Thursday, November 14, 2013

Crash and Burn

My boutfit.. for watching derby.
Fo Champs 2010.

Two Championships, three years apart, and things are very different. For me, 2010 was the height of my derby excitement. I spent the whole last semester of college creating a documentary about my team, and had just moved into “Derby Haus” with a skater and a referee. Since graduating, roller derby had become my life. I wasn’t at my peak athleticism, but the honeymoon phase of committing to a life with derby was still in full swing, and I wanted it all.

Championships that year were in Chicago, a mere three hours away, so there was no way I would miss it. Being a broke-ass right out of college, I had decided to go, but there was really no way financially that I should of. Getting paid for a random video gig bought my weekend pass, and I was on my way.

Entering the UIC pavilion, home of the Windy City Rollers, will be forever stamped in my memory. Vendors lined the hallways, girls from every corner of the country wearing the same damn track jacket, and legendary skaters on the track below. It was like I died and woke up in derby heaven.

That year the battle for first, second and third came down to Rocky Mountain, Oly and Gotham respectively, with Rocky being the rising underdog. Slow derby was prevalent and vocally opposed throughout the weekend. In the days of two whistle starts, this was more of a problem that would lead to no actual derby being played on the track at times. Knee starts had yet to become standard, but people had started to figure out its advantage. Having brought my flip with me, I was inspired on the spot to make a short video on the topic. This was back when I utilized PATV to do some editing, and still had some post-college motivation.

Rocky took the Hydra in the final thrilling seconds. It's crazy to see how much the style of play has changed in three years. 

We drank, we partied, we watched a ton of derby. It was a great weekend and one that influenced my derby goals and upped my knowledge of the sport and the people involved.

Three years later and now I’m nearly a five-year veteran-- on a derby break.

It probably took the last year and a half to gather the courage to take a break. It doesn’t really seem like one can simply walk away from this life and come back smoothly. It doesn’t seem like one can even walk away! Roller derby has saturated every pore of my body, every corner of my brain and every minute of my day. The thought that had run through my head for the past year was always, what would my life be without derby? This is everything I’ve got.
Photo by Patrick Bloom
Of course that’s not true, but it has been my passion for the past five years. Like a drug, I got mixed up with it in college, at a time that I was very vulnerable, and ready to take life by both hands. Since wandering into the Grant Wood Elementary gym, and then immediately purchasing roller skates, I have been a board member, coach, captain, WFTDA rep, PR head, part of the roster committee and of course, skater. I think at one point, I wore nearly all those hats at once. Because, dear derby boys and girls, having the attitude of “it’s not going to get done, so I’ll just do it myself!” will only take you so far before you find yourself in a panic attack and sobbing, minutes before bouting.

I love skating. I love the people. I love putting the work into a great organization and having something to show of my life. It’s something I can point and at say, “Look! Look at this thing I’ve done. It’s important and I helped make it happen!” It just gets to a point when your head can’t handle it all right at the moment, and your body needs some time to play catch up.

I went into this year’s Champs with a little bit of a different attitude. First, my love of derby writing is what got me in to the venue. Derby News Network solicited help with this year’s tournament season, as they are very short staffed and under-funded. I helped out during the Division II tournament in Des Moines and had a blast. I was the only one on the ground then, so it was a bit exhausting. Champs was more structured in that I had specific bouts to recap and a shift in the DNN merch booth…watching people buy London Rollergirls stuff instead.

Read my Recaps!
Ohio vs Rat
Ohio vs Gotham
Jet City vs Santa Cruz -- D2 Championship bout!

Danforth also got chosen to photograph the weekend, so I hung out in the photog area and got a glimpse of that culture. It was also behind the NSO stage, and between the track and the locker rooms. Watching the interworkings of a large derby event was an interesting perspective.

The skaters went by with a wide range of emotions: nerves, excitement, anger, cheer, or sometimes disappointment. The announcers were noticeable by their brightly colored or flamboyant outfits. High up WFTDA members wandered around, ensuring things were running smoothly. Three teams of pink shirts and stripes rotated each day, making sure each game was run safe and fair. The photographers probably worked the most if they wanted to cover every bout, either blending in with the crowd around the track, or sometimes dead center of the action. They put in thankless hours to give the skaters countless memories upon returning to real life. They really do put in a lot of heart and hard work for this sport, so please do remember that the next time you go to swipe/share/alter one of their pictures on Facebook.  (Ok, PSA over.)

All of these people come together and work behind the scenes to make this sport great. It was a blast submerging myself in the mechanics of it all; watching and documenting the games and seeing all the fans soak up the experience. Having so many of our new skaters attend Champs was like watching myself from three years ago, full of inspiration and awe (and probably a bit of booze). 

This season, and for the past two since Rocky took the Hydra, Gotham dominated the track. This year was the first in a while that someone actually gave them a run for their money. Texas gave them everything they had and kept the final day an exciting one for the crowd. B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls came in an impressive third, a giant step up from the last time I saw them at Champs, when they were the first team eliminated (and wearing those horrible gold dresses.)

Photo by Danforth Johnson
I think what I’ve learned in the past three years is to not apply so much pressure to my life in general, but also to my life in derby. Wanting to be the best all the time and always win was a tough lesson to learn during a couple hard, but informative seasons. Having goals and objectives is fine, but remember to share those ideas and encourage other people to take part in them with you. (if they want to do it at all!) Making something happen by force isn’t always effective, nor does it always turn out how you want.

In my five years on OCCRG, I have played every high level bout there was to play. Letting myself miss a bout or an event was unthinkable, and now I need to teach myself how to let go a little bit. This break is the first step, although initiating it in the off-season was a bit of a cop-out. Moving forward, I need to remember to take care of myself first. Someone once related that idea to plane crash protocol; “that’s why they always tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first.” -L4D
Photo by Danforth Johnson of us cheering for Danforth Johnson.


  1. Deadwards: your words are inspiring. You are a great person and a great coach, friend and teammate. <3

  2. You are an incredible human, Deadwards. It's ok to let go, you have a million hands to catch you right before you hit the ground and we all own helmets.