Thursday, September 1, 2011

ROLLERCON, a continuing story...

RollerCon seemed like a dream more so than an actual vacation. We'd started talking about going last December, and then I bought my ticket to the conference on New Years Eve. Chris really wanted to go, but we weren't sure how we were going to pay for the trip because he wasn't going to get any vacation pay. We debated back and forth for months over whether or not he should actually go. Would he enjoy himself? Would he find something to keep himself occupied while I was running around in the Derby madness?

Either way, the Man needed a vacation, and I wasn't going to go to Vegas without him.

We scrimped and saved everything we could before we went. He worked side jobs for extra cash, and I worked as many hours as my boss would let me to bring in some dough. We were very excited about the chunk of change we'd managed to save up. We were going to be able to go to Vegas and have a blast and not have to worry about paying bills when we got home.

The week we left was quite tumultuous. Our flight left Tuesday the 26th at 7 p.m. Like the responsible grownups we are, we decided to work the whole day, travel all night, and wake up in Vegas. I spent every waking minute I could getting the cafe into some sort of working order, so I could leave, enjoy my trip, and not worry about what was going to happen in my absence. I put in 20 hours in the two days before I left, and all that work seemed to go for naught.

Chris is great. (You will read that a lot because he has proven to be the most amazing person that I could have picked to spend my life with.) He knew that I was working my ass off with my job so that I could go out of town. He took care of all the home stuff, he made sure the Cats had food, our laundry was done and there were fresh sheets on our bed so his sister had a place to sleep when she came and stayed with the felines for a week.

When we walked through security Tuesday night, and finally got on our first flight of the evening, I was so thankful that we were finally going to RollerCon. I was ready to learn more about derby, the sport I'd come to call my home.

90 Degree Johnson had sent out our assignments prior to our arrival at RollerCon. I'd signed up to be a skating and nonskating official for the week because I wanted to learn how the pros do it, and I wanted to save a few bucks on my pass for next year. 90 gave me several different NSO positions all around the track, and two Outside Pack Ref shifts. I was scheduled 10 hours of volunteer work over the course of three days.

I had to apply to work these positions, in all the pre-RollerCon paperwork that I filled out, I was very clear that I was a rookie and that I was a new ref for my league. They welcomed my newbie tendencies with open arms. 90 scheduled me to work non skating positions that I'd never done before. He also gave me a mentor for my first Outside Pack Ref skate.

My first day at RollerCon was spent immersing myself in the culture of the event and taking a few classes on how to be an awesome NSO and announcer.  I went to RollerCon craving to be a better asset to my team and our sport. This was my opportunity to absorb everything I could from the bigwigs of Derby.

I took the announcer class taught by Miss Val Capone. A renegade in the sport, and a legend in the Derby News Network announcing booth, I was impressed about all the information she gave me. She said to stalk the other team, to know them as well as you know your own team. She said to get to know all the ref's and NSO's and anyone really working to make the bouts run, and make them your team. She calls them "Team Other." She really inspired me to come home and help make our bouts a little bit stronger. I contributed during her class, as I tend to do. I raised my hand, made comments, and asked questions. It was good, and I enjoyed it.

Afterwards, Chris and I walked down stairs and I hear "Defamation!"

I see Val walking towards me. (Inner squeal, She remembered my name!!!) "Thanks for your contributions today, I really appreciate it."

We stood and chatted for a few minutes. She's got a lot of spunk, and loads of confidence. She is someone that I would love to be like when I grow up.

Thursday morning I was a nervous wreck. I woke up, grabbed a coffee and went to the morning Zebra Huddle. I was skating OPR that day with my mentor from Rat City in Seattle, Hunter S. Toss 'em. Even though it was later in the day, my stomach was all ready turning with anxiety. I did my first on skates class that morning, a seminar meant for Inside Pack Refs, and skills to make us better skaters. Hunter taught the class, and It was nice to know that he was calm and level headed. He is easy to talk to, and listens when you ask questions.

I was straight nerves the rest of the day. Chris and I ate lunch with Sinda Roller and Rich; they were an added bonus of RollerCon, new friends.  Then we went up to our room. Chris went over the hand signals with me, and I got dressed. My knees were shaking (cliche) as we walked to elevator, went downstairs, and too the DBC track for my first OPR of the convention.

I checked in and looked around for  Hunter. I didn't see him. I started to getting my gear on. He still hadn't turned up. I began talking with Dr. Nono. I told her I was nervous about making calls, and what to do.

"Don't make any bad calls," she said. She's a head ref from Germany, and another new friend.

Another bonus of RollerCon is that everyone is there to see that each skater gains something out of the experience. Dr. Nono was right on with this notion.

Hunter showed up fashionably late in a calm demeanor. He waved hello to me and dropped his gear bag on the ground next to me. He was wearing street clothes. One of the strict rules of RollerCon is that Zebra's don't make an ass out of themselves off the court. So for the safety of our reputation, stripes were not permitted to be worn off the track. Hunter dropped his pants. He changed into full ref uniform in plain view of all the bout spectators, all the while continuing a conversation with me about playing roller hockey in Europe.

"They don't wear helmets and pads," he said. "They're considered weapons."

Clearly, I was going to be skating with a guy who had no fear. Hunter gave me a good little pep talk before we started skating.

"By the way, I'm only going to call something if I absolutely have too," he said. "If someone is being dangerous, then I'm going to make the call. Other than that, I'm going to follow you."

And so he did. We lined up at the apex of the second turn. First tip: "Start your rotation at the apex, that way you can crossover to start when the pack rolls around, this will give you more momentum." He followed that with, "at the beginning of the jam, start about 10 feet out from the pivot line, this will give you a better view of the pack."

The whistle blew, the skaters took off, and so did we. It was the first lap of my OPR at RollerCon. The skaters were on a higher level than my reffing skills. They were pulling maneuvers left and right, and I was trying to keep pace. Hunter remained patient with me.

Around, and around we went. I was having a hard time keeping up with the pack, and if I spotted something wrong I wasn't sure how to call it. Hunter had my back.

But then, his whistle blew. He's rapidly signaling to the head ref a major back block, and blocking to the head. I'd completely missed it, but Hunter saw it, and he sent that girl to the box.

After he made this call he said, "You're missing some pretty big majors, but I think you understand game play."

The next thing I know the head ref is calling the end of the half-hour bout. Hunter and I skated to the center of the track to shake hands with the other refs. I was surging with energy. I skated with some of the finest skaters in the nation, and I attempted to make calls against them, for the first time ever. I was elated.

I was ready to skate OPR again tomorrow, solo. Any traces of fear or nerves were far from my thoughts.

To be continued....



Monday, August 22, 2011


Flash forward to present: I am skipping a portion of this tale to tell you how I'm feeling on this very day, right now, in this very moment. I'm scared. It's hard for me to admit this feeling because, well, I try not to get scared by much more than horror movies. Either way, I'm terrified.

At least I can say that I got over one of my biggest fears. When I joined Derby, the reality of serious injury was forced into the forefront of my thinking. I hurt my own knee. I saw several other girls go down, and I saw a few bones break. I was terrified that I'd break my own leg, and that's why I became a Zebra.

Now I've broken my leg. The fear of any broken bones has now gone out the window. I have spent the last nine days, elevated, icing, and dreading today. At 1:20 p.m., I will have a plate placed in my right leg to aid in the healing process. Not only will it heal the bone, but it will also help my long term health as a walking human being. Hopefully, it will take away the pain, this week has been less than comfortable.

I'm not just scared of the surgery, I'm scared of the bills... will I be able to afford full recovery? I've been uninsured for the last few months because I took on a new job, and I haven't been able to find health insurance that would meet my personal needs that had affordable monthly payments. I'm paying for all of this out of my own pocket. I can't help but think "There goes all the work I put into paying things off, and some of the goals I had for my immediate future because I had to hurt myself skating..."

That feeling is crushing enough.

So here I sit, at 9 o'clock in the morning, watching the minutes drag by, waiting to leaving to go to surgery. I'm hoping today will change my life for the better. I wish my surgery was now so I could get it done and over with so that I could eat. I'm hungry, and the no-eating before surgery thing totally sucks.

I'll regale you with the tale of how my ankle broke later. It's not that exciting. There was no great hit by a vengeful derby girl which led to my annihilation... no, nothing like that.

If your reading this, then please send a healing prayer my way. Don't worry, I'll be back to give you an update in a few days.

<3 Defamation

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Death and Destruction, a sequel

Injured and returning, I got out there and began to push myself little by little. In the background of my life I was looking for a new job, and that could mean no medical insurance, which meant no bouting.I had a bad knee, and I refused to risk my future as a walking human being by roller skating unprotected. So I became a zebra instead.

A Zebra, the best kind of skater, one of the persons who keeps the game in order and the skaters a check. A referee, at the very least I could still skate and enjoy the aspects of the game, but I didn't have to participate and risk injuring myself any further.

So I made the cross over and the announcement, and I don't think that my team mates were to surprised by that. They just embraced it, and eventually I became comfortable calling them out on some of their tricks.

When April came, I was in the middle of opening the cafe, and I was working all the time. Skating got put on the back burner, and I only went when I could. The cafe began to sail a little smoother in May and I was able to strap my wheels back on.

Again I felt the wind in my hair, that was driven by my strength, the push of my skate. Taking on the stripes was more of a natural feeling than derby game play ever could be. I like rules, I like organization, and I like being able to impose order on chaos. If I could not control chaos in the pack, then the least I could do is control it on the sidelines.

Even though I knew it was a role I could take on, I was still scared to get out there and skate next to my legends and tell them why their game play is wrong. It was scary for awhile, but as my time skating along side them progressed, it got easier. And they began to encourage me. They want me to get better.

I got to shadow. You know, wear all black and skate on the outside...You get to watch the game and ask the ref about the calls he makes but you don't get to call the game. It's rough trying to keep up with skaters when you're an outside pack ref, especially since your skating distance can be longer than theirs. Zebra's don't get a lot of water breaks.  Either way it was victorious.  I skated the whole bout without injury or being knocked out, and I felt good about my position in the game: it was over, no one could change what happened.

Junior derby is another ball game. For that, the adults are there to keep the kids in line, including the junior refs. One Saturday morning, Diesel and I took the outside pack for a spin. I'd make a call, and he'd say "oh yeah, she always does that." I told him that he was supposed to call them out for it. He understands the game, but I think secretly all the junior refs want to be Jammer Refs. And maybe, the junior refs are just there for the girls...

Skating junior derby as a ref is fantastic, you literally skate in a circle and look down. The little girls give you attitude and dirty looks just like the adults do, and in some cases, skate better and faster than we ever could. Juniors is also nice because you can tell when they're trying to lean on each other and actually giving someone the elbow, which they're not supposed to do...

I couldn't skate the July bout and agreed to NSO instead, I was on the inside hot boards, a position I really like working. I got to watch most of the game play, and I could tell when some calls where missed, and when some where called incorrectly. I was able to consult with my Zebras after the game....

Then finally, it happened.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Death and Destruction

It was 11:58 p.m. when the transaction went through on New Years Eve. If I was going to do derby. I was going to be serious about it. Blaque Jac had been talking about Rollercon for weeks, and Chris and I needed an excuse for a vacation and a trip to Vegas. Purchasing this ticket made made me feel like Derby was going to be my home.

Well holidays come and go, and they're so hectic and exciting that I found little time for my roller skates in those weeks. Christmas came, and Chris bought me new gear. He was just as excited for me as I was for the sport. He was planning to go to Vegas too. We weren't sure how we were going to afford it, but we were going to make it happen. He wanted a vacation.

Saturday morning, January 8, new gear in bag, I made my way to Astro Skate for derby practice. It was kind of an off morning for me. I'd been feeling a little under the weather, and I'd spent the week prior dashing all over Manatee County preparing for Melissa's baby shower later that day, and getting my house back together after we decided it needed a New Years facelift. Derby practice was solace though. I couldn't focus on anything but being confident on my wheels. I didn't have to think about what the landlord would say about the new paint job in the house or if the couch we just bought was really ugly or if I could deal with losing my best friend to the baby she really, really wanted.

I laced up my skates and felt the wind in my hair. Everything else didn't matter. That morning, I was all derby.

After warm-ups and endurance, it was time for drills. The team divided into groups of five and stationed themselves at different corners on the track. We had a group of jammers, and helpers, and then three groups of blockers. At the Whistle, the Jammer and the helper would take off, the three blockers would pop onto the track as the jammer approached. Their job was to stop the jammer.

I was nervous. My knees were shaking, and I didn't know how I was going to handle this drill for two reasons: One, I was next up to Jam, and I was going against two of our highest ranked veteran skaters who both KICK ASS on the track. And then, two weeks before when we'd done this drill, one of the other betties had broken her ankle, and she was out for the rest of the season. She was out before she ever got to bout, and she's old enough that she doesn't know if her body can handle a come back.

I inched out on to the jammer line. Blaque Jac was my helper, so at the very least I had a power blocker to help me get through the walls of the veteran skaters. I had recently learned to switch my inner dialogue from "I can't do this" to "YOU CAN DO THIS."

The whistle blew. Off I went, skating like I never have before. I went directly at the wall with the help of Blaque Jac in an attempt to get through. The vets tossed me around like a kitten with a ball of yarn. I got knocked down, and got back up, over and over, it felt like hours passed, not minutes.

Then it happened. Areal Nightmare came in to nail a hit on my left side. It was a solid good "take the bitch out" kind of hit that the crowds go wild for in derby. Areal had been one of my favorite skaters to watch before I put on wheels. I knew of the power behind her hits, but had never felt one until that very day. She knocked into my left side and down we both went. Our legs got tangled up together, and I heard a pop in my left knee. When we untangled ourselves, I felt a searing pain race through my left knee.

I threw my helmet to the side and tried to fumble with the straps of my 187 pads to get it off my left knee. I knew something was wrong. Tenacious C and our coach Thor came to my rescue. They got my pads off, and helped me off the track to the applause of my teammates. They brought me a bag of ice and I sat out the rest of practice. My knee felt numb.

I'd never been an athlete before, and I didn't think 26 years old was the right time to give it a whirl. But things had changed so much in my life in the past few months that I needed to do something to take out my aggression. I needed to feel a part of something. That's how I found derby.

Needless to say the rest of my day was shot. I left Melissa's baby shower early so that I could get my knee checked out by my doctor. It was at the very least sprained and I was out for a minimum of two weeks.

When the pain didn't subside a week later, I went to an orthopedic doctor for an MRI.  I couldn't bend my knee, and I could barely walk. Working was a nightmare, and climbing up the stairs to my apartment sucked even more. The result: torn cartilage and a major ligament sprain, I'm down an out for 6 weeks. I spent the beginning of our season in a black shirt doing Non Skating Official positions because I couldn't get back on wheels. I watched the Betties I graduated with skate their first, second, and third bout, and would leave before the after party in tears because I couldn't join them.

Derby put me on an emotional rollercoaster. And because I was so damned determined to be a part of it, I wasn't going to let my skates go because of a silly knee injury.

I was able to put my skates on again the day before my 27th birthday. I didn't push it hard at practice, I just felt the wind in my hair again. A week later, I accepted a new job. 27 is the year that I changed my life.

I could write for days on this... and I probably will continue to finish this story. Just let it be said that Roller Derby came into my life at the right moment. It taught me to be confident with myself, and I still learn new lessons from it every day.

If you want to hear more about my derby adventures follow me!

Much Derby Love,

Defamation of Skater.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Just like the old days

Wednesday nights at Astro Skate is adult night. Nine p.m. to midnight, you can skate the track kid free. Given that I'm still re-learning how to roller skate, it was just what the doctor ordered. My brother Steve came with me. He decided on Monday to become a referee for the Bombers.

We arrived at the rink around 10:30. I'm still sore from Monday's practice, and Yakuza's endurance training. Steve hadn't been on skates in a number of years. We pay our entry and walk over to the rental counter. Steve takes off for the restroom

I approach the skate booth. One of Astro's employees skates off the floor to come help me. He's quite obviously impressed with himself.  

"I need an eight," I said to him.

He hands me a seven and a half. 

"The half sizes run large, these should work," he said as he darts out of the booth to go impress some young, 18-year-old girl. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Trying something new

On Saturday, I'm going to graduate from college. I'll finally receive the bachelors degree that I've been spending the better part of my twenties working on. I took the "road less travelled" approach to college. I spent a semester at a private school in West Palm Beach, Florida. It wasn't really my thing. So, I dropped out and came back home to Bradenton, Florida. I enrolled in Manatee Community College. Mom and Dad wanted me to go to college. My attendance there was sporadic at first, but then I found the school newspaper which gave me a reason to go to class. Graduation came swiftly. I had an associates degree. That's when I took time off from college and went to broadcasting school. It was a ten thousand dollar image of something better. My segue into outdoor television taught me not to believe in everything you see.

I also married Christopher, he's the love of my life, and without him I would not be inspired to write some of these things down.

My outdoor television experience led me back to the restaurant industry where I went back to slinging scrambled eggs and mediocre coffee to old people for about a buck a head. It was good money, but completely unfulfilling. The idea of finishing my degree was lingering in my head. And one day, after dropping off a plate of pancakes, I decided it was time to go back.