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Published on June 27th, 2012 | by DerbyLife


Bout Fright

By: Merchant of Vengeance

June 25, 2011. Laramie. The Naughty Pines vs. the Wreckin’ Roller Rebels: my first bout.
I got a lot of advice beforehand. Some of it was rather helpful: stay low, stay with your partner, stay focused. Some of it was rather personal: bring some wet wipes for the PBP (pre-bout poop) you’ll need to take that will probably be messy. (For the record, I did bring wipes, but really just had to pee about 8000 times before, during, and after the bout.) Some of it was pretty fun: take a shot! Have a dance party!

I also got a lot of this: “your first bout? Ohmgodareyouexcited? Have fun! Ohmygod are you scared? Have fun! Ohmygod do you feel ready?” I cannot at all remember how, or if, I answered these questions. Yes. OK. Yes. OK. Yes? No? Maybe so?

I was strangely removed. For someone who is Endlessly Reflective, I sure was managing NOT to think about it too much. I set a few goals for myself, which at the time felt like big ideas:
1. Hit or push one girl out one time (that felt like a lofty goal)
2. Take the hits
3. IF, and it was a big IF, I jammed: jam well. Whatever that meant.
4. Don’t die

I intended to spend some time positively visualizing the bout, and myself in it, not dying. But it was the week before my wedding and several of my dearest friends and family were due in town by Sunday, and I was busy. I had glimpses of the bout, moments of pre-thought; I set my exceptionally challenging goals, and then, before it seemed possible, I was driving up to Laramie with three of my dearest friends, to-be husband included.

Let us take a moment to bow our heads before the wonder of the world that gives us dear friends, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and shenanigans. Just in case you were wondering, the number 1-900-Mix-A-Lot does not, in fact, connect you to anyone who likes big butts.

So I was doing just fine, thank you, managing to completely avoid bout-fright. I completely forgot to eat at the proper time. I did manage to drink a lot of water, and probably a Diet Coke, and laugh with my friends during the drive. Then they dropped me off at the events center, as we’d planned, so that they could check into our hotel, and get dinner, and drink beer, and so forth. They deposited me, my gear bag, my skates, and my water bottle, and drove away.

Right then, the bout fright set in.

Holy shit. BOUT. FRIGHT.

I’m going to admit to arrogance. I grew up as a musician: piano recitals and competitions, violin recitals, choir performances, musicals, a solo here or there, performance finals in college: I believed that years of training for stage fright as a musician had easily prepared me for stage fright as a skater. I possibly even said that out loud, which was like a direct challenge to the universe. I should have known better. I teach English, for Pete’s sake; I should know all about hubris and the mighty falling and whatnot.

So, here’s the thing: stage fright and bout fright? Are not the same.

I’d never felt nerves that came close to the way I felt before that first bout. I skated around for a while, terrified. I skated between the little locker room and the track, terrified. I skated to the bathroom to pee 89 times, terrified. I skated in warm ups, terrified. I lined up for gear check, clueless AND terrified.
It would be nice to tell you that after that first jam, lined up on the pivot line, terrified, I cooled it, found my rhythm, and just played derby. But it took more than one jam to cool it. And then, just as I was sort of kind of cooling it, it was time for me to jam, and I lined up on the jammer line. TERRIFIED.

From the glossary of the life of The Merchant of Vengeance:

Stage fright: this will occur anywhere from a day to an hour to a minute before a performance. Common symptoms include: jitters, excessive tapping of feet and fingers, sweaty palms, dry mouth, butterflies in stomach, excessive need to urinate. Greatest fears: sucking, failing, falling apart, forgetting the notes, not hitting the notes, generally performing poorly. Probability of fears coming true: slim to none, as any good performer has spent hours practicing to perfection. Feelings of fear and anticipation are usually resolved within the first 1-5 minutes of performance, where performer can relax into an oft practiced and polished piece of music, and lose herself in the loveliness of the rhythm and melody she knows by heart.

Bout fright: this will occur anywhere from a day to an hour to a minute before a bout. Common symptoms include: jitters, excessive tapping of feet and fingers, sweaty palms, dry mouth, butterflies in stomach, excessive need to urinate. Greatest fears: sucking, failing, falling apart, never getting a hit in, letting the jammer by every time, jamming without breaking through the pack, ever, getting hit hard, falling, getting hurt, and dying. Probability of fears coming true: who the hell knows? This team could kick my ass. I could suck. I could fall and break every significant bone in my body. I could DIE. Why in the hell am I doing this again? Ohmygod I’m not ready. I’m not ready! Ok, pull it together.

I’m ready. I can do this. Stay low. NevermindIamnotready! I don’t wanna—TWEET!

Before the bout, I was Little-Miss-I-Can-Handle-Stage-Fright.

Thanks for the gentle lessons on pride, Universe.

You practice for a bout differently than you do a performance. A performance is a matter of repetition, of effort and knowledge, and it will go according to practiced plan. A bout is a matter of practice, too, of repetition—but the beautiful thing about derby is that it’s always moving, always changing. It’s chess in motion. A bout provides stranger danger—playing against girls you don’t know, who have strengths and weaknesses you must analyze as you skate. A bout is about skill preparation, team work, and mental toughness.

I was afraid. I did find my way into it, but it took a while. I managed my lofty goals—all three of them—and I had some fun, too. Also I managed a spectacular fall that ended on my chin (for the record, I popped up and kept skating) that left a spectacular bruise on my chin (please remember this was exactly one week before my wedding). I showed my boyfriend. He kissed me. My friends high fived me. One of my teammates, a physical therapist, gave me magical bruise-removing tape. At the after party, we sang karaoke and ate French fries and participated in more shenanigans. One of the Naughty Pines girls went up to my boyfriend and said, “your girlfriend is a BADASS.” It was maybe one of the best compliments of my life.

The next morning, I partook of what has become my favorite post-bout tradition: The Bruise Cruise. They were my first ever battle scars (as it turns out, you don’t sustain a lot of physical injuries or bruises from piano competitions).

I’ve skated in a handful of bouts since then. There is no better training to become a better skater than a bout. It’s stranger danger; it’s everything is on the line; it’s get through the wall or else; it’s employ that skill, RIGHT NOW, or lose. It’s also pretty damn fun.

But every single time I’ve faced bout fright. In fact, every single time it’s been worse. Because each bout means more months of practice under my belt, which means I’ve given myself higher expectations. It’s far worse when I play in Denver, because there are People I Love There to See Me Play, for the love of god.

So now, before a bout, at least I’m humble. I admit to anxiety. I try to be chill on bout day, eat well, drink a lot of water, relax, and prepare for what’s coming. But of course I’m nervous. I’m starting to realize that nervous is awesome, that nervous means I’m joining the club of athletes who love their game, who love competition, who put their hearts on the line when they play, whether it’s high school, or recreational, or professional sports. I’m finding that “nervous” might actually also mean “excited,” code for “thrill.”

Ever watch Friday Night Lights? Those boys are always either terrified or riled up before their games. Or both. And Coach Taylor always walks into the locker room and says something simple and also profound and suddenly they’re ready, a team of shouting, running, sweating boys ready to lay it on the line for their sport (I do realize that it’s fictional, but come on, it’s awesome). My current favorite Coach quote is simple: “Let’s go to work.” Brilliant. He says “let’s go to work” and the boys, as one, rise from their knees and charge the field, ready to work. But really, they’re playing. They’re engaged in playing a game they love. Working to win, but playing to live.

And in the end, isn’t that why we love roller derby? Because it’s such a damn thrill. Because the thrill reminds us that we’re alive, and we’re strong and athletic, and while we’re willing to work for the win, we’re playing it’s so damn fun we can hardly even stand it.

Bout fright. I’ll take it.

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