Sunday, November 25, 2007


Balance, it's something

I wrote that weeks ago and then...things got unbalanced.

I of course strive for balance in my life and diet, and now suddenly I've had to work on balance while standing up on eight wheels of speed. In an effort to work on my stamina for the roller derby try-outs I started practicing on the bike path near my house. It was daunting at first--a very rough and uneven bike path with lots of cracks and possibly deadly detritus like bottle caps, and strange muddy patches here and there. When I started out for the first time I was very tentative. As a kid I roller skated on rougher terrain than this and without ANY protection. Now I was all knee pads and wrist guards but the fear of falling was so great. I tried to avoid the cracks convinced that if a wheel so much as touch one of them I would be sprawled out on the cement. It was slow going and I was tempted to turn around and head home many times. "Just to the next bench," I would tell myself and once there I would set my sights on the next one. In this way I made it half way to the Verrazano Bridge, a satisfying first attempt.

As I turned around and saw the distance I had come, the weight of what now lay before me--all the hurdles I had overcome that I would have to face again pushed down on my poor little shoulders. Should I just unstrap here and walk home? Impossible! Not the right spirit at all. So I gingerly put four wheels in front of four others and set off home. But now the wind was behind me, wind I hadn't really noticed on my way out, but now with it fairly pushing me along and the firm knowledge that I had survived the trip out, I started to skate faster. On my way back I met some of the slow walkers I had passed going out and I imagine I skated around them with fancy little disco boogie trick steps, waved at them and then vanished with just the hot pink blur of my wrist guards left to linger as I moved at the speed just one notch from light.

It was a good first experience but the rough terrain lingered in my head and I haven't been back. Now days when I skate outdoors I do it before work in the basketball court at a park nearer my house. I have found a gentle peace with the Tai Chi practitioners and the rare monkey bar hanger. Parklife in the morning is pretty sweet.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Roller Derby Names

The Gotham Girls make a strong point that roller derby is not all about the fancy outfits and the names and I respect that deeply, but of course I have to think a little about names (outfits come later).

I've noticed that some teams have themes--like the Long Island Roller Rebels and the theme of alcohol (Captain Morgan, Amaretto Sourpuss, Butterscotch Cripple, Bacardi Simone, etc). But the Gotham Girls don't seem to have this trend.

I've also noticed that some names are about speed--for jammers (Snot Rocket, Suzy Hotrod) and others are about fear--for blockers (Surly Temple, Beonslay).

My legal name is Helen which is built for names like Hellen Wheelz, but I figure that one must be taken. So far, after a little consideration, my fast name might be Bat out of Nell or Torando Alli (to reference my Nebraska connection). My scary name could be Death KNell. Today my friend Nathaniel suggested I go with something sarcastic like Nelightful.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

How I Fell in Love with Roller Derby

I'd been hearing about roller derby for a couple of years as friends attended bouts in Lincoln, Nebraska, and my brother's former co-worker was a Gotham Girl, but it wasn't until this fall that I actually got to a bout myself. It was the Brooklyn Bombshells v the Bronx Gridlock and I knew I was in love. At that bout they announced the upcoming Women's Flat Track Derby Association's (WFTDA) National Championship in Austin, TX and I began to hatch a plan to go.

I must admit that I had already been swirling around the idea of visiting Austin to see my dear friend Gina, pregnant with twins, but I had also begun to think that the trip wouldn't happen for a while because of various other engagements. But now, with the WTFDA Championships a week away I decided to be very spontaneous and go. And I went. And Gina and I spent two glorious days watching bout after bout of WFTDA roller derby.

When we first went to the Austin Civic Center to get our tickets, the day before the bouts were to start, I immediately recognized Beonslay of the Bronx Gridlock hanging out in the "lobby" and I went over to say hi. Various other Gotham Girls were there and they were very welcoming. It was so exciting. And I'm not one to go marching up to people I admire. No, I'm much more the shrinking violet in situations like that, so it was doubly wonderful to be so rewarded. And of course I thought I was pretty cool for having traveled so far so spontaneously to support the Gotham Girls, but then at the actual bout I overheard this guy say how he'd flown out from NYC that very morning just to make the bout. That took me down a peg. Good for me.

One of the best things about going to the championships was that I got to see so many different teams from all over the country and that helped me to understand how teams played very differently. The finals were between the Rat City Rollers from Seattle and The Kansas City Roller Warriors. The Rat City women played very tough with lots of penalties. KC Roller Warriors was slightly more gentle--and in the end they were victorious.

I must admit that I had started to feel a bit intimidated as the Championship started. The skill of the skaters, the possibility of painful injuries--it all started to haunt me a little. But by the end I was once again on fire with the dream of actually being a Gotham Girl. During my time in the airport on the way home I signed up for the Gotham Girl try-outs in November. Now I had to get serious.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Protective Equipment

After the skates, the next things I had to get was protective equipment; knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, and a helmet. These I ordered all from Sin City. I went for black largely because there wasn't much option unless I wanted to special order the helmet. But I did go for the hot pink wrist guards. I got large everything and that turned out to be just about right. I think that the more money you spend the less sweaty you'll be, but I'm okay with sweaty for now. And thank heavens my dear friend Johnny Nylons showed me how to put my wrist guards on properly. I'd had them on upside down and backwards. That's almost like wearing your underpants on your head.

How to Choose Your Quad Skates

Early in my journey to try out for the Gotham Girls Roller Derby League I realized I had to get some equipment and skates were top on the list. I wanted to get good skates that would take me at least to practice if I got on the team, but didn't want to pay a lot of money for skates in case I didn't get on the team and in despair went of skating altogether.

I contacted the two roller derby players that I know and asked them for their advice. I also looked on line for reviews. But it was hard to find anything concrete. I read that the Reidell "Carrera" Skate was the usual starter skate and I had settled on them, when I found my way to Sin City Skates There I read that the Carrera has a narrow boot and they didn't like it. "Ivanna hates this skate (it was her first) and says its a torture device we wouldn't sell at all if we didn't have girls specifically requesting it. Please consider other skates. These skates were originally designed for recreational use." And with no response from skating friends I was back where I'd started.

Luckily I was able to go to the Womens Flat Track Derby Association Championships in Austin, Texas and there I found some skate vendors who at least I could talk to. I talked mostly with a woman who had coached women's Roller Derby and in the end I went with her recommendations. I did try on a Reidell Carrera and it was a little snug. Then I tried on the Sure Grip "Rebel" -a new skate made specifically for women's roller derby. It felt better and the price was okay so I bought them with (black) indoor wheels and (red) outdoor wheels and two sets of bearings. I also got red toe guards (which I still haven't put on). And I was a size 8. I'm a size 9.5 to a 10 in regular women's shoes. Skates are supposed to be men's sizes but I thought I was closer to a 6 or 7 in men's shoes.