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Published on August 29th, 2012 | by DerbyLife


Derbylife Writing Contest: “Some days are bad, but then you get to be a dinosaur” by Elizabeth Craun

Oh, hi there, new person. No, I don’t have the paperwork you need. Bully does – I’ll point her out when she comes in. Yes, she does have a real name. No, I can’t remember it at the moment. If you start to get that glazed intimidated look while you are waiting, I will attempt to lighten the mood with my terrible, terrible dancing. Sorry.

I hope you stay. Because if you do, you are going to be amazing, in your own way. I walked in here almost a year ago. This is what your life will be like next year, smack dab in the middle of bouting season. Approximately. Maybe you’re a better skater than I am, or you have kids, or you live more than 20 minutes from the rink, or all three, but this is still pretty close. But I won’t tell you that because I don’t want you to make a run for it. All I’ll tell you right now is welcome, we’re glad to have you. And pay the 20 bucks to upgrade the stock wheels on the starter skates.

This is Day 6 of my derby week. Day 1 was a scrimmage practice that was almost 3 hours round trip from my house, in heat that made me loopy. I finally figured out how to effectively sit on someone – next up, learning when to stop sitting on one random blocker and do something more useful. Day 2 was an open skate with a visit paid to my spanking new skates bought with 30 hours of overtime on the project from hell, which sadly arrived without the plates attached.

Days 3 and 4 were learning to penalty track in a tournament venue with sporadic temperature control that was mostly sticky icky hot, with a degrading floor that is currently lodged in my lungs and sinuses. I met the most fabulously weird, bright, highly improbable, thoroughly amazing people. Day 3 I had 2 other bouts I really wanted to see at the same time, each an hour away in opposite directions, but where I was rocked it out too so I barely pouted.

Day 4 I left reluctantly to head ref league scrimmage and be reunited with my finally constructed skates, beauties that promptly made my big toes resemble hamburger meat and left me clopping towards the freshie corner in resignation after my 3rd fall, because no one told me the wheels would be in a different place. I expected scrimmage disaster but I ran it competently and confidently which is terrifying in its own way, leadership is not really my thing.

Day 5 was hip hitting practice that left me with a bruise that makes a perfect target reminder, AIM HERE. It hurts but I decided not to ice it, because it is handy. Maybe I’ll circle it with Sharpie. Day 6 is here and I am spending 2 hours tonight wearing the slick coating off my new wheels because I will need them when Day 1 rolls around again, toes wrapped in duct tape so my skin doesn’t wear off too. And working on my T-stops, because I have an indelible image in my head of a Charm City skater doing the prettiest, easiest, most effective T-stop I ever saw, before I even knew what a T-stop was, before any of this seemed remotely possible. I remember the sound it made and I want to hear it again and know I did it.

On the 7th day I rest. Make bourbon butter pecan ice cream. And maybe mow my lawn. But not tonight. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My yard is threatening to eat my house, which has a chunk of siding hanging off it. Birds might be living in the exposed wood, I should probably evict them but they seem so happy. My garage that was crushed in a freak snowstorm has not been replaced. I have dated exactly one person in the last nine months and he turned out to know two women from my league and hit on someone else in front of me at the wedding of one of them. It’s been over a month since I’ve been able to make a Quaker meeting. Before I finally made the time to cut my hair it had resembled a dead squirrel for several months. My memo board has had “fix your violin” on it since February. I am totally off balance. And, well, I love it.

I contemplated quitting a few times and it brought on a snotty ugly cry, and that was that. I love being pushed to the limit; I love being hit until I don’t know what day it is because at that moment all my problems don’t matter. I love my head ref so much that I became her bitch without even knowing it until I was running around for 2 hours to find the perfect color of jam ref bandanna (kelly green, not forest green). I love the NSOs who are like the coolest AV club ever and are, more than anyone else in derby, clearly my tribe. There is always someone there to give me a push when I am dogging it, calm my panic attack, call me on my bullshit. I love my beautiful crazy green brand new suede skates, I love the R3s I started with and am a little sad they won’t break a year with me now.

And when a tree the size of Godzilla crushed my garage and I actually tried to break my car out like the crazy Appalachian farm girl I am, the person who saved me from what surely would have been a Darwin award winning end was the president of our league. Really. Apparently a panicking hick with a sledgehammer in the middle of a freak snowstorm at night with the power out is nothing you can’t handle when you regularly have four blockers gunning for you. Derby gives you life skills, in fact it is on my resume. I have never been this organized about anything in my life.

Derby ate my life and I let it because my life was a blank slate when it appeared, blown up in slow motion as I lost the battle with a congenital back defect. For three straight months, waking up after never enough sleep as the one contorted position that allowed me to drift off became painful, knowing my 5 on the pain scale would be an 8 as my feet hit the floor, but that within two hours I might be back down to a 3, maybe, if it was a good day, knowing that this might be one of the days I had to crawl to the heating pad, might be one of the days I screamed. A job I adored and sacrificed for? Gone with a severance package that was a slap in the face. Friends? You find out who the real ones are when your life sucks that bad. My real ones turned out to be at least 2 hours away. Relationships? A string of promising ones evaporated as disc herniations introduced my worst possible self way too early, even back when I still had strings of good days.

I finally broke down and had the surgery as permanent nerve damage became inevitable, memories rushing through my mind of saying goodbye to my father when I was eight years old and he went in for the same thing, thinking of how broken and small he looked. My sister asked me what kind of funeral I wanted as she drove me to the hospital in the early morning dark. My father lived, luckily. So did I, expectedly. You can barely even see the scar. And of course, that brings up the question – what now?

When the derby flyer showed up on my mailbox, it seemed like the worst possible idea in the world. So of course I went; I had played it safe and still gotten burned, so why not? The last time I had skated, ten years before, I shattered my ankle in a freak fall that didn’t even leave a bruise, but the pain was over fast and my body healed like a champ – after the long slow breakdown of my body, I wasn’t scared of that, that I could handle. My back muscles had unkinked at that point and I had a handful of pain-free days that felt like miracles, but I was weak in ways I wasn’t even aware of. I couldn’t even get up properly until the 5th practice.

My knees pointed directly at each other and I couldn’t balance on one leg for more than a second. For months I wondered if that was the day I would be asked to leave; turns out my league doesn’t roll that way, but I was too shy to ask. The skating came, though, eventually, in fits and starts, 1% elation, 99% frustration, lots of hard work and a healthy dose of just messing around. I suggest pretending you are a T-rex in skates for a couple of laps when you really hit that wall and it has been no fun for way too long, but choose your own spirit animal.

I tell people who are frustrated that they have two choices: quit or become awesome. There is no third option. Yeah, okay, currently I can’t jam start or break 4:30 for 25 laps or take much of a hit because I have the stance of a drunken monkey with a shoulder cramp, but I am awesome in my own way, and every one of them will be too. I guarantee it.

The good days are really good; you won’t be able to sleep you are buzzing so hard. You will skate so fast you actually feel the wind in your hair. The baddest blocker on the A team will lay you out when she is jamming and you will realize you made her go through you because there was no way to get around, and you’ll wall up and she will do it again because you made her. Your bout program photo will come out and you will feel pretty and shiny and strong when you have been feeling dorky and invisible for months.

The bad days will happen and they like to travel in packs. You will feel like you are skating through molasses and nothing you do will be right, even the thing that you worked two hours on the week before and finally nailed. Someone will try to explain something to you and he will sound just like the teacher from Peanuts no matter how hard you try to understand. You will have to stop for gas on the way to practice when you are not wearing pants and someone will try to start a fight with you because he thinks you cut him off and you will really, really wish you were wearing pants.

The wheels will come off the bus in the worst possible way during a bout and you will have to fight the urge to flee for the fire exit. You will go down hard and you will realize from the expression on the face of the person who did it that you look like a scared little girl who just lost her lunch money – and they either feel really bad about it or are about to do it again the moment you are back in play because it was so very easy the first time. You (okay, this is probably just me) might get your first penalty ever and your ref brain will realize that it was for fleeing the track in subconscious terror when someone was about to hit you. Take a deep breath, realize you learned at least one lesson that will make you stronger and better, lick your wounds if necessary, then strap on your skates and connect with your spirit animal.

Then, I’ve been told by many a person wiser than me, get low.

Elizabeth is a skater, referee, and semi-retired head NSO with Hartford Area Roller Derby. She has two derby names, which is confusing to everyone including her, so she currently answers to Trix, Sugar, Sugar Trix, Watermelon, and, if repeated enough, Liz. Her derby spirit animal is actually a moose, but she is still trying to figure out how a moose skates so she is borrowing the T-Rex from a friend for now.

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About the Author

  • Jumpin’Jax Smash

    My FIRST bout was in a Championship against the #1 team in my country (Germany). I didn’t even KNOW how to go to the penalty box. Minimum skills? What’s that? Brand new R3s? Check. The championship was broadcast LIVE on the local German channels AND the new Derby News Network and being announced by none other than my DERBY HERO, Swede Hurt!

    My first jam as a jammer. Turn four. I got hit. Hard. Completely disappeared under the scoreboard table; broke the girls foot (another skater about to bout in HER first championship game), AND then the scoreboard computer went all blue screen of death. LIVE. IN front of like 1,500 drunk Germans. And of course in front of everyone in Europe on DNN.

    Time ceased to exist under that table. I cried. I laughed. I was mortified. I peed a little. I lived an entire life under that table. I grew old under that table. It was an eternity.

    But something happened. I made a choice. A choice every new skater has to make at some point.

    I sprang fourth like a freshly birthed baby goat. The other jammer had come round again and wasted no time in elbowing me hard; I went down hard, she went to the box.

    I got my first power jam, my first grand slam, and my first broken bone (hers not mine), in my first jam, in my first bout, in my first championship.

    I feel like I chose to become AWESOME under that table. I could have I dunno, stayed there forever? Faked an injury? Curled up in a ball and DIED of SHAME under that table? But I did not. And you probably won’t either.

    Roll on Fresh Meats. Live to roll another day!

    xoxox Jax

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