — WHY DOES EVERYONE ELSE RULE AT THIS AND I DON’T?? After that, it was all over. I just had to get better, I had to be on even footing with the others I’d tried out with, I had to get on a team! … 5 months later, after failing every assessment the first time but passing the second, I was drafted one week after my final assessment. Woo hoo!

So what have I learned over the past year? I started out in derby with a fierce desire to get in, get better, get crackin’. That was all I wanted, and I was convince my heart and my life had plenty of room for derby. I wanted all of its goodness, just for me. I approached each practice like my skills and potential were “on hold” so I wouldn’t get too discouraged. “So what if I suck at all of these drills?” I’d tell myself. I’d get better, so there was no use worrying about it in the meantime. SURVIVAL, that’s all I wanted. Survival, and not to look like a complete ass. As long as I’m not the worst, and I don’t let myself get too frustrated, I’m fine.

That motivation worked for a little while, then came scrimmage time. Until I was eligible to scrimmage, my freshie group and I spent scrimmage nights working on basics in a corner of the rink while the big girls got to duke it out in the main space. For 5 consecutive weeks, someone got seriously injured at each and every one of those scrimmage practices that we witnessed. Each injury guaranteed that that particular skater would be off the league and in recovery for a WHILE. So my fellow freshies and I watched, terrified, dreading the time our chance to scrimmage came about. When it finally did, it was a clusterfuck. Limbs flying everywhere. But I was shocked to discover that I lived, and didn’t break anything, and actually got back up after being knocked down. Crazy!

Bouting came next, and that’s where the real nerves set in. There was just something about ALL of those people watching, friends and family seeing,  … the public viewing of my skills that instantly turned my legs to jelly and my nerves to mush. I just let myself get beat on over and over, hoping that I’d at least walk away from the bout. It was always fun seeing the look of horror on my parents’ faces as I was knocked for a loop right in front of their seats.

After I had a couple bouts under my belt, my work situation changed and long hours were required. I was able to attend practice less and less. Friends of mine in the league stopped going or quit altogether. I had one more bout and then my season was over – I still had to attend practice and keep my skills up, but it was hard to get motivated. A new crop of fresh meat came in, all eager and shiny and new, and I faded into the background. Not an experienced vet, not a shiny new meatie. More commitments and work piled up, I found practices inconvenient and scrimmages discouraging, and I seriously wondered how long I should play at this derby thing when I could risk breaking my wrist (aka my livelihood) every time I got out on the track. I wasn’t that fast, I wasn’t that agile, I can’t block for shit, and the most I’ve ever been able to do is get in someone else’s way. My team barely sees each other, more people I love are leaving, should I keep doing this?

I didn’t have to mull it over for too long before I decided – yes. Of course, I should keep doing this. As terrifying and discouraging and frustrating and inconvenient and demanding as derby is, it’s worth it. You won’t know if you truly love something unless you put that much work into it. It’s never going to be easy, but it is going to be fun and challenging and the feeling you get when you realize you’ve gotten a little bit better is oh-so-encouraging. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing I really need to manage is my attitude – this is fun. I LOVE this. I love the people and the rules and the community and everything involved. All the negativity I see is only coming from myself.

So yeah – droning on here, but after a year I think I’m allowed to look back and analyze stuff. Yay derby. Our relationship is in its sophomore year. :)

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Crawl Back

It’s hard getting my groove back – I have no idea how Stella did it. I’m still hiding from scrimmage practice. I have bad memories from the last time I went, got my ass kicked, felt horribly embarrassed, and had trouble breathing. It’s so stupid, because it’s mainly mental. I’m just getting back into regular practices and scrimmage just doesn’t seem right until I’ve had a few good ones under my belt. I’m not sure what the deal is – I love practice, and I love how much I’ve improved. True, a lot of people I care about have dropped off of the derby landscape, especially recently. I think that goes a long way towards motivating me. When you feel like a little lone island in a sea of girls with much better skills than you, it’s hard to amp yourself up. I love the challenge, but I let myself think too much about everything and it cripples me.

This week my mindset is MUCH better. Practice with eager skatertots last weekend helped a lot. I forgot about the FUN part of derby! … except, of course, when one girl broke her ankle in three places. Just from doing a turn-around-toe-stop. Yikes. That was the second time I’d seen a new skater topple over and break their ankle. Two times two many. Skating isn’t a joke, people. The weird thing is I would never have had the guts to try a turn-around-toe-stop at high speeds when I was just starting (*ahem* . . . still don’t). I love that this girl had the no guts no glory part down. Sometimes I think that makes the best skaters – I’m so cautious at times it really hampers my improvement.

Balls out is the way to be?

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Today from 12 – 4:00 at Collectors Corner comic book store in Parkville, MD, the Charm City Roller Girls will descend to promote their art, challenge people to Rock Band, and generally awesome things up. I’ll be selling my books and signing copies of JAM! so if you’re in the area, come pay a visit to your friendly neighborhood rollergirl! :)

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Even just a couple days spent staring at a lake is good for the soul. Even though I couldn’t skate on the dirt and gravel roads surrounding my extended family’s cabin, I felt energized. I even managed to drag my boyfriend out to jog one morning – proof of the mystical powers of vacation!

Before we left I felt pretty bogged down. My team doesn’t play in a bout again until October, and let’s just say at best, we have a reputation for being un-teamy with each other. Two of the teammates I’m closest to are leaving, and I feel stuck between eager freshies and seasoned vets who are annoyed that I suck. So … All in all I haven’t been feeling very motivated.

Luckily a good friend of mine is preparing for the next tryouts, and I found this great site of daily roller derby exercises. I’ve got a couple vacations under my belt, some ideas in mind on making the most out of my time …

Derby seems to be all about highs and lows and plateaus. It’s hard staying motivated and competitive and interested year round. So I laxed a little. So what? I think I’m ready to re-commit.

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Okay I have to take a break from the regularly scheduled griping about learning how to play roller derby to mention ….

… That Oni Press‘s Derby Anthology, JAM! is out in stores today!!! Woop woop! Written by rollergirls, drawn by comickers, it’s the perfect blend of everything … well, that I’ve ever wanted!

Comic lovers - Get out there and hug a derby girl!

Derby girls - We’ve conquered another media outlet!

I have a l’il eight page story in the book about when I was first learning how to skate  … (which was seriously not that long ago … we’re talking end of 2008 – eek!) It’s crazy to think how much has happened since then. Rest assured I still feel awkward, still make shrill bird noises when I fall, and still wonder what the hell I think I’m doing out there. But now I feel a part of this world and no longer on my tippy toes, craning to get a look inside. Yay!

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I did it.

I successfully completed my first derby season! (True, I only got to skate in 3/5 games, but still) No injuries yet, *knock knock* and I’m slowwwwwly improving every time.

It’s amazing how sick to my stomach and terrified I was yesterday, and totally convinced I didn’t want to go out there. I don’t know what it is – the crowds? The pressure? My team was last place going in and playing a team we love, so pressure was nonexistent. I guess it was because I (naturally) got picked out as the weak member of the herd and was successfully held back by 3 players of the opposing team more than once. Oh well. My family says I got up quicker than ever when knocked down! AND even resisted falling down when hit a few times! AND – gasp – successfully kept one of our league’s best jammers back for more than a few seconds!

That smells like progress.

Now I’m super excited to just go to practice and work on my skills without having to perform in front of a live audience once a month! Bring on the summer season!

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Rookie Pride

I haven’t been able to go to practice all that much lately, and it really sucks. Mostly because the longer I stay away, the worse I am when I do return. So because I’ve gone only twice in the last four weeks, I’m starting to worry that the few skills I have acquired are starting to drip away.

Case in point: Last night I accidentally went to a Travel Team tryouts practice (I thought it would be the normally scheduled Tuesday speed skating practice) and got my ass handed to me.

Sure, I should be proud of myself for:

  1. Not running out the door as soon as I heard what practice really was that night
  2. Not running out the door as soon as I realized I’d forgotten my blister-proof ankle booties
  3. Sticking it out the entire practice, even though I had to stop for a few minutes in the middle of each exercise
  4. Not crying with frustration at the fact that people who joined the league after me are now better than me

I don’t know what it is. I already know that I can’t compare myself to anyone else, but there’s still a nagging feeling that irritates me when I struggle. Why am I not better than this? Why is it so difficult for me? It’s just the pride, I know. But rookie pride? I don’t really have anything to cry about yet, I just started. Try complaining when you’ve been in it for a few years and still feel like you suck …

(don’t worry, I’m sure that’ll happen to me too!)

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Recently, a derby friend of mine injured her hand during a scrimmage. Luckily she didn’t break anything, but her fingers were pretty severely bruised and banged up. Was it the Art Hand or the Labor Hand? I asked her. For me, my Art Hand does the drawing, the mousing, the writing, the eating. The Labor Hand does the heavy lifting, the left side of the keyboard, the holding. The Art Hand, she replied. Ugh. Not long after that, I met a fellow female comicker who said she, too, loved derby and wished she could do it.

“Why don’t you?” I asked, prepared to launch into my speech about how if I could learn how to skate and derby, anyone could learn how to skate and derby.

“Because I can’t risk injuring my hand,” she replied, somewhat with an air of “duh” behind it. Oh yeah – that.

I try not to think about impending injury in general where derby is concerned, but specifically not my Art Hand. Besides the fact that I trust all of my day job to my Art Hand, I also trust it with my comic work – paid and unpaid. Now that I’m officially working for a publisher, maybe I should consider that a bit more. Am I being stupid, staying in derby? I try to convince myself that no, people can injure their Art Hand doing any number of things. You could get hit by a car (my coworker did) while crossing the street, fall awkwardly on it while tripping over something in the road, any number of normal every-day activities could result in injury, right? I played volleyball for years and saw my share of breaks and sprains and came out unscathed.

So am I being reckless and unsafe? Maybe. But I love derby and I worked too hard to get here – I’m not giving it up for fear alone. If I have to get injured at some point, my fingers are crossed for a knee injury. A nice, safe knee injury.

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