Though glorious, roller derby still has its lags both immediate and long-term.
Choice gems such as "My legs are no longer working", "everything hurts", "I smell like pad stink", "there are inexplicable scratches and bruises all over me", "this crap has taken over my life", "my friends and family never see me", "I don’t even remember my real name..." can worm their way into thoughts and make things a little more difficult.
Trying to convey this to folks outside of derby is always met rather skeptically, a little “but don’t you do this for fun?” mixed with “yeah but it’s just girls pillow-fighting anyway, so whatever.” But this ain't no after-work recreational softball league, yo.
We train hard and the payoff is that people fork over money to come watch us play. So while the fact that it’s a simultaneous passion project and business is motivation a-plenty to keep at it, the down and dirty training gets trying at times. We all need a lil somethin’ something here and there to keep pace and endure.
A derby training favorite is the everloving endurance drill known as the pace line. It involves everyone skating single-file and keeping pace behind the skater ahead of you. Depending on what skill is being worked on, a skater (or two if it’s a partner drill) will move through the pace line, weaving, blocking, whipping, stopping and hitting, jumping, etc., around each skater she passes. When you aren’t the one moving through the line, you’re trying to maintain position, block, counter-block, stop on a dime, give whips, jump out of a two person hold-and-hit, etc. while keeping up your speed enough to stay in pace.
You are required to practice skater stance throughout the pace line, which essentially means holding a squat. For half an hour straight.
Early on in my career, I had these little pre-practice rituals of obsessive neti-potting and inhaler-hitting meant to ward off my inevitable failure at staying in the pace line. For months and months I would have to drop out of them because I couldn't do it. My breathing sucked, I got cramps all through my legs to the point where I couldn’t move them, my lower back would light on fire (I learned this was due to having the deadly combo of massive quads and wussy hamstrings. Muscles fighting muscles? What chance did I have?)
To help motivate me to get through the pain, people would say things like “Think of a cupcake. Visualize the cupcake. The cupcake is your reward if you finish the pace line. GET THE CUPCAKE.”
That never ever worked for me, because oh boy, I'd gladly go get the cupcake. I was usually already half a lap away from crawling off the track; I didn't need added incentive to slide-fall down the stairs of our practice space and slobber over to the nearest bakery and collapse on the floor and eat said cupcake, sweating and still geared up.
Cupcake? Nope, not perverse enough.
No no, I needed something far more worthwhile, some sort of morbid perverse reverse psychology. I needed something where to stop moving would be to devastate.
Nor could baking hunks motivate me.
So I thought of the thing that would hurt me the most, the thing that would crush my spirit and destroy my humanity and thus be a reason to keep going. I needed to wage mental war against something terrible. I thought of my mom’s little pug, Ernie.
I had wanted a pug all my life and my mom had always said no because they’re “ugly and snorty.” I begged and begged. Nothing, ever. Then I moved to Chicago for college and that winter my mom got a pug. He was the runt of the litter, gloriously wrinkly and wiggly and snorty. He had a tiny red bandanna around his neck when I first met him. Ernie is my precious.
So how exactly does a monster exploit their love for an animal in order to train better? Well, I would convince myself that Ernie was was being held hostage by cruel thugs who would torture him if I didn’t keep going.
“If you stop skating now, we’ll cut off his paw.” Part ‘The Big Lebowski’, part ‘Speed’, I imagined unspeakable horrors being done to him if I didn’t push through my own pain and keep skating. Quite simply. I could. Not. Stop. I must keep going. For Ernie!
Because you know, I would shed blood for that little dog, and if I could do that, then really this silly little exercise in moving your legs and focusing your mind to overcome what your body is telling it (stop STOP it hurts too much, you’re too tired, you can’t f*cking do it)...well, it just isn’t going to kill me in the least to go on in spite of it. To think such thoughts is in itself an exercise in mind over body, in tightening up so that you can let go. And really, life itself is just about burning right through the bad, absorbing it and not shirking it, to get to the good anyway. To go there.
Whenever I go to my mom’s house, I cuddle the little bugger and smile and tactfully ignore his gross dog farts and love him even more for making me the player I am now. Lucky for him he doesn’t ever have to know what I put him through in my mind. It's evidence of the big softie that lurks behind every tough-girl facade. How else would we get by?
Kate Dunn is a member of The Fury and the Windy City Rollers Second Wind.
She also works in a university library and (fingers crossed) will soon begin grad school. Every once in a great while she writes down her stories. She likes owls and bears and repeatedly pressing the 'Close Doors' button in elevators.
Ryan Gosling pic courtesy of Hey Girl...Roller Derby.