Sunday, December 28, 2014

Why you should go to basic skills practices in the "off season"

I'm heading into my seventh year of derby, and sometimes, I'm just tired. Yeah, I know; some people are going in their tenth or eleventh year, but seriously folks, derby can be super draining. I love it, but sometimes I want to hit the pause button and not think about it as much as I do.

This year, during the off season, we offered our newer skaters a solid month of basic skills practices. Everyone in the league was encouraged to come, but not required. These practices were non contact to let people in our league heal and not keep beating themselves up, and quite a few of us took advantage of them. Even though I wanted to work on my basic skills, I still was kind of reluctant to give up any free time to drag my butt to practice during the off season.

But I went, and I'm very glad I did.

Because of our new practice schedule,  we've had to divide our practices up, so our two travel teams practice separately and the come together for a league practice once a week. Our freshmeat have their own practices where anyone can attend, but they focus on basic skills the entire time. Last year, I could only make it out to a few of these practices, so I didn't really spend a lot of time with our freshmeat, but during December, the only practices available were freshmeat practices. At first I thought they would be tedious and boring, sort of like eating broccoli or kale instead of a good cheeseburger, but they weren't. And here's why.

My Little Sister showing her classy side.
1.  Freshmeat is super enthusiastic about skating and derby. Way back in the day, I couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't want to skate all of the time! Any opportunity I could, I was on skates and working on something derby related. Parade? Hell yes! Open skate? Uh, double hell yes! Over time, I didn't answer extra skating's siren call nearly as often because I was getting bogged down with training, volunteer duties, BOD responsibilities, and allstar duties.  I forget sometimes that skating can just be fun!  Beth Row and I were running a Saturday morning basic skills practice a couple of weeks ago; we were pretty sure nobody was going to show up because it was the day of our end of the year party. We were both ready to just bail on the whole practice, when a group of freshies showed up. They were amazingly excited and pumped to be at a ten am practice. That kind of enthusiasm is contagious, and it's the good kind of contagious in derby. Sometimes, vets have to have a reminder of why they joined the sport in the first place. Oh yeah, I like to skate!

Also, we've had more time to bond after practices at crappy restaurants; I might even venture to try karaoke at some point. 

2. Everyone needs to review the basics. Yep, everyone. Even if you've been skating forever, you probably have some weaknesses that you don't have time to work on during your team practices or your league practices. Sometimes people feel like they're supposed to be able to do everything perfectly when they're on the travel team, and admitting that they aren't able to perform every little skill is just not possible. They don't want to look weak. Basic skills practices can be a safe place to work on that left plow stop, or your weak turning side, or a power slide. I've been working on my opposite hockey stop, because I have never had the luxury of time to do so.  Going to basic skills lets me work on my stance, strengthen some rusty skills and enjoy the feeling of success without being under tons of pressure to do things in a contact practice. This month of basic skills practices have given me the opportunity to train my muscles to get lower and retain my derby stance; hopefully, I'll be able to stay low when I'm on the track and blocking!

3.  It's the off season, but that doesn't mean not staying in shape.  Some people take off their skates for the off season and don't even look at them until league practices start up again. Rest is good, and I completely endorse resting from contact and intensity, but keeping your basic skills polished and your ability to skate without huffing and puffing is also something I endorse.  It's a balancing act; you want to take a bit of a break, pay attention to your personal life and rest, but you don't want to become a slug either. Also, I like to eat well during the holidays, so burning some of that off while skating helps me from growing out of my pants.

4. Your experience will help others when you show up. Being a seasoned skater means you've been around the track more than once. It also means you might be able to give a newer skater feedback that could help her master a skill she's struggling with. Having someone with a different perspective watch you work on a skill can jog that "ah ha" moment loose in your brain. Without the seasoned skaters that helped you become a better skater, you would have had a harder struggle, so go out there and share the knowledge with a newer skater!

Oh yeah, and have some fun.  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

World Cup Musings by Tricky Lake (DC Rollergirls)

I was unable to go to the World Cup this year due to lack of funds, but Tricky Lake of the DC Rollergirls as going and offered to write up her experiences as a fan.

I left for the Blood and Thunder Roller Derby World Cup armed with a press pass and a list of people I wanted to interview about a range of subjects.  I never used that list.  Instead, I arrived at the world cup and was completely over run by world class derby.  I sat glued to the tracks for four straight days.  The players, the groups of fans singing and chanting for their country, the intense game play, the screaming of the crowd...these things all lead to an immersive experience that left me both awed and inspired.    Much has been said about the play and the game play in the weeks since the world cup.  Today, I focus on the people who came to see the world cup and the energy of watching.

The different groups of cheering, screaming, chanting, singing, costume-wearing, stomping, horn blowing fans made the entire world cup experience that much more intense.  I have been to tournaments before and I’ve seen the way that some teams do have fans that come out in droves to support their teams (“Boston, Boston, Pinch Pinch Pinch!” and the New Skids on the Block both spring to mind). The crowds that attended this event brought the energy in the room to a whole new level.

The first group of fans I noticed were from Team ZA, as the South African team called themselves.  They had stuffed lions on their head. Frikkin.  Lions.  And capes.  And they all sat in a big group and cheered together for their team. I remember thinking to myself how impressed I was by this.  Little did I realize just how high the level of coordinated singing and chants would get by the end of the weekend.

Team France, Team Ireland, Team England, Team Canada, Team West Indies, Team Scotland, Team Chile, Team Portugal, Team Mexico, Team Wales, Team Argentina and I’m sure more that I didn’t bear direct witness to all had coordinated crowd songs and cheers to help urge on their teams.  There was a fun moment before a Team France bout where their fans, sitting in the stand on both sides of the track, were singing one of their songs back and forth to each other several times.  As you can hear in that clip, vuvuzelas were alive and well in the crowds for the entire weekend.  You really could not go anywhere near any of the play without the incessant background honking.  I heard surprisingly few cowbells.  I would have thought there would be more considering that they’d be more compact for travel than a vuvuzela but I digress.

Team Australia’s group of cheerleaders (because really, that’s exactly what they were) were the obvious favorite the entire weekend.  There were several of them (about half a dozen) in coordinated green and gold sequin dresses that spent every Australia game standing as a group on the sideline leading cheers, doing coordinated dances during time outs (that included lifts), rocking out between periods to get pumped music, and just generally improving the fan atmosphere.  Everywhere you looked all weekend, there were some team Australia fans either in green and gold or holding a blow up kangaroo.  At some point, one of the kangaroos was kidnapped by an opposing team (the theory was that it was team England but I never confirmed that).  The kidnapped kangaroo showed up during the last day and gave birth to a smaller blow up kangaroo.

And the antics of the Team Australia dresses did not end with the world cup.  One of the dresses followed Smarty Pants home.  With Quadzilla.  And quite a few others.  

Mascot tomfoolery was well represented during the weekend.  My favorite moment of this was during the last day when a cut out of Scald Eagle was stolen and draped in England’s flag.  Some of the Team USA skaters managed to steal her back and started running through the crowd with her.  Brazillian Nut decided that this would not do and jumped, not unlike a spider monkey, onto the face of the skater holding the cut out and wrested it away from her.  All in front of an arena full of fans screaming encouragement.

Team West Indies had a large coordinated group of fans and were a definite crowd favorite by the end of the weekend.  A large group from England set themselves up as a cheering section for team West Indies complete with pineapple mascot.  This was Team West Indies’ national anthem.  So much dancing.  (By comparison, this was how Germany listened to their national anthem.  Poised and ready for the first whistle on the jam line).  

And of course, this wouldn’t be America unless we heard the ever swelling chant of “U-S-A!  U-S-A!  U-S-A!”  

Four straight days of high level roller derby.  That’s a lot for anyone to take in.  But being a part of a crowd that continued to build in size and energy for four days until culminating in one giant arena bout between some of the best players in the world was magical.  I really feel like the crowd and fan engagement I witnessed during the world cup speaks highly for the future for our sport and the world showing up to watch us play. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

How to be a better BOD member

I took on a board position this last year, and now that I'm done, I can look back and think about all the opportunities I missed to make my experience better. Don't get me wrong, I did the best I could with the position I had; our league had some serious changes this year. We got a new space, a space of our very own, something we had been working for for years! Exciting times, but with every opportunity comes new and interesting dilemmas. We had to figure out how to schedule the space for practice, deal with the extreme temperatures, the floors, etc. On top of that, we had a lot of skaters retire the last two years and we lost two of our dedicated coaches. This last year was probably the most stressful I've ever had, and yes I change some of the things I did and didn't do, but I am also proud of the things we accomplished.

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Yes, I think I sent out 847,952 emails this year dealing with BOD stuff and Training particularly. I could have sent more, and maybe should have sent more. It can be a little daunting to open your inbox and see seventy new emails about the number of volunteer hours the league members need to be able to skate. It's tempting as hell to skip them, but you should read every one of them and try to respond in a timely manner. Yes, does that mean you'll be reading emails at bedtime? Probably. Also, if you are not one to check your email regularly, and by regularly I mean at least twice a day, then maybe you shouldn't take a BOD position. There's nothing worse than thinking an email subject is dead, and then have a BOD member that doesn't read her email on a daily basis chime in two days later.

2. Realize your job is to make things better for the league. Personally, I loved working on Training issues this year, and I absolutely HATED dealing with  disciplinary issues, or league members not following the rules. Every time we had to deal with one of those issues, I kept thinking "man, this job would be great if people just followed the rules." But people do what people do, and that's just something you have to deal with when you're in a leadership position. As a BOD member, you have to slog through a lot of crap before you can deal with the things that will advance your league. Real life is messy, and so are people....and so is derby drama sometimes.

3. Find some organized people who can help you. Lord have mercy, but I would have shot myself in the face had I not had someone on my committee to help me herd all of the cats. As a BOD member, you cannot herd all of the cats by yourself; it's just impossible, and it will make you insane. I am not as organized as I should be; I admit it, but it helps so much to recognize some skill that you lack, and find someone to make you a better leader by helping you shore up your weakness. Find the people that make you better at your job and recruit them to help!

4. Learn from your mistakes. There were several times in my term as Training Director where I would sit myself down and say "Well, that didn't work." After I figured out what wasn't working, I had to figure out why it wasn't working, and what, if anything I could do to get it to work. Sometimes, the answer was "nothing." Sometimes the answer was "better timing" and sometimes the answer was "better planning." You're not going to make awesome decisions every single time, but you can learn from your boo boos. If you don't acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them, you're going to keep making them.

5. Know your limits. Nothing sucks worse than a BOD member who takes on so much responsibility that she eventually feels crushed by everything she has to do, and starts to become Bitterpants Betsy. "I've put so much time and effort into this league, and nobody appreciates it." Well, they do, but nobody appreciates a self-appointed martyr, especially when they get publicly bitter. Work needs to get done, but it doesn't all need to get done by the same person all of the time. Don't take on all the work ever and then complain because you're not getting respect and all the adulation from the league. If people think you're going to do all the work, most people will let you do it. I didn't have this issue with my particular job on the BOD, but I watched a couple of my fellow BOD members get themselves pretty wound up about how they did all this work, and nobody cared. This is a dangerous behavior pattern to develop.

6. Don't forget you're being watched even when you don't think you're being watched. People are watching you, and well they should because you are in a position of power. If you post a snarky Facebook status, people in your league might assume you're being passive aggressive about them. BOD members have to behave better than the average league member because you are being scrutinized; try not to have public meltdowns, do your league duties with a smile, and don't cause issues that have to be taken up by the rest of the BOD because someone in the league complained about your behavior. Is it fair? Nope, but it happens. I'm very glad that I only had to hear about this kind of thing from other leagues, but everyone should take heed and remember they're under a microscope.

Are there other lessons I learned? Of course, but I doubt they would be as universal as the ones I listed. If you are new to a leadership position in your league, congrats! The hard work is totally worth it, and I wish you nothing but success.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Obligatory Thankful Blog: 2014 Style

I've been writing this blog for three years now, every week of every month, and for something that started as a way to express my frustrations/opinions about derby in a "safe" place (because people in my league weren't listening) and I really am shocked that anyone other than my friends thought it was worth reading. Honestly, I sometimes wonder if I will run out of topics before I leave derby.

But I doubt it. 

Usually something new comes up and puts pepper in my writing pool, and I'm spurred on to keep writing, thinking and reviewing ideas that deal with the derbs.

Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis, knows that I love to complain about things in general; this week's blog is dedicated to acknowledging the good things that happen in our sport. Now, I know Thanksgiving is a ridiculous holiday with horrible, genocidal connotations, but I'm trying to follow the idea of being thankful instead of being a mass murderer, so here goes my list of things I'm thankful for in derby.

1. I'm thankful to see people start taking helmet choice seriously. Finally, I'm beginning to see people ditch their crappy helmets and get some better head protection. Thanks to S1 for being omnipresent on the track at Champs and on with their commercials, now we have leagues starting to look at the sorry helmets so many of their skaters are wearing. I've seen fewer "sweat savers" out there, and more and more hockey helmets and S1s. People are starting to realize that keeping your head safe means you can have a longer and healthier derby career. Hooray! Still though, there are a few of you out there clinging to your jacked up, ill-fitting, craptacular helmets. It's time to trade up! Yes, safe helmets are more expensive, but you can't just go out and buy a new brain.

2. I'm incredibly thankful for my face shield. This year I suffered my third broken nose from derby, and I finally decided that it sucks to have to wear a tampon in your nostril, so I went out the next day and got a damned face shield. It's saved my face so many times since I bought it, especially since I've been working on getting lower and lower in my derby stance. Even this week at State Wars, my shield paid for itself when I got nailed in the face with a shoulder. Whoot whoot! No broken nose for the win! Seriously, think about getting a face shield for yourself, especially if you're sick of getting dinged in the face. I think you'll really see the light when you have the sweaty imprint of a shoulder on your shield, delineated in grease.

3. I'm thankful that it's starting to be acceptable to change leagues because athletes want their needs met. When I asked the question "would you leave your league for a better opportunity in your derby career" on Facebook in 2011, I got a lot of negative answers. "I'd never betray my league, how dare you ask me that" and etc. Now I see people ready to either step up to a higher level of training, or step down to a more casual level of play. Derby has come a long way, and it is becoming several different things for different people at different times in their derby careers. I think if derby is going to continue to be a viable sport, you'll see more small leagues consolidating and becoming mega-leagues in the future. Want to be competitive? Talk your neighboring league into combining as soon as possible; it will be the wave of the future.

4. I'm thankful for the feed. It gets better and better each year, as far as I'm concerned, and the computer audience is getting to see facial expressions and instant reactions. Who didn't love seeing "The crawl seen 'round the world" at Champs this year? You could see the "what the hell is happening???" looks on every players' face.  Could you see that from track lel? Maybe, but it was really hilarious to see on my television.  I know there are still issues with the feed dying every once in a while, but every year it's gotten much more reliable and worth paying for.  I'm hoping that the World Cup will be that crystal clear. Finger's crossed!

5. I'm thankful for the balance derby has given me over the years. Before I started derby, I had a horrible injury due to my dog pulling me off of my feet while she chased a cat in the neighborhood. I sprained my ankle in the most egregious way possible without needing surgery, and it still bothers me when the weather turns cold. Ever since I started derby, I haven't had balance issues at all; my core is tighter, my ability to recover my balance and my agility has been able to keep me from breaking myself again, even when my dog is bound and determined to yank me all over creation chasing all manner of varmints.

6. I'm thankful that Rose City gave Gotham a run for their money. Damn, that was one of the most exciting games I've ever seen, and it has been an extremely long time coming. Gotham has been on a roll for years, and it looked like Texas was going to be the closest to putting a dent in their armor with fifty point differential, but then Rose came, and gave the derbyverse some hope that what Gotham has managed to create as a team, could happen somewhere else. Don't get me wrong, I love Gotham, but I was really beginning to wonder if that level of play could happen in another league somewhere, or was Gotham going to be the best we as derby athletes could ever be. Rose was able to reproduce another team that was able to rival the Gotham machine, and that means it can be reproduced elsewhere. It's possible, and that makes playing and training a more hopeful situation.

7. I'm thankful for people who get something out of this blog and to the people who have guest posted on it. Seriously, I no longer write out of complete frustration with derby; I write for people who are struggling with various situations in derby, while thinking they are completely alone. You are never alone when it comes to issues in derby. Thank you to each person who has written a guest blog over the years; your guest posts are great because usually you have a more intimate take on certain subjects that are near and dear to you. Your contributions also give me a chance to take a week off of writing and just enjoy reading a blog post! Also, thank you to the photographers who allow me to use their fine work in my blog. My three regular photogs are A Boy Named Tsunami, Lesley Etherson and Joshua R. Craig. They've been amazing to let me use their work this whole time.

And there ya go. I'm sure I'll be back to my grumpy self next week. Hope your holiday was good and everyone is enjoying the off season.

Monday, November 24, 2014

My take on State Wars 2014

Last weekend was the first State Wars roller derby tournament, which was held in Daytona, Florida.  It was a great experience for me as a skater, especially coming after an extremely competitive and hard season.  It was great to have a weekend where I wasn't in charge of herding the cats, worrying about rankings, and wondering who had the helmet panties. I was able to skate, enjoy the game in the purest sense and watch some great derby. There were a lot of positives, and there were definitely some serious learning moments, but having been in a league that has hosted Regionals, you will always find ways to make the event go smoother

First of all, who doesn't like Florida weather? Leaving from chilly North Carolina, we got to Florida
and walked into sunshine and 80 degree temperatures.  The hotel was really great, and gigantic, and most rooms that were booked were booked for a decent rate and an ocean view. In fact, we slept with our sliding glass door open for Saturday night, and it was great to just listen to the ocean (and at three AM when I heard someone go skinny dipping in the ocean). Parking across the street was only five dollars, which is always a bonus in my book, and there were plenty of restaurants to walk to in the area. After our last bout on Friday, we found a pretty nice sushi place, where we stuffed ourselves on the pretense that we had skated so hard earlier that day. (We skated hard, but I'm pretty sure I ate way more sushi than necessary.) Also, wading in the cold cold Atlantic might be the best ice bath known to mankind.

Illinois vs. Texas
The games were a lot of fun, and the brackets, even though they had to be shuffled at times, seemed to work out. I definitely believe the top four teams would have been the top four regardless. My team, Team NC, had a challenging bracket, but enjoyed playing every game we were assigned. We played Missouri first and I was super excited to be playing against one of my sheroes, Annie Maul. We also played Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii and California. How cool is that? Some teams had known talent on them, like Missouri and California, with Hockey Honey, but I had no clue about what the Arkansas roster would bring, and that was one of the most exciting games we played that weekend, with a five point differential.

Hockey Honey!
Part of going to something new like this, you don't know what to expect. Finding out that we could be playing up to four games a day was a bit of a stretch. Our team was seriously lucky because we were able to bring a twenty person roster down to State Wars. I think three games a day can be really taxing and ups the chances for injury. I also know that so many of the refs were officiating every game, which had to be just as exhausting for them. Also, having four games going on simultaneously made for interesting problem solving. How do you deal with the four whistles that call off the jam? The solution at State Wars was for one ref to blow the four whistles and the rest of the refs to say "The jam is dead." Was it perfect? Hell no! We saw a few missteps with players and refs being confused, but for the most part, we adapted.

The bonus of going to something this new, is the fact that it was an opportunity for skaters who aren't the super stars we see in D1s every year. Yes, Smarty Pants, DBC, Freight Train, Varla Vendetta, Hockey Honey and many others were there, but how many people get to skate with and against them as peers? As derby becomes more and more professional, when will you have opportunities like this? Plus, skating with some of the best skaters in my state was an opportunity that rarely happens as well. Usually, we're on opposite sides of the track, and it was great to have them on my side for once. One of things that surprised me a little was how fast we all gelled together!

I spoke briefly with Streak about his brain child, State Wars, and let him know that many people really wanted to be able to stream the games live. Evidently, streaming four games all at once takes a lot of bandwidth, and there were technical difficulties. At least Sunday's games were recorded, and now are showing up online. (I'll update this blog when I get a link.) He also wanted to send out his thanks to the following: Meow Mix, May the Force, Miss Trish, Cub, Renee's Child, Chris Gehret, Stat Man, Jaimes Needham and the Jacksonville Rollergirls. They were all essential behind the scenes to make this work and are already working on plans to better this next year.

I'm just excited to learn that this event will be held next year, and Team NC is already planning on attending it!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Bad Practice Bingo

A while back, I made a bout bingo for the fans, and as the season comes to a close, I decided to revamp the Bingo card for a bad practice bingo. Of course I elicited help from all of Facebookdom, and the floodgates opened! Trust me, all leagues have the same problems which can sabotage a practice. One of these actions can happen and have very little impact on practice, but three or four of these issues come up, and suddenly your league is having a bad derby practice.

Other options for the squares (just in case you wanted to make your own Bad Practice Bingo)

1. "I don't have to <blank>. I'm a jammer." or "I don't have to do <blank>. I'm a blocker."
2. "I don't want to skate with the FM scrimmagers. They're too inexperienced and I can't handle that. (or) They're too inexperienced and I'll get hurt."
3. First practice back after injury or extended (several month) LOA: "What do you mean I can't scrimmage tonight?!" 
4.  Gear is still damp from the last practice, because you foolishly forgot to take it out of your bag.
5.  Married/involved skaters or skater/coach get into a relationship fight, make practice awkward and uncomfortable for everyone else.
6. Skater looks like they're dying during endurance, smokes cigarettes during "quick" water breaks.
7. "That's not how <insert high ranking WFTDA league name> does it"  
8. Skater doesn't pay attention to the directions of the drill and then gets frustrated when they try the drill. 
9. Drills planned for practice, skaters who most need to work on said skills don't show. 
10.  Women's roller derby promotes feminism, individuality, community, and empowerment... everyone in the league is too intimidated to stand up to bullies/bullying behavior.
11. too sick for practice - posts photos out drinking at the bar 

Thank you everyone for your contributions!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Labeda "Cutie Wheels" review

A while back, I was given some wheels by the Labeda rep to try out and blog about. When I got the
See? They look like candy.
wheels in the mail, I was like "are these real wheels?" They just looked and felt very different to the wheels I've been using in the past, which are mostly Atom and Radar wheels. I mean, they didn't have grooves on them, which I know isn't necessary for grip, but they still just felt strange. Plus, they were incredibly soft, and I generally like to skate on 98s to 100s, even on concrete, so I definitely put off trying them out. I kept meaning to try them, but life gets busy, I get in a rut with my know the drill.

Last month, our B team, the Bootleggers, were skating against Greensboro, and I knew that floor was incredibly slick; it's even slicker than the River City floor, for those of you who are familiar. The concrete is polished to a mirror shine, as you can see in the photos below, and when I wore my Atom Poisons on it, I had issues with plows and hockey stops and just plain "surprise slide outs" when I least expected it, so I knew these wheels, with being as soft as they were, could maybe help one of the Bootleggers out. I lent two sets of the wheels to The Ish, on the promise that she would write a small review for me.  Please read her review below.

Photo by Kathryn Walbert
I was a little nervous at first because of how they felt rubbery and were squishy.  The softer white wheels were surprisingly grippy on the slick concrete floor. I liked how I could hug the turns and crossover without sliding out. Hockey stops and plows were difficult to preform due to the softness of the wheels. During the first half of the bout the floor was clean and I was able crossover and juke relatively well. 

By the second half of the bout, the floor had become dirty. Stops became more difficult to complete. Overall the wheels performed well for slick surfaces. If given another opportunity I would have tried the medium yellow wheels. They were more firm and I feel like I wouldn't have to exert as much energy to maintain my speed as a jammer. 

Photo by A Boy Named Tsunami
Previous to trying the Labeda Cuties, I typically skated on Atom Poisons for polished concrete. I feel that the Labeda Cuties performed much better on the polished concrete and will absolutely continue to use them in the future.

The Ish #88

I'm glad they worked for her on that nightmare floor, and I want to stress that Greensboro is an awesome league and they're doing what they can with the floor they have. I may take the white wheels for a spin the next time I skate outdoors, but I think they're just too soft for me to skate derby on, even on a super slick floor. I still have my Poisons for emergency situations, but I hate soft wheels in general. Wouldn't it be great, one day, to not have to deal with such a variation of floor types in derby? I know my favorite floor to skate on is a slightly neglected wooden rink floor, but I know it's always going to be different strokes for different folks. Still, I dream of a day when I don't have to haul six sets of wheels with me for away games. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Someone you know might be skating with a disability

Just because someone is skating with an impairment, doesn't mean that they can't be an effective derby teammate. I'm still surprised by the attitude from the New Zealand coach to not skate a hearing impaired skater because she was worried that her team didn't need the extra stress of learning sign language.  Seriously folks, we're supposed to be one of the most inclusive sports in the world, and we need to work on being aware that just because someone has a disability, it doesn't mean they will be weak on the track.

By Hillary Boswell

I’m writing today about what it’s like to skate with a disability and to ask you to consider, that in a
Photograph by Mike Trottier
sport that is inclusive in its very nature of women and men of all sizes, strengths and ambitions, that you think about how skaters with disabilities might fit into our sport.

In order to understand a skater with a disability, we first have to understand what a disability is.
“Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.
Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives. Overcoming the difficulties faced by people with disabilities requires interventions to remove environmental and social barriers.”*1

I have been diagnosed with Chronic Compartment Syndrome – a relatively minor disability when compared with an amputee, blind person, or even someone restricted to a wheel chair. But not all disabilities are obvious. Someone with diabetes, asthma, IBS or epilepsy, all suffer from hidden disabilities.

“Compartment syndrome (CS) is a serious condition that develops when pressure within blood vessels (perfusion pressure) drops lower than tissue pressure within a closed space (compartment) in the body. CS can be either acute or chronic and can be limb- or life- threatening condition”.*2 To describe it to people who don’t know how it feels, imagine that your shin muscle is a blood pressure cuff and skating, is the same as pumping it full of air. Eventually, the cuff gets so tight that it allows the doctor to measure your blood pressure. Now imagine that the pressure never deflates unless you stop skating. You have to completely cease using those muscles in your leg until the pressure begins to deflate. If you don’t, you start to experience dead foot with no control over your feet, you teeter like someone who can’t skate. The shin becomes painful, sore, hot, swollen from the pressure. In the same way weight lifters can physically see a swelling of their biceps when doing curls (biceps feel hardened, blood flows through them) a skater with CS can physically see the skin stretch, get hard, shiny and hot to the touch. Now imagine someone telling you to “skate it out, skate through the pain”. This is where things can get ugly. Chronic CS can quickly move to Acute CS which is considered a medical emergency and requires surgery to cut the fascia between the calf and shin muscles in order to alleviate the pressure that has built up. Failure to do so, results in necropsy of the muscles.

My journey with CS began in my rookie year of derby, 4 years ago. Trying to obtain my 25 in 5 was torture. I couldn’t explain how I could keep up with everyone for everything else, but when it came time to skate for 5 minutes straight, I was lucky to make it. I had the gas but not the legs. Indeed, I barely made my 25 and I still think the senior who marked me, gave me a mercy pass since I basically crawled across the finish line. I knew it was my shins but everyone kept saying it was just shin splints and I just needed to skate through it (that’s the worst thing you can do for shin splints by the way). Anyway, I tried physio, taping, shin stripping (a terribly painful procedure which did nothing for me), and massage therapy. Fortunately for me  my physiotherapist’s interest was piqued in both my plight and the connection to roller derby. She did some research and on our last visit, she told me “I think you have CS and should go to your doctor.” So I trudged off to my doctor who sent me to a specialist. He confirmed her suspicions and sent me to “his” physiotherapist for electromagnetic stimulation of my shin muscles – again, no marked improvement whatsoever. So now what? We all knew I had CS but to what degree we needed to ascertain. The testing is only done in the next province and is a painful test involving needles inserted into your shin muscle before, during and after runs on the treadmill – if I tested high enough, I would be eligible for the surgery required. In the mean time, a study was being conducted at the University and would I be interested. It involved the use of ultra sound to diagnose – a non-invasive procedure a procedure I very much liked the sounds of. The study fell through and to be honest I’ve never pursued the out of province testing. The one thing that stands out that all of the medical people said at one point or another was this: how badly is this going to affect you? Is the surgery going to be worth it or can you make due without it? How does this disability affect your life?

I was struck dumb. The thought that this was something that I couldn’t control – it’s just the way I was born – was a bit of a revelation. It wasn’t effort at practices holding me back. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying. I had just reached the limits of my body’s capabilities. Suddenly I realized exactly what it meant to have a disability and what a struggle some people have in their lives. This was a small inconvenience for me, that affected me mostly only at roller derby. I was overwhelmed with the thought of someone living with a much worse disability 24/7 and suddenly felt an empathy I hadn’t considered before now.

By the time I was finally diagnosed, I was well into my second year and now training with the all star travel team as a recruit. I thought if I was found to require surgery and had it, I would miss out and fall behind and never make it onto the team. I made the decision not to go ahead with it and just “mitigate the risks” – sit out of drills as needed.

My daily life is affected in that little things like running for the bus, or sprints in Crossfit WODs flare up my shins. Some days it’s so bad they ache for hours after a really grueling practice. A particularly good tune on the radio that gets me unconsciously tapping my toe at my desk, wears my shins down enough that I will eventually notice and have to stop. I will never be a runner – even though I think I would like to.

Now, how does this affect me at derby? Simple things that others take for granted like shuffling side to side, fast feet, 2 minute jams,  the 5 minute skate in WFTDA benchmarking, really any endurance drill that requires high intensity skating for prolonged periods of time, all blow my shins up and require modifications. Does this stop me? Hell no it doesn’t. Instead of shuffling, I do it on my toe stops, endurance drills become an exercise in modification. If we do the intense fast to fastest drill where you skate two laps as fast as the leader can, with one cool down lap – I have to stop skating for the cool down lap. 2 minute jams require extra perseverance and careful use of energy expulsion, no gratuitous hitting. Some drills are so strenuous I cannot complete them – or if I do complete it, I know I will have to sit out a portion of the next one in order to allow my shins time to deflate.
Mentally it’s a bit tougher to deal with my disability. For one, and especially for a competitive type A personality like me, to admit that I’m weaker than you, is tough to do. To know it and to see it every single practice, for lack of a better term – sucks. But, I’ve never been a quitter. I’ve got nearly perfect attendance at practices, I work hard at every single practice, even if I’m facilitating. If my shins force me to sit out for a drill, I don’t sit on the sides and gab, I remain engaged in the middle of the track and focus on the instructor and my team mates and try to see what is working and what isn’t working. Still, it’s hard to tell if that look on my team mate’s face is a silent complaint of laziness or one of genuine concern. For the most part, my league and team mates have been incredibly understanding and accepting (the few exceptions are simple ignorance). In fact, I think more than a few would even be surprised to hear that my CS has been diagnosed as a disability. For the few – my closest friends – who have educated themselves and freely ask questions, their understanding, empathy and refusal to accept anything less than my best, has been my saving grace. Their words of encouragement when I needed them most, are what I rely on when things get really rough. CS is not an excuse, it’s a challenge to work around.

I’m now a senior member of our travel team and I think I would be safe to say I’ve had success as a double threat. CS rarely gets in my way these days although a large part of that is the way the game has changed. The other equally large part is that I’m stronger. My muscles have adapted and while it will never go away completely, you CAN strengthen what you have and I think I’m as strong as I’ll ever be. Crossfit has helped a lot. So has the unconditional acceptance from my team and leaguemates.

I don’t want to apologize for my disability, I don’t want you to make concessions for me or expect anything less of me. I can do everything you can do, I just do it a little differently or take a little longer. If you give me that chance, I will give you everything I have. 
In my curiosity and research, I came across this article which discusses women, sports and disabilities. It’s a great read: