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


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).

Coming to the pointy end of the year

So earlier this week I found out that my mum has been reading my blog. Hi mum!

In the ongoing saga of my foot pain, I have wasted a bunch of money trying various kinds of inserts that didn’t really work. I found one that was useful for outdoor skating, but once I got to derby (skating around and around in a circle really is more fun than it sounds, promise!) I had to take them out after about 10 minutes because it was starting to hurt too much. I have however found some success with sports tape. I tape up my arch, put one loop over the top of my foot, and extend to my heel/ ankle if I need to. It doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it does help enough that I’m going to continue using it, despite the PITA that is tape residue and the pain of removing bits of skin and hair every time I have to take it off afterwards. I now need to buy more tape. And possibly more socks, as now any socks worn for derby are also getting filled with sticky tape residue.

I did a definite 5-in-1 last weekend. We did a 10-in-2 and this time I made sure to count properly. When they called 1 minute I was at 5.3, and in 2 minutes I hit 10.5 laps. I was so ridiculously happy with this result. I spent the 2 minutes just concentrating on my stride, one foot in front of the other, push around the corners and it paid off. I’m faster than I think I am! I have to admit I was getting very frustrated with the fact that I was consistently missing out by 1m every time when the whistle blew 1 minute, but now my crossovers are much smoother, my skills have improved so I no longer slide around corners, and my endurance has improved as well. I’m not a sprinter, but I can apparently hold my top speed for the full 5 minutes of the 27-in-5 which to me is far more valuable. I was overheated and puffed when I finished my laps, but I recovered fairly quickly and was ready for the next drill.

That being said, I am having some troubles with the weather. It’s now officially summer, and our practice area is essentially a big tin shed. It has a couple of louvers and a side door for some crossbreeze (if available), and a fan in the roof (but if it’s on you can’t hear people talking unless they yell), but for the most part it is hot and still and gets pretty stuffy pretty quickly, especially on all-league nights when there are 40+ skaters trying to make the most of their track time. I am a winter person and don’t deal with the heat well; exercising in a hot still room is my idea of torture, so I actually like having big groups where we have to wait for turns between drills (particularly when I can sit down and take my helmet off for a couple of minutes). I’m rather dreading January/ start of Feb when it will be properly hot (high 30’s to 40ish *C). But at least Canberra isn’t particularly humid, that would probably kill me.

There is just over a week left of our 11 month season. One more Sunday and Tuesday session, then testing and a break-up BBQ the following Sunday. I will be going for Yellow Star and I have my fingers, toes, legs and everything else crossed. I have applied to the Training Committee for permission to do push-ups/ planks on my knees again, it should be OK since I have a precedent from I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch blah blah blah. I’m relatively confident, there are just a couple of ones that I really need to hope for some good luck. My transitions are still a bit one sided (I can do them in both directions, but when I need to do right turn/ left foot I have to slow down and think about it, if I’m on autopilot I always go left turn), and I’m having some trouble with the balancing component. I can do a one-foot glide for 30 seconds, but apparently I can’t stand still on one foot for that long. Or at least, not on skates on a hard floor. But I’m building up. I can do it in shoes or in skates on carpet, and I’ve been practicing in breaks between drills etc and I’m getting better and better. I just hope that I’m ready in time for next weekend. The rest of them, well, it’s pretty easy to balls up taking/ receiving a hit, or go down after a wheel clip, but I know I can recover from all these things, I just have to hope I can do it when it counts.

I am looking forward to the Xmas break, but I am also sad that I will have a whole month of no training. I intend to combat my derby withdrawals with a liberal application of outdoor skating, but it’s not the same. It does also amuse/ terrify me that potentially a whole bunch of us will grade up the Yellow Star next weekend, which means that we are ‘scrim-ready’, and then have a month off between then and our first scrim. Of course, being approved to scrim doesn’t mean you HAVE to scrim, but I know some personality-types who are unable to say no to such an opportunity.

Testing time

In case any of you are hanging in suspense, I won’t wait- I passed!!!  The Varsity White Star test criteria is here, and as of tomorrow night I will had a stylish sticker on my helmet to prove it.

Because it was the day immediately after a bout, normal Sunday training was cancelled, and instead we had the end-of-bootcamp White Star test. We did some warm-ups of our own as we waited for the clock to tick over, partly to prepare ourselves and partly just to control the nerves. Fang has us run a few laps, then divided us into four groups of 5 or so. We had Lil Miss Spanky as our test master. Last week I asked the Training Committee for a special allowance to do the push-up and plank component of the fitness test on my knees, which was granted thankfully as even in my days of soccer and competitive gymnastics I was never able to do push-ups on my toes! I could do 100 sit-ups in less than 2 minutes and do pull-ups and bar work, but not push ups, something about them just doesn’t work with my body. Anyway, we did the fitness test first as a group; side planks, front plank, push-ups and crunches, then a static squat and wall sit. I was a bit worried as I haven’t been practicing my wall sits as much as I should have, and side planks had only been announced recently as being on the test (the new test was officially approved and unveiled to everyone at the start of this month), but I incorporated the test into my work-out on Friday (including doing the squats and wall-sits for 45 seconds and planking for a minute, not just the 30sec required for passing the test) so I could be mentally prepared on the day with ‘Yes, I can do this!’ The fitness component passed acceptably with the help of Joebotron. Because we were planking on the wooden gym floor, a few of the Freshies had brought yoga mats with them to cushion elbows and also help with slippage. I had put my yoga mat by the back door to take with me, but forgot it all the same. Joe kindly put his mat out sideways so that he could share it with myself and Juleigh Noted, and so we planked in a lovely line with cushioned elbows.

Once we got skates on, we skated some warm-up laps and then got back into our groups and moved onto the skills component. For skills you get three attempts at everything, and Spanky had us doing everything twice to begin with just so we could be comfortable and not stress about doing it badly the first time out. Our group began with stops, skating the width of the gym and back one by one and doing a T Stop (both feet) and then a plow stop. Plow stops are definitely one of my strengths, and after I did mine across the gym Spanky said I already had full marks so it was up to me if I wanted to do another or not (hooray!). Next was knee taps (both knees), which replaced single knee falls on the test as they’re no longer in the WFTDA standards, and double-knee falls. I had made sure to do a few of each of these during my warm-up laps since I hadn’t been able to practice them for the last two weeks with the bung knee. My knee taps were OK, my double-knee falls weren’t super as the movement isn’t natural yet; I pause a little too long between the first and second knee coming down, and spin sideways as I do it.

Next up was stepping, which shows balance and control with your skates. We stepped sideways (both directions), and then forwards and backwards, all with minimal rolling. Then we got on the track and one by one we weaved through cones, then demonstrated sticky skating and stride (ie. Fluid, confident movements and using both feet to push on straightaways). As a group we demonstrated our ability to hold derby stance while skating, then individually glided on one foot for a straightaway and apex, before finishing by demonstrating crossovers.

We had a tense 10 minutes while the tests were marked (we were all feeding off each other’s nerves, not helped by the fact that my family had come to watch me), but Spanky soon came around to tell us all our result one by one. I literally jumped for joy when she said I had passed, which no doubt looked hilarious on skates. I asked her what I needed to improve on and she said planks and double knee falls, I got full points on everything else (each criteria has a possible score of 0-3, and you needed a minimum of 2 points on everything to pass). The double knee fall is no surprise, not sure what exactly I need to work on with planks, but since we only did the one I may have wobbled a bit or lost form.

Since testing was all done by 4:30 and we had the rink til 6, we did some more skating but without a formal training session everyone was a bit lost. So Jamme and I took some initiative and found some panties and declared a game of Stuck in the Mud, which lasted maybe 10 minutes before everyone was too hot and winded to continue haha. I was pleased though as it gave me a chance to show my family what I could do and why I loved derby. Since we pestered her with questions about the new Yellow Star test (as it will be upgraded to match the new White Star test we had just completed), Fang went through the skills requirements with us; grapevines and standing on one foot while stationary, the 10-in-2 (10 laps to pass, 11 for full marks), pushes and basic contact and so on.

We then did some pushing, I paired up with Joe and it was pretty amazing how much speed you could get from someone giving you a shove in the hips. Then we attempted the 10-in-2, and once again I was juuuuussst short of making the 10 on the whistle (only by a meter or two). I was very pleased; I was winded and my right arch was aching and the floor was super slick today, but I did crossovers almost the entire time and given in the last 30 seconds I almost fell over twice and glided the apex a couple of times and almost ran into some slower people, I think if I’m a bit fresher I should be able to make it. Plus of course I’m working on improving my endurance every session!

There was still 20 minutes left on the clock after that, but I was pooped and needed to take my sister to the airport, so I geared down. All up, this was a seriously excellent weekend of derby 😀