Falling with style

This is a long one, so bear with me.

I enjoy most of the stuff I write for The Times because it’s all happy feature stuff, but the easiest ones to write are probably my Millennial Adventures columns because they just come to me. They’re the articles I write when I’m between issues or when I *ahem* want to procrastinate on writing another story.

The one I wrote for this week’s issue was no different. Assessments for derby were this week, so it gave me an opportunity to reflect on my time so far. Unfortunately, because of our pub schedule, I had to hand it in last week before assessments even happened, but I had more than enough to talk about anyway. Here’s what I submitted:

What does a 22-year-old with a fear of bars and little athletic skill do to make friends in New London County? They join a roller derby league, of course.

Alright, my lack of local friends wasn’t the main reason I joined Shoreline Roller Derby. Between the league here and the one in Ithaca, I had wanted to try roller derby for a while, but a variety of circumstances including transportation, work and flat-out chickening out prevented me from joining a league until this year.

I showed up to a recruiting event in January and could’ve sworn that I walked into the wrong place because it was filled with kids. I know that Sunday afternoon skating is mostly for families, but even the people who got super excited when I said I was there for roller derby had kids with them. Did I miss the age memo? Is this a mom-specific roller derby league? Do I have to have a kid to join?

Turns out you need neither kids nor cool tattoos to join. The only requirements are that you have to be over 18 (and I’m definitely one of the youngest on the team) and you have to have health insurance and a mouthguard. If you have those and the drive to keep going, you’re golden.

Before I talk about what I did do as “fresh meat,” which is derby-speak for new recruits, I’ll explain what I didn’t do. I didn’t tackle anyone. I didn’t throw elbows. I didn’t throw punches, either. Even if fresh meat were allowed to make contact, that’s not what roller derby is. The best comparison I can think of is Red Rover on skates, though the going definition is “speed chess while bricks are thrown at you.”

(There are no actual bricks involved in derby, for the record.)

What I did do: fall. A lot. One of the things you learn early on is how to fall correctly, ideally onto a knee so you can get right back up or at the very least forward because that’s where all your pads are. I’ve gotten to the point where I can consistently do knee taps and double-knee slides, and while I’d like to say it’s because of some vestigial athletic skill, really it’s because I fall down so much that I have plenty of opportunities to practice doing it correctly.

It’s actually pretty incredible what you can do in three months of being fresh meat. I came in not having skated since elementary school, and now I can skate forward and backward, I can do crossovers, I can sometimes do transitions, and usually I can stop without crashing into trash cans or other skaters. We’ll see if I can do all those things well enough to pass assessments, but even if I don’t, it’s still a pretty crazy accomplishment for three months.

It’s also been a great team experience, and while being active is nice and all, this is what I really enjoy about joining. When I joined the softball team in high school, most of the girls had 10 years of experience on me and sometimes treated me like a liability in the field.

It’s not like that in derby. Experience ranges from being there since Shoreline was founded five years ago to fresh meat like me, but it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been there because everyone legitimately wants you to succeed and will help you get there. We get together to watch bouts, volunteer or just eat, drink and be merry; I even went to a concert with our league secretary and I hadn’t even been there a month. It’s like a big group of friends who also happen to skate and appreciate a good bruise.

If you’re at all intrigued, or if you want to see me demonstrate my knee tap skills, come by the rink April 24 at 6:30 or April 26 at 7:30. More info is at their website or on the league Facebook page.

And here’s part of what I wrote on my personal Facebook page Sunday while linking to another post about assessments.

I know the vast majority of you have no interest in roller derby, so I try to keep the derby posts to a minimum to avoid being one of those “the first rule about X is always talk about X” people, but this one is important.

We start our first round of assessments tonight, and unless somehow I get my act together in the next 8 hours, I’m not going to pass. I can see how it’ll go: I’ll do most things the way I expect them to go, I’ll probably panic and mess up something I know I can do, and maybe I’ll be able to do something I had been struggling with, but most likely I’m not going to get everything 100%.

(100% is required to pass, it’s a safety thing. If you threw me on the track without having all these things down, I’d take out several people, including myself.)

I know that not passing 100% is going to make me feel like crap because that’s how my brain works. I’ve been spoiled by my academic prowess and have gotten to the point where anything other than an A feels like a failure. Things like not making the softball team freshman year even though I had decided only two months before that I wanted to play. Things like not making varsity senior year because I had still only been playing for 3 years. Things like not having a job offer May 17, 2015 even though most people I graduated with didn’t. And it’ll happen tonight/Tuesday because I’ll see fellow fresh meats go on to pass all their stuff this week because they’re beasts like that.

(the rest was the same improvements thing as above, so it wasn’t all doom and gloom; I just didn’t want to say it twice on here)

And for the results… I will be returning to fresh meat for now. Honestly I did better than I thought I did because only one thing stopped me from passing, and it was something that I didn’t think would stop me (not in the sense that I didn’t need to work on it but rather that there were other things I could’ve sworn would trip me up). I’m torn between being very slightly annoyed that I was this close to passing and being surprised I even made it that far, so I think I’m going to revel in what I’ve accomplished so far and then deal with the annoyance later when the super fresh meat assigned to be my “little” asks me how to do a heely. Sorry, dude, but you’re out of luck on that front.

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