Why I'm not afraid of injury

RD-16gp I have always had a fear that I could get injured playing derby.  We all take precautions: get insurance, wear good pads, practice safe, and play safe.  I am now less worried about injury.  I know if I get injured that the derby community is there and they are way better than a crutch.  They are the mobility scooter of safety nets.

In December, I experienced what we colloquially just refer to as "Butt Month".  Nonetheless it was a fellow Gent, Hurtin' Temples, that was the one to step up and take time off work to take me to surgery and drive me home after.  Other skaters stepped up and helped make food and visit for the days thereafter.  It made recovery much easier.

January was going well, I attended two practices before heading off on another sabbatical to the other side of the world - Australia is super fun, but January ended with a bang.

Enjoying a post conference beverage I pulled a daring maneuver, performing a Yurchenko vault to push a stroller out from in front of a moving car.  Okay, maybe that is not exactly what happened.  I took an awkward step backward and my knee dislocated to the outside of my leg, which feels about as good as it reads.  I felt as if I had stepped off a ledge, except there was no ledge.  I looked down and just saw my bones pushing against my skin and then flopping onto the the pavement.  Being a stoic, badass roller derby playing professional, I screamed like a 13 year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert.  The knee, likely ashamed of my impressive scream, promptly snapped back into place.

If you are going to suffer a random catastrophic knee failure, then do it in front of the Ruby developer community in Australia.  You need not buy anymore of your own drinks, pity is a powerful drug.  Six hours in the ER and I got the all clear to fly three flights home for 22 hours in a knee immobilizer brace.  Virgin and Delta both worked to coordinate better seating.  I was distraught, it was unclear when I was going to be able to skate again.

The derby community is simply amazing.  They help with injuries in nearly unimaginable ways.  The orthopedist can not see you until next week?  Let me give them a call, they will see you today.  You need to someone to give you a ride to PT?  I'll take a long lunch and drive you there.  Your crutches chafe your under arms?  Skully will lend you some amazing crutches.  You can't skate to referee?  Lets work you into the NSO rotation so you can still feel like part of the crew.  You can't train during practice?  Why don't you come up with a training program for the new recruits and work with them.  Fantastic.

In total between officiating and playing I missed 50 practices.  Despite missing 50 practices there was never any negativity about it.  Derby was happy to have me and I am happy to have them.  That's why I'll be at the next 50 practices.  Will you?

A special shout out to Lee Kneer, Kevin Poplawski, and all the fine folks at Emory Sport Medicine for getting me back on my skates as quickly as possible.

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From the Sideline to the Pace Line

OK, I’m not quite a mainstay in the pace line just yet. I’m still trying to teach my body derby position and slapping the track with my backparts and frontparts a few times each practice. But, I’m getting a little better at each time and I’m not as sore as when I first started. (Still sore though!) My first exposure to real, live roller derby was four years ago when a good friend (and ARG skater) invited a group from our workplace to see a bout. I was hooked from the first jam. Derby is incredible! The speed, the hits, the awesome names, the BYOB, and the atmosphere were exactly what I wanted in a sport; and this sport had it all in a very unique format. Derby drew me in and made me want to have that same amazing experience again. To hear Sweet Willy explain the rules for new fans pre-bout. To watch some of the greatest skaters in the world take the track. To try to drink a beer through a spandex mask covering my mouth. I was lucky to have found a team of wonderful people who let me bounce around the sidelines for them as their mascot, and get the crowd just as excited as I am every time I walk into Shriner’s and see this great sport played. I was accepted into a derby family and encouraged to be creative. It’s 10 lb of wonderful stuffed into a 5 lb bag.

Since then I’ve come to appreciate the sport for its rule set. I now know the legal areas to hit someone. I think I understand when the star pass can take place (?). I yell at skaters when they cut track, and yell at refs when the call it on the Sake Tuyas. I think yelling at refs is allowed. If it is prohibited, then that wasn’t me yelling.

I found myself curious about balancing my weight across eight wheels while jockeying for position against other skaters; experienced skaters. I know it would be really awesome to blaze past opposing blockers or rattle a jammer, but I’ve thought my ineptitude on skates would make that impossible. After a few practices, my groggy-toddler skating style that’s made me thankful for my pads has slowly turned into something resembling derby form. Emphasis on “resembling”. Now, instead of thinking about staying upright, I think about where other skaters are on the track and getting lit up going around a turn. No promises on what the future holds, but I hope it’s me still upright after getting hit. At least once. Someone take a picture for proof if it happens.

At practice, I’ve thought a lot of things. I’m unsteady. I haven’t been doing this for long. I’m slow. I need to react more quickly. My legs hurt. I need to push through the burning in my thighs so I can go further next week. My back hurts. Why haven’t you been doing more core work? My head is covered in sweat. Stop trying to take your helmet off while on skates, Jazzy will yell at you. These pads smell. The pads are going to smell.

But, the negatives end at my personal weaknesses and my weaknesses slip further by with each practice. AMRD is full of supportive skaters, all of whom radiate positivity and are accepting of my complete lack of skill. The other fresh meat and I lean on one another to give feedback and positivity when we see that one of us needs it. The trainers bring a wealth of experience and knowledge which they unselfishly share with us. Now, instead of thinking about trackback and the ibuprofen I’ll need later, I’m focusing on pushing through to 100%. I’m thinking about aligning my nose, knees, and toes. I’m thinking about my fellow meat and how we can get better together. My weaknesses are slowly slipping further into the back of my mind as I push myself forward and accomplish new goals each week. It’s incredibly rewarding for my own performance to improve, but even more rewarding when those improvements are happening for all of us derby hopefuls still in training. The ‘Gents are an incredible group who are even better people than they are skaters. And they’re pretty great skaters.


Roller Derby & The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

Aging occurs when the body is unable to heal itself faster than it breaks down. If that’s the case, why would I remotely be interested in participating in roller derby? It sometimes hurts. The rules are difficult to understand. My body does not immediately respond to my mind’s requests and vice versa.

So is life.

Raise your hand if you have ever thought about your own aging and mortality. As I entered my thirties, I would think about this idea and, with growing frequency, reflect on the question “What will be my legacy?” Would it be fulfilling the stereotypical ideals of an “American Dream?” Achieving ultimate academic, financial and career benchmarks? Or was I destined to never fit in to a particular group?

I was stuck in my own head.

So about a year ago, when I heard that I could participate in Atlanta Men’s Roller Derby, something clicked. I think what clicked is this - I can accept the notion of “aging” by separating it from “regret.” And what followed were flow, resilience and connection on a higher level.

Admittedly there is a tremendous amount of privilege in writing that I learned these things from derby. But because of the transferability of these higher level experiences, Bronnie Ware’s Top 5 Regrets of the Dying resonates. Here’s what she finds and how derby gets me unstuck:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Derby, amongst other things, is teaching me how to live a life that is inside-out vs one that is outside-in. There seems to be more comfort from the authenticity that comes from living in the former.

2.  I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

Finding something in which you’re passionate transcends work and play. I don’t have to sacrifice much time when my energy is in flow.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Gratitude. Respect. Positivity. These are all part of the Resurgents’ mentality. One of the best parts of practice is hearing everyone reflect on what we did well.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

The camaraderie is real. I am surrounded by people who want me to succeed. I want them to succeed. I belong to something greater than myself. Also read my teammate’s (The Gooch’s) article entitled First Practice Nerves.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

My internal locus of control is expanding in healthy ways. Even donning a derby name allows me to apply ostensibly larger than life attributes into “real life.”

So does wisdom really come with age?

I don’t know. I’m not THAT old.

I just know that because of derby, I wear a mouth guard and elbow pads. For the rest of it, my slow processes of reconciliation between having no boundaries and knowing my limits, between individualism and collectivism, and between work and play continue.

Derby is not for everyone and may not always be for me. Perhaps I may never officially skate a jam for AMRD. But at every practice, I see my teammates unconditionally supporting each other. Someone uses his time to develop the pivot and plow stops in us newbies. Someone stops her workout to adjust my trucks. So for today, it’s the perfect thing for me. I can only hope that we all find that.

Forever young, Manila Ice

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First Practice Nerves

There was a lump in my stomach and I felt like it was the first day of school. I was not really sure what I was walking into. Over the years I have seen a bit of roller derby. I used to watch it on tv as a kid growing up in D.C. back when the T-Birds and the New York Bombers were circling the bank track. Now the game has moved on to the flat track and I was pushing 40. It was my girlfriend, a skater for the Atlanta Rollergirls, that rekindled my interest in derby but only as a spectator. Now here I was, getting ready to walk into my first Atlanta Men's Roller Derby practice. I had spent the day with imaginary scenarios of what my first practice was going to be like running through my head. I am sure that it contributed greatly towards my nervousness, or it could have been that I had no idea how to skate. As I breached the doorway, I see a group of guys and a few rollergirls over in the corner getting their gear on and I head their way. That walk over to the group felt like it was a 20 mile march and that lump in my gut grew ever larger as I approached. "Come on over, have a seat while you get your gear on!" echoed through the practice space. Those friendly words were like Pepto Bismol, the rock in my stomach quickly dissolving and my nerves becoming calm. Before I find a spot to sit I see 10 outstretched hands welcoming me in, and I wonder to myself if they will still be as happy to see me once they see my amazingly bad skating skills. As I lace up my ill fitting skates and get my protective gear on, everyone goes around and introduces themselves to me. A few I know from seeing them at ARG bouts, but the majority I am meeting for the first time. For the next two hours I spend my time with one of the Atlanta Rollergirls that volunteers as one of the trainers for the new guys. I fall, I get up, skate around the track and repeat the cycle. Towards the end of practice I joined the team for a few laps around the main track.

While taking off all of my gear I thought "Why was I so nervous to start this?". I guess that a new person walking into a group that has been training together for a long time can sense the camaraderie, dedication and tightness of the group. Sensing this can make the prospective new member question if he/she will be accepted by the group and that is exactly why I was nervous. Yes, we are a tight team, but I have never felt more welcome in a group as I have with these guys. I still can not skate very well, but I have a great time skating badly with a great bunch of guys.

---The Gooch