From the helmet of: Gravy
2014 was a whirlwind year. And a banner year. Just whirlwinds and banners everywhere, with me floating around somewhere in between. I was an academic. And a bum. I moved to the other side of the country. I lost myself. I found myself. I lost my mind. I found that, too. For now. I skated and skated and skated. I skated to forget. I skated to remember. I skated for the hell of it and I skated with a fiery purpose as if nothing else mattered.
In 2014, I gave my all. To everything. Mentally, physically, every part of me was used up and spit out. But it was replenished and replaced with strength, toughness, and voracity. Anyone that knows me for an extended amount of time knows that I’m very good at overwhelming myself. I want to do it all! right! now! So when I moved to Austin and the magical world of roller derby mecca opened up, I couldn’t handle it. There was SO MUCH to do and I wanted to do ALL OF IT. Scratch that, I was GOING to do all of it.
Two days after coming in, I skated. I wasn’t sure how to handle the heat and got heat exhaustion. Damn, Texas is hot. And damn, the Blood Shed is hotter. I started skating in the first level of rec league. I tested up to the second level. I started going to Austin Anarchy practices with my boyfriend, who skates for them. I joined Bat City Rebellion. I tested up in rec league again. I went to speed skate. I joined a co-ed team. I went to clinics. I went to Friday Night Lights when there were only 5 other people there. I went when there were 40. I officiated in bouts and scrimmages. I went to the gym. I PRd and PRd and I felt good and strong. I did hill sprints and I hated every single second of it. I bench-coached a few teams. I went to lessons. I tried out and made the top level of rec league. I skated 20 hours in one week, including 6 hours of clinic and a co-ed bout in one day. I tried out for TXRG. I made the New Girl program. I volunteered at Charleston playoffs. I learned the importance of off-skate warmups. I skated 6 days a week for 3 weeks. I did a million box jumps. I got drafted! I became a Hell Mary (Hell Yes!). This weekend we’re driving to Champs. And in December we’re volunteering at the World Cup.
I can definitely say that the last half of 2014 has been way better than the first. But the last few weeks specifically have been amazing. Being chosen as a New Girl and then having crazy intense practices 3-4 times a week was a dream, being taught by seasoned Texas Rollergirls and Texecutioners. I loved every minute of it. My body, not so much. She started wearing down in the third week, just because I wasn’t sleeping well and was having trouble eating enough (those things are important, guys!). But I made it through. And I know that nothing my body could’ve told me would’ve made me stop (again, bad, don’t do that), but luckily that was never an issue. And I’m so ready to give myself to my new league and to soak up as much as I possibly can.
It’s funny to think about where I started and where I am now. I bought a pair of skates before I had a place to skate. The guy said something about not dropping a lot of money on your first pair of skates because you might quit. And I was like, “OKAY WEIRDO.”
So then I found a league April of 2011 when I moved back to Huntington, WV – the Jewel City Rollergirls. Sometimes we’d have 5 people at practice. Our league never had more than 20. Everything was hard. Finding bouts without a home location to hold on. Getting people to come to practice. Doing business things. Branding ourselves. It was all a struggle. All of this while we were learning how to skate and be competitive. Learning how to be athletes for the first time, to work as a team. Trying to understand how a body could possibly hurt this bad. Am I dying?
And now, here I am a member of the Texas Rollergirls, lifting weights multiple times a week, and refusing to wear pants that don’t stretch. I look back at those fresh meat pictures and I’m grateful for everything that has happened to bring me to here. I’ve grown up a lot. I’ve made a lot of friends. I found my niche and found where I finally feel like I belong. It has been a crazy journey full of strange moments, bad moments, and life-changingly wonderful moments. The great thing about roller derby is that if you want something, the power to have it is in your own hands.
From the helmet of: Gravy
Weight lifting has been starting to gain traction in the roller derby community, and for good reason. Thanks to recent articles such as Why Strength Matters for Roller Derby Athletes and Perspective Shift: Roller derby & shifting the way we look at training, it’s obvious that our sport is leaning toward weight lifting as a primary form of cross-training. While the main benefits of weight training are outlined in the above articles, I want to focus on how to begin if you have no freaking clue what you’re doing and have never stepped foot inside a gym before (me, a year and a half ago).
So, I have pretty bad anxiety about a lot of things. I have a hard time beginning something new if I don’t have someone to guide me (exception: roller derby) and if there’s a chance that I’ll make a fool out of myself, then I ain’t doin’ it (again, same exception). Going to a place like the weight room for the first time can be intimidating. The only reason I even started lifting weights was because my best friend and fellow Jewel City Rollergirl, Jen Ittles and her boyfriend (and team coach) Wes Tickles were starting to do it. It’s to them that I owe all of my (limited) knowledge. And I still hit up Jen for training program recommendations (thanks, girl!). What I’m saying is, I am not an expert. I’m not a personal trainer (I’m pretty sure ‘linguist’ is the exact polar opposite of ‘exercise physiologist’). Everything I know comes from the internet or from other, more knowledgeable people, but I want to share my knowledge in the hopes that it can help give people the resources and information they need to start weight training. Or at least think really hard about starting, because I promise you, weight lifting will be one of the best things you do for yourself, mentally and physically (along with roller derby, of course!).
When I started, I had no idea how my body worked. How muscle or fat worked. This is a problem that a lot of women have. And it’s not our fault. We’re constantly being told that we need to eat less, that our bodies are never right or good, that we need to diet, that we need to be ashamed because we ate a cupcake (and we totally could’ve eaten SIX), that there are only two body shapes (fat and skinny), that we ARE the number on the scale. You know what? I weight somewhere around 127 lbs. I fluctuate from 125 to 130 and I’m only 5’2”. That’s above average for someone my height and my frame. You know what else? I can squat 185lbs. I can squat ME AND A HALF. And you know what else? The only reason I don’t care about what the scale says and why I’m not ashamed to share that number is because of weight lifting. These reasons, and so many more, are why more women need to start doing this, especially if they’re playing a sport that requires strength, speed, and recovery.
When I first told my dad about lifting weights, his response was, “You don’t want to look like a man.” That’s it. He didn’t say, “Good for you for getting in shape and breaking the cute, pink gendered box women are put in from the day they’re born!” or “I bet getting stronger helps you play the sport you love!” What a shock, coming from my own dad. If you’ve ever had a thought like that cross your mind, stop reading this article and immediately read this article. Like right now. And while you’re at it, read this article to dispel some other myths about women and weight lifting. Now, let’s start with basic information.
Weight lifting is understood in terms of sets and reps. Reps are the number of times you perform the lift without rest. Sets are the number of times you perform the number of reps with a rest in between. If you have an exercise that is 3x5, you will be doing 3 sets of 5 reps.
The three main lifts are: squat, deadlift, and bench press. Familiarize yourself with those. These three lifts should be in any program you choose to follow.
Following a program is extremely recommended, especially if you’re just starting. One fantastic program for beginning weightlifting is StrongLifts. There’s even an app for it! So convenient and helpful. This entire website has great information on getting started, because it’s meant to be a starting point (as long as you pretend that the language isn’t geared toward dudes).
Two other programs that are aimed for women and weight lifting are: The New Rules of Lifting for Women and Strong Curves. They exist in book form and are packed with tons of information, especially if you’re like me and like to research thoroughly about things before committing.
Okay, so you’ve chosen a program, watched the videos, and you’ve tried emulating the lifts with no weight in your living room. How do you make sure you’re doing them right? Head over to www.reddit.com/r/xxfitness and post a Form Check video. This subreddit is filled with women involved in all different areas of fitness, but there is a large number of weight lifters, many of them just beginning. If you don’t have a reddit account, there’s a Facebook group with the name, “reddit xxfitness.” It’s a very open, welcoming community, great for people who have questions that they might be self-conscious about asking in other groups.
Explosive Exercises and Your Core.
The three main lifts are great (and necessary!) for getting stronger, but roller derby athletes are getting stronger for a specific purpose. Exercises specific for roller derby include movements that train your fast-twitch muscles. I’ve added these into my training routine and have noticed dramatic improvements. My favorites include: ravers, frog jumps, depth jumps, and uphill sprinting. Uphill sprinting is really good for roller derby, because it mimics the sprint/recovery that is the nature of the sport. But it is fucking. terrible. In the good way, of course.
Every leg day I make sure to do a few core exercises. The one that makes me want to send dumbells flying at the mirrors is the decline crunch. It’s specifically terrible (and oh, so good) when you add a weighted medicine ball. I then go to the back extension bench and do a few sets of back extensions and side bends (video shows standing, but I use the same bench), because your core is more than the “six pack” muscles. You can slowly increase your weight on these (for backbends grab a weight plate and for side bends grab a dumbbell), but be aware that adding weight to the side bends can make your obliques (and your waist) larger (I use a max of 10lbs and my waist has gotten slightly larger).
From the helmet of: Gravy
One of the reasons I love jamming is because you can just sort of... shut off and go into primal spazz reaction mode. When you’re new to derby, it’s the easiest position. You don’t have to think about the strategy that you don’t really understand or the awkward things your feet and legs are somehow actually doing. And if you can use that wonkiness to make your way through a pack every once in a while, the jammer panty will just sort of... consistently make its way onto your helmet. And that’s it; you’ve got a star on your back for the rest of your career.
While I’ve been steadily leveling up in jamming over the past 3+ years, my blocking has been pretty stagnated. The first few times I actually blocked in a scrimmage, I remember that I could get to the opposing jammer quickly, but once I got there, I had no idea what to do. Do I hit her out or slow her down so someone else can hit her out? Is my body doing this right? How is she moving so quickly? And unlike when jamming, if your brain overthinks for a split second, the jammer is gone and you’re left standing there, analyzing what just happened. Until it’s time for the jammer to come back around (how did she get here so fast?!) and you have to find your friends and hope your butts are close enough that the jammer that’s barreling in won’t hit your seam and send you flying.
Being somewhat new to the blocking game is almost like re-learning how to play. I thought that the little tricks I used while jamming didn’t translate over to blocking, but it was only after I became a better blocker that I realized that each position could use the other’s skills, just differently. You can’t fake a jammer by pretending you’re not going to block her and then magically block her, but you can be sneaky and trick the jammer into cutting the track. Spinning, while sometimes getting you out of tough jamming situations, will not block the jammer, but solid footwork can help you stay in front of her while she’s juking. There’s a completely different mindset going into the game as a blocker than when going in as a jammer.
Blocking is like a game of ambition, relentlessness, and patience. (What do you mean, patience?! This is ROLLER DERBYAHHH). Patience in the way you move and the way you think. You can’t get too gung-ho and overcompensate, or you’ll lose the jammer. You can’t move your head from side to side looking for the jammer or you’ll lose her. When your wall is patient and can contain that jammer, daaaang, that takes all the jammer juice away. Blocking is zen. It’s focused, highly mental, and takes a certain amount of clarity to be successful.
Though I will always take that jammer cap when it’s given, I’ve really started to enjoy blocking. Blocking with people who are on the same page as you is like something I had never experienced before. Completely exhilarating, the way that everyone just sort of fills in where they’re needed, like a self-solving, soul-crushing puzzle. I hope that everyone experiences that feeling in their derby career, just as I hope that everyone experiences getting lead jammer for the first time (because you always take the opportunity to jam when it comes up, right? Right?!). If you want to play better and have a deeper understanding of the game, play both positions. Soak it all up. To be able to block a jammer, you have to move and think like one. And to be able to jam past blockers, you have to know what it’s like being a blocker. And the great thing is that you can soak it up. You have that power. Because whatever you put into derby is exactly what you get back (and then some).
Tesla and Gravy
Just two rollergirls trying to share the rollerlove from Austin, TX to the world.