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....