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: