Progress is as progress does

Today my everything hurts. I’m aching all over thanks to my fibromyalgia, but it’s the pain of victory and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Yesterday, I successfully completed my Orange Star test, which in my league means that I am considered to be ’bouting level’, and I am now eligible for team selection for any of our public bouts. It also means I can now attend boot camps and open scrims with other leagues as I have passed the WFTDA minimum standards*. And best of all, I now get to attend the Super Secret (not really) team training sessions. So not only do I get more time on skates (always a plus in my mind) with an extra night’s training each week, the team training sessions are specifically designed to teach teamwork, strategy and plays. I am ridiculously excited about this. The little glimpses of progress I’ve experienced at scrim are only the beginning and I can’t wait to learn more about playing the game itself.

Testing itself went better than I thought it would.  We get three attempts on every item, and I only had to use all three twice. First was the 360 transition. which I can do perfectly fine in practice, but I overthought it and stumbled on the first one, then didn’t give myself enough recovery time before attempting the second so it wasn’t smooth either. I also ended up using three for obstacle avoidance. We test this by having the testee skate at the back of a pack of 8 skaters. On the trainer’s mark, the pack all go down and the testee needs to make their way around/ through/ over the downed skaters. For full marks, you need to show multiple methods of avoidance such as hops, jumps, using toestops and/ or stepping. I had done attempt number one and only shown stepping, so I was about to do attempt number two and I had shifted all my weight onto one foot to hop over someone, when a downed skater threw out an arm and hit my foot, which stopped dead. Suddenly I was still moving forward, and there were too many bodies and limbs on the floor to try and get my other foot back down and so I faceplanted into a pile of bodies and copped a skate to the boob. Ouch. Cue tears and wheezing as I tried to get my breath back, but thankfully everyone else was OK. I sat out for a couple of minutes and then completed the section successfully (hooray!). The hitting section went better than I had hoped, as one of our friendly merby boys (Thuggernaut) volunteered to be our test partner and I’ve trained with him a lot since we’re of a similar size and build. Due to track availability we had to to the fitness section last again which hurt a bit, but it’s done now and that’s all the matters. I was very please that I was still able to complete the push-ups section, it’s been 2 months since I last did push-ups or much upper body stuff at all thanks to the TFCC tear in my wrist.

After testing, I sat in on the last bit of ref training and discussed the rules updates released by WFTDA on the 1st, and then we had our usual training. By the time that was over, I was stuffed. My feet were cramping like they haven’t done in months (probably in part by my having spent 8h walking around an expo the day before), and I was feeling a bit shaky due to the combination of both physical and mental exhaustion after testing, so I decided it would be safer for me to opt out of scrim. Instead, I tried my hand at reffing which was interesting. I need to study my hand signals! I took an OPR (Outside Pack Ref) position, and once I figured out how handovers and sight-lines worked, it was fun. And I learnt a lot of about gameplay as well because I got to watch up close and from so many different angles, although most of the penalties I did spot I was too slow and someone else beat me to the call. Learning is fun! Now I just have out figure out how I can ref and play scrim at the same time, I want to do all the things!

 

*Clarification: A leaguemate reminded me that since we’re not a WFTDA league (we like having the boys around), our testing doesn’t 100% align with the WFTDA Minimum Skills. So while I have completed all the mins at various points, I haven’t actually been tested on a couple of facets such as the 27-in-5. Mostly because it takes so damn long to test in large groups :p

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Of scrimmages and kings

So after I passed my Yellow Star and was approved for scrimmage back in January I promised an entry about scrim, but never delivered. Well I didn’t forget, I just didn’t have a whole lot to say up until now. The past month-ish I’ve felt a bit off my game, firstly because of the hot weather which rendered me incapable of skating, then I came down with a cold, and then a couple of weeks ago I finally lined up for scrim again only to twist my knee in the first jam. Thanks to all these factors, the times when I was on skates I felt rather disconnected and frustrated because I was having trouble making my body do what I could visualize and it felt like I wasn’t making any progress.

My first two scrims were a blur. I only got to play 2-3 jams in each and the first one definitely set the scene for me: standing on the track, feeling like a deer in the headlights, the whistle blows and then people are shoving and yelling and it was all I could do to not yell back ‘I don’t know what I’m doing!’. Drills have rules and objectives, being out on the track proper really highlighted, for me, how much I still had to learn about tactics and strategy. I didn’t know any of the hand-signals our Benchie was using, I didn’t know which jammers were likely to want assists and which preferred to break walls on their own, and I definitely didn’t know the names of any of the plays the vets were running! At one point I was passed the pivot panty and about crapped bricks because while I have no issue being loud or leading the group, I felt like I didn’t know enough to take charge! But I think I did OK, I asked the jammer what she wanted and then I kept my wall together.

This Sunday past though, things finally slotted into place. We only had 8 skaters a side for girls jams, and some of them were also doubling for co-ed jams so a lot of people were playing back to back, and it was a fast game. When we got a chance between jams, our side’s Captain explained some of the concepts behind the strategies she was calling which made it much easier to follow her on-track instructions because now we had context for our actions. So we tried running the pack (speeding up so the jammer has to work extra hard to lap you), breaking up the pack (hanging back until no pack is called and your jammer is let through, but you have to be careful not to get destruction of pack penalties), and of course just walling up and blocking. I managed to hit the opposing jammer out a few times which felt AMAZING, as well as generally slowing her down. Once I was on the inside line and she got by me while I was distracted by our jammer in distress, but I didn’t let it happen again. I even jammed, twice! I’m not very fast, but my size does allow me to push a wall pretty well (unless Jillie Pepper or some of the boys are on the other end, then I’m usually in trouble). The first time I put that panty on, I got lead jammer! The jam was called off almost immediately due to a downed skater so I didn’t have to do anything with it, but still… lead jammer 😀 The second time it took almost a full lap for me to fight my way through the pack and the opposing jammer called it off before I could score, but it was definitely a learning experience which I enjoyed. I won’t be busting to jam every time, but now I’m not scared of sticking the panty on when it’s passed to me. And best of all, after the full 1.5h I was one of only a handful of skaters that hadn’t committed a single penalty! My first scrims I served box time for cuts and a false start, so that was a good feeling to know that I had stayed in bounds, hit legally and generally behaved myself.

In just a few short days I will be trying for my Orange Star which would rank me as ’bout ready’. Tonight’s training session covered most of the test thankfully so I’m feeling pretty good about it, now I just need to do it on the day! I’m getting together with my testing buddies for a super-not-secret training session on Friday night as prep because it’s really hard to practice blocking without a partner, or figure out why a move won’t work without an observer, so together we can do all these things. On the one hand I know I can do all the test items, on the other I don’t want to get my hopes up or count my chickens before they’ve hatched. So this week is going to be a delicate balance of confidence without getting cocky or getting upset if things don’t go perfectly on Sunday. 

Either way, Sunday will mean scrim, which will be extra-interesting as WFTDA released an update to the rules this morning, which include reducing penalties to 30 seconds and reducing the number of ways in which you can be called for a cut. The League hasn’t made an official decision if we will begin training with the new rules immediately, but it seems likely as we want as much time to adapt to the changes as possible before our next bout(s).

Bouts and scrims

Saturday Feb 15th was bout day! I was pretty pleased on a number of fronts, starting with the fact that I actually came up with the bout name! Our theme this year is Grimm’s fairy tales, and I pitched the Events Committee with ‘Snow Bite: Will YOU go into the woods?’. It was pretty awesome to see it turned into this amazing artwork and poster:

Snow Bite Feb 15th

I was helping coordinate the event again, and after a slow start I ended up with a great roster of Volunteers who helped the event run super smooth. A special shout-out goes to my long-suffering derby widow who showed up with me several hours before the event even started to help me move tables and yell at people, and then sat out on the foyer selling tickets for half the bout! I thankfully got to see most of the second half which was lucky, because the finish was nailbiting! We’ve played Blue Mountains a couple of times before and they trounced us last year, so it was pretty thrilling to be tied with only minutes to go and finally win by 20 points. Especially when we had 5 players playing their debut home bout, and one of them got to finish the night with the powerjam that won the bout for us! There’s more details on the official VDL page here.

While at the bout I also picked up these beauties which had just come in with a league group order. The scrim tank is reversible (white on one side, black on the other, with my name and number printed on both), and the armbands are heavy duty non-roll elastic with my number printed and sewn on. They’re actually really comfortable to wear, they’re made by Spank Alley who are one of my league’s fabulous sponsors this year.

Rabid scrim tank

I proudly wore them to training on Sunday, and of course I then took a bad fall in my first jam in scrim and twisted my knee *sigh* It’s not serious but it kept me out for the rest of the session.

But at least that was the second half of the session. Because it was the day after a bout, we had a shorter all-league training session first. Because of lucky coincidence, we had a guest trainer for the day. Copter was one of the original members of VDL, he’s since moved to Brisbane and now skates for Brisbane City Rollers’ men’s team The Scartel. He’s also been chosen for Team Australia and will be competing in the first ever Men”s Roller Derby World Cup in Birmingham next month as part of the Wizards of Aus. You can donate to the team’s travel costs here if you’re interested.

Anyhow, Copter took us through a great session on transitions and backwards skating. This is the second time Copter has guest-coached us and for all its brevity and mixed-levels  it was a fantastic session. We worked on doing transitions in multiple directions at speed, on skating and stopping backwards, on using transitions for blocking and finally having a partner guide you and control your speed while you were travelling backwards (it’s the most bizarre feeling, especially when trying to corner!). Copter is an absolute sweetheart who hits like a truck and it was a pleasure to train with him again, if you get the chance I highly recommend it! You can also become a fan on Facebook, just search for ‘Copter #173’. He joined our boys for scrim as well and they had a fantastic match.

I am not a summer person

Today, being a Sunday, I went to training. I was pretty excited, because earlier this week it was announced that instead of having 2h of drills and 1h of scrim, we were going to split the time evenly from now on. Our league has grown so much over the past year, especially since we now have enough boys to have male scrim as well, that 1 hour simply wasn’t enough times for people to get more than a handful of jams each (I know I skated in only 3 or 4 last time). While it does cut into our Advanced Training time, scrim teaches us tactics, strategy and rules, as well as letting us put drills into practice.

Unfortunately, today was also 38*C for the entirely of training and scrim (over 100*F) and I don’t handle the heat well. I did the on-skates warm-up, then sat out on the first drill because I felt a bit off. Did the second drill (a variant on a weaving pace line, using whips and circling each skater), and I had to sit out again. It took me 45 minutes to cool down to a point where I no longer felt dizzy, by which point training was almost over and I knew I jumped back in it would just happen all over again anyway. I briefly considered scrimming (since the longest you’re on the track is usually 2 minutes at a time), but the heat has also been playing havoc with my fibromyalgia so I geared down and took the chance to NSO again. I was pretty sad to miss out on so much skate time as well as scrim, but I have also missed NSOing the last month since I qualified to actually scrim myself, so I tried to just enjoy it while I could.

We’re supposed to cool down midweek so hopefully Tuesday training will be more successful for me, although temperatures are forecast to rise again in time for next weekend :/

Break? What break?

Training started up again a couple of weeks ago on the 12th. I rocked up, banged out my 20 sit-ups once the appropriate member of the Training Committee arrived, and boom I was a Yellow Star. I geared up with the other new Yellows and we attended the Advanced Training session and had our first scrim. It was exciting and a little scary, but I will talk more about that later.

Over the break, I tried to get as much time on skates as I could (between work, family commitments and the weather). We started the week of Xmas with a bunch of us meeting at the local uni’s sports complex for a roll around. The floor there is much nicer and better cared for than our usual training nevue, and this time I didn’t find it as slippery as I did the 1st time I skated there a few months previously (one of the benefits of practice and improving!). We had 15 or 20 people, but being a loose collective of VDL, CRDL and social skaters we were all sort of doing our own thing instead of practicing any drills or playing games. Skating in circles does kinda wear thin after a couple of hours. But I worked on my transitions and chased Jamme and Doc’s small children around and had a good chat with folks so yay 🙂

skating at ANU

I also had a number of trips outdoors. Down the lake of course, but I also discovered the awesomeness that is the Mt Stromlo Criterion. It’s a super-smooth asphalt track  with a gentle incline in a 1.2km loop build for cycling. The slope isn’t very steep, but it’s a couple of hundred meters long (each ‘end’ is raised and it dips in the middle) so it’s great for endurance as well as practicing plow stops or lateral cuts on the downslope. I managed to do a loop in 4:26 (works out to an average speed of 16km/h or 24-in-5) so next time I go back I’m going to trial Runkeeper or similar to see what my speed is going downhill (I got speed wobbles!) and to track progress as I practice and build up my endurance (skating uphill and into the wind is a serious slog!). It also has a nice square bit in the middle about the right size for a derby track to practice crossovers on the flat(tish).

Stromlo

I actually had another skate at the lake only yesterday and discovered a taste of what autumn holds for skaters. Good juking/ footwork practice!

Footpath

This weekend I will unfortunately miss practice, but it’s OK because it’s in the name of derby! There’s a friendly on in Woolongong which a bunch of VDL players have signed up for. 1 day. 5 bouts ( 90min 3-period co-ed game / full length women-only / 5-on-5-for-5 all-male demo bout / full length Tall vs Tough coed game /20 min reverse direction mini-bout), and a mix of players from both Canberra and a number of Sydney/ NSW leagues forming draw teams. Because so many of our skaters are participating in the friendly, scrim won’t be on this week anyway. So instead, I will watch a buttload of derby and learn as much as I can! And I might go for another outdoor skate since it’s a long weekend…

Brace yourselves, Christmas is coming

For our final all-league session, we started a little differently: we warmed up with a few laps and then practiced stops, but with our skates untied. Doing crossovers was nervewracking for most, but it was one of the few times I was glad to have giant feet (more to stay in the boot!). I didn’t notice too much difference when doing plow and T stops, but when Red Hot Jillie Pepper had us all try hockey stops I felt a bit unstable. I tried them again once we laced up properly, it was much more comfortable but I don’t have the motion down yet (got 1 proper one out of 5 attempts, the rest were more like powerslides or C stops). For the rest of the session we worked on agility, especially lateral cuts and transitions. By the end we were doing multiple 180 turns, and I even managed a couple of 360’s before I got too dizzy (I’m too used to using tight turns as stops, so I need to work on being able to transition without slowing down/ stopping so much now). This was particularly useful given that smooth transitions in both directions were on the Yellow Star test in 5 days’ time.

Sunday was Testing and our Xmas break-up bbq. Unfortunately I didn’t quite pass my Yellow Star, but I was so damn close. At least it means I can retest just on the one bit I couldn’t do after we come back from Xmas break, instead of having to do the entire test again.

The one skill I was really worried about was balancing on one foot (on skates) for 30 seconds. Minimal roll is allowed, you’re supposed to stand still and by the holy Flying Spaghetti Monster it’s hard! I’ve been practicing at home and I could do a full minute here, but my kitchen floor has a touch more give in it than the wooden basketball court we practice on. I did briefly consider being a smart-arse and asking to do it on the carpeted section out the front of the hall (since the test doesn’t specify the surface you have to do it on), but it would have simply been me being a dick so I decided against it.

Anyway, we all lined up and did the various balancing skills: shuffle, quick feet, grapevine, and then it was time. I did my left foot first, and overbalanced about 10sec in. Then tried my right and I didn’t even make it that long. Jillie called out the halfway point and asked me why I was just standing there. I replied ‘Well I have to start again right?’ and she just looked at me and said ‘you can still practice right?’ Duh, too wrapped up in my own failure. We did a third one and a few of the others joined me for a retry and this time I managed the full 30 seconds on my left foot, hooray! Then I had to redo my right. Everyone else had completed it so it was just me, standing inside a circle of skaters, grimacing at a point on the wall as I flailed and wobbled and when my left foot slammed down just a split second after Jillie called time I couldn’t help it and I actually teared up with relief while everyone hugged and congratulated me.

Everything else went pretty smoothly. I got 5.5 laps for the 5-in-1 (and the floor was really slippery so I had trouble pushing around corners!) and one of the observers complimented my stride. My transitions on both sides were good (although it did take me a couple of attempts to make it smooth as we were doing it in limited space), my jumps weren’t perfect but they were good enough to pass, and we did the fastest pace-line I have ever participated in which was kind of amazing for weaving through.

This time we did the fitness component at the end, so we had been skating for a good 90 minutes before doing planks, push-ups, wall-sits and static squats. This is where I ran into difficulty, I just couldn’t get the sit-ups. There are a variety of excuses; I was tired, I thought it was crunches –or- sit-ups so I have only trained for crunches because they’re better for my back, I was being marked by a skater I haven’t trained with offskates before so she has some different ideas of about form to me (I had to redo my plank as well because she didn’t like the way I had my feet)… but in the end it comes down to my own lack of preparation and fitness; it was a fitness test and I didn’t have it. However, since it’s the only part I did not complete, I can retest on just the sit-ups after we come back from break. This means I have 6 weeks to train for 20 sit-ups and then I will be able to scrim. Hooray!

In some ways it’s actually a good thing, as it’s an added motivation to keep my fitness up over the Christmas break. Between the heat, the food and the lack of routine when on holidays, I find time seems to slip away and it’s suddenly been days or even a week between workouts. Instead, this year I’m looking at starting the 100 Push-Up and 200 Sit-Up Challenges, as well as some kettlebell sessions and hopefully some outdoor skating if it’s not too hot. And since there are a whole 3 weekends without derby training to fill the hours, I’m thinking it’s time for some derby socialising instead: BBQ, drinks and derby rules quizzes!