Boot Camp Blues

As I mentioned last time, I spent last season NSOing all the bouts and waiting anxiously for boot camp. September arrived and our home season was over for the year. My 35th birthday had come and gone, along with a black and blue bottom from the spanking I received from Tiki Von Sexron. I had spent my birthday weekend with the league as they competed in the Screw City Smackdown, a tournament hosted by the Rockford Rage league of Illinois. The night of my birthday, Tiki bent me over a chair and pummeled my butt for what seemed like an eternity. I looked like I had been rear ended by a Mac truck the next day (she was very proud of her handiwork—I could only thank the powers that be that no one had a paddle that night). The tournament had given me a great opportunity to spend time with the girls and get to know some of them better. But boot camp was approaching fast. It was time to put away my NSO clipboard and try my hand at really doing roller derby.

The first day of boot camp, I showed up early, my four year old in tow, at Independence Skateway. I sat with another NSO, who would become Mama Crass once she chose her derby name. Gearing up, I took stock of my fellow recruits. They ranged in age from early 20’s to their 40’s—all shapes and sizes. Many didn’t have their own gear and were forced to rummage through the bags of loaner gear, which I could only hope had been washed recently. (If you’ve never smelled derby gear funk, I can only tell you it’s an assault on your olefactory organs. But you do get used to it). Most of them I had never seen before. Some of them had never even been to a derby bout, but had, for one reason or another, gotten the bug and wanted to try out. The thing about derby is that many girls are attracted to the outfits and the attitude. They aren’t aware of the work and the time commitment involved, and once reality hits, they slowly fade away. There were 25 girls there that day. Some wouldn’t be back the next week and some would never make it through to the next season. Out of the ten girls from the last boot camp, only two were still in the league.

Once everyone finally had gear and skates on, numbers were drawn on our arms. I was number 15. We were put through our paces—basic skating skills that I had been practicing during my session skates. I watched the other girls, sizing up the competition. Some could not even stand up on skates. I was astonished at their determination to play derby despite that. Others were clearly pros. Two girls had come from other derby teams near us, and they were flying around the track with bored looks on their faces. Others had been skating for years and while they hadn’t played derby, they were natural athletes who would have no problem. While we skated, we were being graded by veterans. Red Emma, the head of boot camp, gave demonstrations of each activity and then we gamely tried to follow along, some more successfully than others. By the end of the two hours, I was exhausted and exhilarated. I was on my way!

The next week, we learned the results of our evaluations. I had passed basic skills, for which I was grateful, and those of us who passed moved straight into an advanced skills evaluation. I knew I wouldn’t pass those, but I felt it was good to know what I was in for at the end of boot camp. The girls who hadn’t passed spent the time working on those basic skills. One girl, who found out she hadn’t passed, went and took off her gear. She had been an active NSO during that season and had been gung ho about derby. She gave some sort of excuse about not feeling well that day. But she never came back, which was surprising. Sometimes derby is disappointing, and you have to learn to move on. If you give up, you accomplish nothing! But she made her choice. For the next three weeks, we worked on our skills in preparation for the advanced evaluations. Some things I felt comfortable with, others I didn’t. One of those skills I couldn’t seem to grasp was a plow stop. It involves spreading your legs wide and sort of pointing your toes inward. You come to a stop using your thigh muscles as the back of your skates move outward. Hard to describe, but the point is, I couldn’t do it well, no matter how much I practiced.

We were at our last practice before evaluations when the reality of derby hit me in the face. The week before I’d taken a hard fall after a hit by Red Emma—my own fault, because I’d been distracted and hadn’t seen her coming. My knees had ached for a few days afterwards, and she admonished me to ice and wrap both of them every night to help them heal. At this last practice we were travelling in a large pack—20 girls all grouped together and skating around the track. And then we were told to plow stop. I didn’t stop fast enough and hit the girl in front of me, who had stopped on a dime (damn you, Heavy Chevy, for being so good!). The girl behind me also didn’t stop fast enough and she plowed into me. All three of us went down in a heap and my right leg twisted under me like limp spaghetti. I remember actually screaming obscenities and punching the floor. I really felt like I’d broken my leg. My knee, shin, and ankle were on fire, and I crawled off the track crying. Spyder and Red Emma got my skate off and felt around. I could move it, so we were pretty sure it wasn’t broken, but it hurt like hell. Once I managed to get home I iced and wrapped and prayed a little bit. I made an appointment with the team chiropractor, Dr. Didio, the next day.

The next week, I went for evaluations anyway, because I didn’t want to miss my chance, but I could barely crossover in my skates, much less do anything else. Red Emma hit me and I fell and could not get back up. The entire night was a sort of torture. And to top it off, I knew I hadn’t passed. How could I when I could barely skate? I was so discouraged, I almost quit that night. By this point, we were allowed to attend Monday night league practices, and although I went the next night, my heart wasn’t in it. I tried to complete the 25 laps in 5 minutes requirement and managed 23. I took off my gear as my leg throbbed in pain afterwards and contemplated my derby future. But then I went home and had a long telephone conversation with the girl that would someday be my derby wife, Splintercat. She encouraged me and told me not to give up. She reminded me that the whole league had to pass evaluations in February, so I had one more chance to make it before the next season. And she reminded me of that other NSO who had given up after the first day of boot camp. Did I want to be that kind of person? Was I a quitter?

I hung up the phone and sat icing my knee again, thinking.

No, I didn’t. No, I wasn’t.

I posted on Facebook: “OK, so I didn’t pass advanced evaluations, but I improved in so many things. Really, the only thing I’m missing is scrimmaging for a few weeks. So, I get to rest my knee, keep practicing on Mondays, and do the advanced evaluations in February with the rest of the team. And I get the pride of knowing I didn’t give up, even when it hurt like crazy, and I finished boot camp. So, root for me in February, friends!” I meant all of it. February was my last chance to make it this year, and I HAD to do it.

Next week: Derby Love