Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ginger Clobbers talks about anorexia and roller derby

I was driving a group of roller girls to a game one day, and we started talking about eating disorders. It shocked me to realize that as we talked, three of the four women in the car had dealt with an eating disorder. I myself have never had an eating disorder, but it made me wonder how many women in derby have had to struggle with it. My teammate, Ginger Clobbers took on the topic for this next blog post.

Hello, my name is Ginger Clobbers, I play roller derby, and I have an eating disorder.

Photo by Joshua R. Craig
An eating disorder isn’t really about food or weight – this is just a distraction from other, deeper issues. For me it’s about control; some part of my life may be in chaos, but the one thing I do have power over (and no one else!) is my body and what I put in it. I developed an eating disorder in part because of the environment I grew up in. I was a figure skater and dancer, and I was heavily influenced by body image.

I began my skating career at the age of 4. Eventually I started taking private classes, and I was hooked. My parents shelled out the money for the fancy figure skates, all the private sessions, the outfits, and the countless hours of ice time, all because I loved it so. I competed against my peers, locally and on the regional level. By middle school I practically lived at the ice rink, going before school and right after. Meals were eaten and homework was done in the rink snack bar. It was a lifestyle, and yes, an obsession.
I had two coaches, one male and one female. Both were good teachers who taught me a lot about skating and work ethic. They were both very strict; if I was on the ice, I was to be working. There was no time for goofing off; this was serious business. And I wanted nothing more than to please both of my coaches, so I worked my ass off.
My male coach was very judgmental of all his skaters, both on and off the ice. He would judge our bodies and talk about a girl’s flaws in front of all of us. He would also critique what we ate. A coach should promote healthy eating to better us as athletes, but he didn’t teach us about nutrition and how to make good choices. Needless to say, food and body image became an issue for me.
 When I was 13 I fractured my L4 and L5 vertebrae and had to take a break from all exercise. I put on a little weight because I went from constant exercise to doing nothing. When I recovered I tried to return to skating, but the fire was gone. I loved the skating, but I didn’t like the environment and the cutthroat competition. There was constant rivalry on and off the ice. A bunch of girls, each out for themselves, constantly competing on every little thing - who successfully landed a jump first, who the coaches liked best, who weighed the least.

I felt lost without this thing that had been such an integral part of my life for so long. I also started high school, which is a big change all on its own, but I had also been separated from all my school friends. They went to public school, and my parents sent me to private school so I could get a better education. To avoid dealing with all these changes and losses, I obsessed with losing the extra weight I was carrying. I was an avid runner, and I did a lot of exercise videos. I have always eaten a healthy diet, but I cut out all sweets and greasy foods. The weight fell off quickly, and I got lots of compliments. I liked the compliments. A lot. I hit my target weight, the one the doctor said was right for my height and body type, but I wasn’t satisfied.

Photo by a Boy Named Tsunami
I still saw the flaws and imperfections. I examined my body in the mirror every day and weighed myself obsessively. I counted calories, the ones I took in and the ones I burned through exercise. I began limiting the maximum number I could eat in a day but slowly increased the number I must burn. I put more foods on the Do Not Touch list. But in my mind there was nothing wrong with that. My weight loss plan was working; I was losing the inches and pounds at a steady rate. And yet it was never enough.

Anorexia and other eating disorders warp a person’s reality and self-image. Even at my lowest weight of 85 pounds I still thought I needed to lose a little more. I swear to you that I would look in the mirror and still see a chunky girl staring back at me. And despite the outcries of my family and friends, and all the doctors and therapists I was dragged to, I didn’t see that what I was doing was wrong. Which is why these things are so difficult to treat. I had to hit rock bottom (being hospitalized for 3 weeks and almost dying), to understand that things had to change, and that maybe I wasn’t in a good state of mind to decide what was best for me. I had to choose to get better. Making that choice and pulling myself out of that pit was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I almost didn’t make it. But now I know I can do anything.

I am not ashamed of my disorder, I’m not angry at the lot I’ve been given, and I like to talk about it. Talking gives it less control over my life, and maybe there are others out there I can help with my story and experiences. I’ve learned many things from my struggles, including to ask for help when I need it, to forgive myself when I fail, that I’m not alone, and that I’m incredibly strong.

 I’m able to keep the disorder under control most of the time, but it’s something that will always be with me. I struggle in times of stress. I’m aware of the triggers that will get me in trouble and try to stay away from them. Eating what makes me feel healthy and satisfied is key – a well-balanced diet with the occasional treat. If I get a craving I satisfy it. I don’t count calories or put myself on any kind of restrictive diet. I can’t do workouts or sports that focus on numbers to gauge progress, such as weightlifting. I also avoid weighing myself on a regular basis.

Finding derby has been extremely helpful in many facets of my recovery and has added new issues I’ve had to learn to deal with. Roller derby is the first team sport I’ve ever played, and I love it. The pressure of winning or performing isn’t all on me. How wonderful it is to be on the track with teammates I can trust to do their part and be there to support me, and to be there for them! Working together towards a common goal is a million times better than being out there all on my own and fighting against the ones I train with. The wins are that much sweeter, and the losses aren’t so bad when we know we played together and gave it our very best.

Body image within derby is much healthier than what I was used to. Women of all body types are successful players, and strength and fitness is celebrated over size and weight. Seeing woman celebrate their big butts and large thighs, and being surrounded by others who also struggle to find pants that fit right has been the biggest boon to my own self image. I still have a small sense of dread when I must shop for a new pair of pants, but buying that larger size doesn’t reduce me to a quivering mass of despair as it once did. I’ve finally learned to love my body, because I know what it can do and how strong I am. I’m more physically fit than most people out there in the world, and I can skate hard and hit hard on the track. 

Being part of a team has also given me an added responsibility to stay healthy. That’s not to say it isn’t important to take care of myself for me, but I’m also no good to my team if I’m starving myself and over-exercising. I can’t be at my best when I’m straining my body in such a way, and I owe it to myself AND my teammates to be at my best. I have those I can turn to when my resolve waivers, and I know they will support me and won’t judge.

I’ve recently come to realize that derby does provide me with some pitfalls, which I was blind to for some time. I let myself believe that derby would solve all my problems, and this was a mistake. I won’t be able to play derby forever, and there are times when my training may plateau or I may get overwhelmed with all the sport requires of me. The latter happened recently, and I found myself falling back into old habits. Before I fell too far into the hole, I was able to remember that my recovery, and my sense of self-worth, comes from within. I can’t rely on other people or things to keep me above water; there’s no easy fix or magic cure-all. I don’t want to lose my love of derby because I expected more from it than it could provide, nor do I want to lose the respect of my teammates by looking to them to keep me going. I’m relieved to have had my eyes opened before things went too far.

I’m a very competitive person; I wouldn’t be playing derby if I weren’t. But this natural desire to be the best is something I have to constantly temper so as not to regress. I still don’t have a good solution to this one, and I just take it day by day. But I try not to compare myself to others or judge myself against my teammates. It helps me be a better player and teammate when I’m focused on my own progression. Putting the team first also helps keep things in perspective. 
Although anorexia is a part of who I am, I don’t want it to be my identity.

I write this not to elicit pity or concern but to shed light on a topic that isn’t always easy to talk about. And to let others in similar situations know they are not alone. Eating disorders exist in many forms and in all walks of life, even that of an athlete. If you know someone who is struggling with food or body issues there are ways to reach out. Many local and national organizations exist with resources and hotlines that can help direct you, such as this one.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why Don't More Retired Skaters Come Back and Coach?

I asked the Facebook Universe "Why don't more retired skaters stick around and help coach or train their former leagues? I got a lot of heated responses, but this one was the most interesting and detailed. The skater asked to remain anonymous.

Photo by Joshua R. Craig

I retired for two reasons, I needed to heal from an injury and because derby was no longer fun any more for me. Derby for me had run it's course. It was fun till the last year and a half. I came into my league as a transfer from a competing league. I worked hard and made the allstar team about 6 months after I transferred in. I rode the bench most of my first year as an all star. I often was thrown in to jam because i was small and fast; I never really got tips or pointersabout jamming and never really got the opportunity to block.

I discovered little events and scrimmages outside of the league, learned and practiced with other
leagues to augment my own league’s training. I was invited to guest skate with a different league
and got my first multiple point jams with that team, which made me sad. That should have been
with my own team, but they didn't know my value. I became determined they would see that I
was worth training, and worth their time.

This was a theme that went on until I retired and they realized what i did for the league.

I was captain of a home team during my first full derby season with my league, and then i got to
be captain of our all star team my second year. I was captain for the following 4 years of the all
star team. I was voted in because i was fair, and I was levelheaded. I tried to always give good advice and I was fully aware of my skill level and pushed myself and others correctly during practice. During those four years, I was also on training committee developing plans, running practices, doing line ups, doing stats, developing ref relations, helping with recruiting refs and skaters, marketing the league, doing outreach with the community and in WFTDA. I wanted people to connect me with my league, especially in the derby community.

During that time I alienated my family and non derby friends, and lost two jobs because
of being distracted by derby and it's workings and not focusing on what was TRULY

I stepped back, I thought, and I reevaluated my involvement and wasn't captain the last part of
my derby career. The training level dropped, the cohesion of the team dropped, but I refused to
step in and stop it. It was how they wanted to run things. Despite the drop in our training, we
were doing well rankings wise. I thought I’d try something new, and worked on interleague
relations and marketing. I was the only one from the league to go to WFTDA meetings each year,
despite asking for support, but I was still able to get my league heard and made valuable
connections for us.

In 2012 I decided that I would start preparing for retirement. I had accomplished a lot of things,
and our schedule for 2012 was good. We would play a lot of great leagues and I would go out on
a high note. During 2012, we got really good, and our teamwork was wonderful. Our practices
were strong and prepped us well. We had a lot of new people things were good and our team was
competitive. I was very proud of where the team was headed and felt confident that they would
be ok without me. It was during the summer that i realized in my heart I couldn't leave yet; so I started looking forward to skating the next year. .

2013 started out well, everyone was focused and ready to work and move up to be at D1
tournaments. It was my goal. I wanted to play at a tournament my whole career, an actual
WFTDA tournament, and it was all within reach.  Then, egos got big and the team work crumbled; people stopped working together, and they started focusing on the "super stars." They started to basically take orders from the divas of the team, who were talented but needed to  remember they were a part of a team.

During a game, I took a fall on a metal grate and hit my knee just right. I was out of the game for 15 minutes, then back in because the bench coach looked desperate and everyone else had quit. After
that game, I found out I had nerve damage to my knee. I had to stop skating in order to let it heal. Unfortunately, my team was dropping like flies; this person wasn't eligible to skate because of attendance, this person hurt their thumb, this person had cramps, and this person was butt
hurt about another game. I felt I couldn't let my team down by not skating.  Plus, in my head I rationalized "it only hurts if I fall, just don't fall." So without fail, I went to the doctor every
two weeks for therapy and played the entire rest of the main part of the season.

I took off in August to rest, and it was that month i fully realized what i had been missing. My
friends and family that were there before derby were still there and EXCITED to have me back
around, and i had fun. I felt important again. I felt valued. I missed that feeling. I realized that I
would need to stop derby in order to keep that feeling, but I was determined to finish out the
main season. During that month, 3 people from the team retired. A lot of the team just assumed that I would do what I did in 2012 and reconsider my decision to retire, even though I had made it clear at the beginning of the year would happen, and that i was preparing people to take
over my jobs when i finished my last game in November.

As November approached, people didn't have eligibility or they didn't pay their dues and thought it was ok because they were allowed a pass before because they were "special." Instead, this time they were not, and instead of being a good member of the team, they just quit. This got me to thinking, "What am i doing? I am hurt, and I've been playing hurt most of the year. I gave up time with my family and friends who cared about me and love me to be here." People on the team didn't put in the effort at practice, they whined about endurance,  faked injuries during endurance and miraculously healed in time for scrimmage. They didn't listen during explanations of drills, and then complained they don't know what's going on.  They ignored advice from their coaches and trainers, but when a guest skater said exactly what was said weeks earlier they made it their new mantra. They whined about being hit too hard, and practice being too difficult and too competitive. And I was done.

The only reason I had stayed as long as I did, was a sense of responsibility to my team, but my team did not have the same commitment to the sport. I wrote my retirement letter and sent it out the night before the last game. It was positive despite all the feelings of disappointment I had and encouraging. I went out and had fun during my last game which was not the type of game I'd like to end my career with, but I was having fun. I wasn't letting the bickering and egos on the bench effect my last time on skates for the forseeable future. I got MVP, something that rarely came my way in my career and because no one else would do it, I skated the last jam, to a standing ovation. It was great. The next day I laid in bed instead of going to a circular league meeting and thought about the last 8 years of derby. I thought of all the good times, few were moments with my own team, and many with other teams and leagues.

That first week, people didn't realize I was gone. 2 weeks into the new season, I started getting emails asking me WFTDA questions, and other league questions. Later, I found out they had pushed my replacement too hard and she quit. I told them politely that I  am retired, and gave them information about people who could help them, and continued on my merry way. They left me alone and it was great reconnecting with friends and family, doing hobbies, finding new ones, and working
with my doctor to get my knee better. Then, I was invited to a derby friend's party. I still liked people in my league, so I was excited to go. I felt a little ambushed by the derby people there, because as I sat down,  I was basically told by other derby people who were invited that I just left the league in a lurch, nobody knew what was going on, and how could I do that, and I was an awful person. I realized they hadn't even said Hi.

After that, the barrage of emails started up again, asking WFTDA questions,  saying that people that I told them to ask wouldn't  help them. I finally had to be blunt and  say, "Stop, you ran off the person I trained. It's not my fault no one else knows how to do these things."

Up until the party,  I was considering nsoing and helping them by being a bench coach.
Two things stopped me; their lack of respect for people in authority, and  the fact that I liked my freedom from derby. I realized I was happier without derby, without the drama constant drama. I was happy being with my family and friends, not having to worry about a teammate getting too drunk at an afterparty and having to babysit her all night, or worrying about someone not making attendance.
I was happy with out the back biting of people who were unhappy with themselves and projecting it onto others. I was happy being me with out having to consider if what I was doing would effect the team or the team diva.

Derby is much like high school, and I hated high school. Once I was done, I was done.
Same with derby. People in derby didn't respect authority; they wanted to be Roller girls and not
a team. They had no sense of self worth and used derby for that self validation. I was already a
well developed person before derby, and remain one post derby. I could not spend my time and
effort watching, evaluating, and giving advice that would be ignored and then getting blamed for
losses because people didn't listen.

For teams to retain retired skaters as coaches or even refs, they have to treat people better and with respect during their time with the league. No one is going to experience freedom from league drama and disrespect, and then decide to come back for it on a volunteer basis.

Again,  this is my experience. Sorry it's so long ,but it's something that just comes down to respect,
and valuing your members while they are there. If they don't feel valued, or that they will be
respected or treated respectfully or even listened to, they are not going to come back and help the league. That's a shame, because the more skaters that retire and not come back to help, the more cumulative knowledge and experience the sport loses.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Talk Derby to Me By Killy from Philly

Sometimes I am lucky to have people who volunteer  to write a blog post about a topic they feel passionately about. Here's Killy from Philly's take on being a better communicator in derby.
“You can never talk too much.” It’s true on the track during a jam but it pays to be smart in how you communicate off the track. Here are some lessons I have learned from my nonprofit management consulting job that is helpful in communicating in a league.
Photo by Tyler Shaw

1. Pick a system and stick with it:
Smoke signals, bat signals, announcement circles, internal website, email blasts, FB posts, yahoo groups, Google hangout, pick your poison whatever it is but stick to it. All official league business should go through a designated system. We all get too many emails, messages, tweets, FB posts, whatever. Add 40-60 league members about tons of derby activities and you’ll get chaos. By all means you should communicate when you’re late to practices just courtesy on FB or text messages. If it’s official business and you expect someone to remember it, you want a conversation or information to be “official”, make it easy on yourself and your league and stick to one.

2. Know the limits of your forum: Emails are great but it’s not for everything. Having a strategy discussion or resolving a personnel issue over email is really not easy. Don’t do it. Do it in person or pick up the phone. Emails are great for posting ideas but not great for back and forth conversations. Same for Facebook, Yahoo group, etc. Doing it right the first time will save you time from misunderstandings later.

3. Have meetings regularly and run them well: Nothing replaces an in-person meeting. It’s hard to schedule. We’re all too busy. But the longer you wait to have a league level meeting, the worst it will be. People will be saving their comments about last year’s fundraiser or whatever. We all want to be heard and feel heard but a league meeting is not always the best time for it. Pick a time period, stick to it, and pick a good facilitator who’ll keep the meeting on topic and moving.

4. Figure out who you should talk to before/when you need to do it:
Do you know who does what in your committees? If you have a marketing question, should you email everyone on the committee or just one person? Do you default to asking the same league leader your questions? If you are unsure, then a league directory might be helpful. And you’re really an overachiever, shoot for a directory with pictures and job description. It will help your league avoid bottlenecks in communication, save your captains/league/committee chairs so many messages and everyone some frustration. I promise.

5. Conduct annual anonymous surveys: In my work with non-profits, it’s valuable in having an opportunity for everyone to give feedback where they feel like it will be heard and without judgment. There will be some complaining but a lot of that can be managed with the questions and way you report it back. The benefits outweigh the negatives. It helps air out frustrations before they fester into drama, creates buy-in, focus on priorities when the league is running a thousand activities at once. In derby, as it does in real life, we’re often too busy putting out the latest fire. Sometimes the long term strategic stuff gets put on the backburner. This exercise will keep the organization honest and focused. It doesn’t have to be complicated but know what’s working and not working is a good place to start.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Be a Better Teammate

Many people come to derby as their first experience in a team sport. Team sports are their own animals, and even if people have come to derby after being involved in a more individual sport like tennis, team sports really takes the idea of all for one, and one for all kind of mentality. That means the decisions you make as an individual can and might have an impact on your team's health and survival. Whoa. Am I exaggerating? Not really.

1. When you miss practice, everyone misses you. Yes, that's the truth. When you don't come to practice, your team suffers because you are not there to make them stronger. You're not there to learn the strategies, and you're not there to work with your walls or jammers. Teamwork begins with building trust, and if you aren't there, how can you build trust? If your team is in any way competitive, you need to be at every practice possible. Now, if you're on a very non competitive team, showing up to every practice ever is your decision. It will make you a better derby player in the end.

2. Work on your weaknesses. Don't try to hide them from your teammates, but try and work on them. the best way I've ever been motivated to work on my skating flaws is holding myself accountable for them. How do I do that? I share my flaws with my teammates and tell them what I'm working on, which can be pretty terrifying. Opening up and sharing your weaknesses is a scary concept, but it will definitely keep you striving to improve those shaky skills. Hold each other accountable, and soon your whole team will be improving.

Don't be the a-hole
3. There are no super stars on teams. Of course there are very talented players, and there are amazing strategists, but everyone has a job to do on the team. Stand out on your team because you are an excellent teammate. Be supportive, be a bedrock of support to your team. Build them up, and by doing so, you can all become mighty.

4.  Cross-train. Our sport is demanding, and to be your best and strongest teammate self, you need to be working on your strength and endurance outside of derby. OUTSIDE of derby. There is not enough time to bring everyone's fitness level up to the group standard. As teammates, we have to take some responsibility for our own training. Endurance is one of those things we can do on our own time, and SHOULD do on our own time. 

5. Make smart choices in and out of derby. The thing that sets my teeth on edge is when I hear someone on a team say the following words: "I'm a grown ass woman and I can do what I want!" Usually the person who is in the middle of saying it is making a horrible decision. Like "I can trail skate without any protective gear" or "Staying up all night before a game will be fine!" People on your team are counting on you, so try not to make stupid and self centered decisions. I mean, you shouldn't be making stupid and self centered decisions in life in general, but really try not to make them when they will impact your team. In other words, consider the consequences before you make that "grown ass woman" decision. Every decision has consequences, have you considered what the consequences could be?

Finally, if you are not in junior derby, you are an adult. Adults are supposed to be able to think beyond their immediate needs; when you join a team, you need to be able to consider what impact your actions will have on your team. If you don't want that kind of responsibility in your life, maybe playing a team sport isn't your thing right now.