If half of life is showing up, the other half must be getting through the front door.
At least, that's what I thought as I sat in my car like a kid on the first day of school, heart racing, nauseous, full of doubt, wondering if this whole roller derby thing was for me. What if I don't fit in? What if the others don't like me? What if I don't have what it takes?
You drove all this way, do not wimp out now.
Grabbing my gear I shuffled reluctantly into the crowded skating rink. Inside, a group of women were gathered together around tables, filling out paperwork and introducing themselves to each other. Finding a seat alone, I could feel the anxiety in the room. No one knew what to expect. But it was clear we were all there for the same thing: learn to play roller derby and make new friends.
This was especially true for me. I had never played derby before. And I had recently moved far from home.
When you leave the place you've lived for twenty-six years to start a new life and a new career in a new state, finding ways to keep yourself busy can be difficult. I left everything behind, including an active social life. So when I saw the flyer that Bay State Brawlers Roller Derby was starting a Fresh Meat training class in September 2012 I signed up immediately.
The family back home were skeptical. How could a 5'3'' waif who never played a sport in her life think she was remotely qualified to play Roller Derby? I didn't care. To me, singing up for Fresh Meat was about challenging myself in a way I'd never done before. I needed something new. And I was looking for camaraderie.
Over the twelve weeks of Fresh Meat training, that's exactly what I found.
That first night of practice was busy - we needed to pay dues, fill out liability and insurance forms, prove our ages, and read through official league paperwork. When we were through with the legalese, our trainers had us talk, ask questions, learn the basics, discussed our previous derby experiences, and get to know each other. It was a wonderful way to ease the tension.
When we were ready to go, our coaches got us on the rink in full-gear on, skates off, to teach us the first and most critical part of skating - Derby Stance.
Derby stance is all about getting low, feeling the burn in your thighs as you bend your knees, squatting down, ass out, shoulders back, and back straight. "Trust us," our trainers kept saying, "the more you practice your derby stance, the easier it is to skate. And it makes squatting over a public toilet so much better."
They weren't joking.
Over twelve weeks we began learning more: the proper ways to fall (so you don't hurt yourself), skating backwards, toe stops, t-stops, skating on one foot, cross-overs, transitions. Fresh Meat training can seems very repetitive, learning a new skill then working on it over and over again. But this goes along with another very important part of training - muscle memory. You are going to practice falling. You are going to work on your stops. You're going to skate in circles, working on crossovers. And you're going to do these a lot. Until they become second nature. That way, when you take a spill on the track and there's nothing you can do to stop it, you will find yourself falling the way the coaches taught. Injury free (hopefully).
Sarah R., a fellow Fresh Meater, said of her experience "I've never been one for team sports and always chose things that I could do alone or with other people but not teamed; cycling, skating, hiking, rock climbing, etc... Everyone has been so helpful, sweet, and just great that it really eased my anxieties about it."
Anna D., another first time derby player remarked that Fresh Meat was the "most fun/physically challenging endeavor I have been a part of! Lifelong friends made for sure. I loved that we had a variety of trainers as I thought they each could teach us the same skill in a variety of ways. It helped me find my own best way of doing things. and the encouragement from both trainers and FM was immeasurable... I love that we have been accepted so easily and supportively int this new derby family and am happy to have met all of you kick ass ladies!"
I won't lie - roller derby training is hard. For those interested in attending Fresh Meat training, here are some words of advice to help you get through:
- Skate! Skate a lot. As much as you can. And not just at practice.
- Buy good quality, roller derby specific gear.
- Repeat everything you learn over and over and over.
- Practice your stops. Especially on your non-dominate foot.
- LISTEN TO YOUR TRAINERS!
- Ask questions. Ask a lot of questions. Ask as many questions as you need.
- Ask for more time. If you feel weak in one area (say stops, or skating backwards), let the trainers know.
- NSO. Even if you're not required to for your league. Volunteering helps you see the sport from all perspectives.
- Talk to the veteran skaters. Get to know them. They don't bite.
- When you fall, get back up, no matter how much it hurts. That is, unless something is broken.
- If you're having an issue with someone in the league or in your class, even if it's a trainer, speak up about it.
- Don't compare yourself to the other skaters in your class when it comes to skill or progress.
- Don't compare yourself to your trainers.
- Don't compare yourself to anyone. We all learn at a difference pace.
- Go to every practice possible and make up the ones you miss.
- Show up on time, every time. Have your gear on and ready to go as soon as practice starts.
- Learn the rules of Roller Derby. You will be tested on it. Trust me.
- Pace yourself. If you're not ready to assess, don't feel like you have to. There will always another chance.
- Enjoy yourself. You will fall. You will get hurt. You will mess up. Take it in stride. It's part of what makes learning fun.
Interested in joining Bay State Brawlers Roller Derby? We have a Fresh Meat class coming up on February 27th! Get to know our great league by skating with us at Roll On America on February 1st!