Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Accidental Athlete: Fitness and Roller Derby

Let me begin by saying that I am not the most dedicated derby girl. Sometimes I  miss practice and sometimes when it's go all out or not throw up, I opt for the latter. There are derby girls who are incredibly fit, whose bodies are well-oiled and fishnet-covered machines. I am not one of those women.

Yet last night, I went jogging with my room-mate for the first time in about three years. And while I didn't keep up perfectly, I kept up a whole lot better than I did last time. My room-mate, a military reservist, is kind of my hero when it comes to fitness: she has amazing drive and her ability to maintain a commitment just blows me away. I couldn't help but note that while I'm about twenty pounds heavier than I was during that last run, I have better lung capacity and endurance, and, dare I say it, I'm more fit.

Typically, when I call myself fit, I mean that I fit into about half of my wardrobe at any given time. But the last time I zipped up my Docs, I had to loosen the laces to let the boots fit my calves. Despite my inconstant heart, derby is having an effect on my body - not just on my confidence and my social life.

And my ability to earn my level-three skills bearing necklace!
Photo credit Rosemary Van Gelderen
In some ways, I feel like this happened accidentally: I've never really felt like I've improved in terms of my fitness level in derby, perhaps because what I tend to focus on is more my skill testing. But it happened anyway. It turns out that I'm proof that anything - anything - is better than just sitting on your bum. When I was focused on other things, say, my cross-overs, I was getting fitter without realizing it.

Vansterdamn teaching me. She's awesome.
Photo Credit: Natalie 'Vegas' Buragina
And this is why roller derby is better for you than stair-climbing, in my estimation. The sport has so many potential payoffs - the challenge, the friendships, the confidence-building, and as I've found out, the slow but steady progress of one's fitness level.

Roller derby tricked me into being more fit. And I couldn't be happier about it.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Portrait of a City on Skates: Roller Derby in London, Ontario

I didn't skate until I moved back to London. Since getting here, I've been really impressed by the derby community and what a determined skater can get out of the city. I'll be profiling London, Ontario based on a few key areas. If you're considering relocating to London and want to keep derby friendliness in mind, consider the following points.

Chances to Play?

London itself is home to both low-contact, recreational roller derby and full-contact derby. LOCO Roller Derby, my home league started in London but has since spread to Stratford, Brantford, and Kitchener. Also within the city, you can find the Forest City Derby Girls, a robust local full-contact league featuring the star Thames Fatales and the Luscious Lunch Ladies, their newest team. Just under an hour's drive can take you to Woodstock, Ontario, where you can find the Woodstock Warriors, another new full-contact team.

Chances to Watch Bouts?

The only public bouting currently available is through FCDG. They bout at the Western Fairgrounds. Tickets are usually $12 - $15 and the show is well worth it. Both LOCO and the Woodstock Warriors put on  public events, both on and off-skate, often in the form of fundraisers for the leagues or local charities.

Where to Purchase Equipment?

London's listings on Kijiji are always worth a look if you're in the market for used wheels and skates. The Board Shop is usually worth checking out for protective gear and Shock Doctor Mouthguards are available at any of the city's Source for Sports. The only local consistent source for skates, wheels and other equipment is Rollersk8s R Us, which offers a fresh meat package, used and new skates, and 10% off for derby players.

For those willing to leave the city, Hamilton's Rough House is one option. Rollerbug and My Roll Life (opening soon) in Toronto are two derby-owned shops worth checking out as well.

Members of the leagues around London are often willing to split shipping from online stores like Rollergirl, which has highly competitive prices and selection in addition to being derby-owned.

Where Can I Practice?

During the months outdoor skating is possible, London's park systems are very skate-friendly. Connected by bike paths, they offer routes with a variety of difficulty levels, often within a stone's throw of the Thames River. These routes can be busy, so consider skating during off-peak hours and skate with a buddy whenever possible. Here's a PDF of the parks!

The North London Optimist Community Centre is the most popular indoor skating option in in the city. They offer adult skates on Wednesday night starting at eight p.m. Family skates occur from one to four on Saturdays and Sundays. Be forewarned that Wednesday nights are often very busy and are not usually recommended for beginners. Weekend skates are much more relaxed at NLOCC.

Additionally, all of the leagues listed previously host open practices. Depending on their home rules, your first skate might even be free.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Roller Derby World Cup: The United Nations of Ass-Kicking

This year, from December second to the fourth, the worldwide roller derby community gets something new to injure itself during. The Roller Derby World Cup, held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada is the first of its kind and it is a sign that roller derby is still growing. It's a very exciting time to be on skates. Derby players from thirteen countries will play for the very first world championship. There will be signs in several languages. Fans from New Zealand will spill beer on fans from Germany. The after-parties may end in bloodshed and the initiations of long-distance love affairs.

Let me be clear: I am deeply excited for the World Cup. I have my ticket and my spot on a friend's floor, if I happen to sleep while I'm there. But the World Cup does remind us about specific barriers that exist in derby.

Financially, teams need to be able to pony up or raise funds for travel, food and accommodations. Individual players need to be able to take and able to afford potential time off work, in addition to the fact that the burden of paying for the team's costs will probably land most heavily on them. Anyone in a league knows players will toss in their own money when the team needs it, sometimes even when that's not a great financial decision. (For folks interested in supporting their teams, check this list of links to teams' web sites and chances to donate.) Derby is an expensive sport and as I've discussed before, it's up to us as a community to try to ease that burden on players.

More generally, while having players from thirteen countries is very, very exciting, that's thirteen out of about one hundred and ninety seven, if the internet doesn't lie to me. This isn't to say that I expect the Vatican to attempt to put together a team, but I do think this is an opportunity to recognize that derby is not a worldwide sport. It is mostly limited to developed nations (I recognize the inherent linguistic issue with that term, but it's all I have at the moment). If derby is really going to spread, if we can have a world cup that does reflect the amazing beauty and diversity of the world, we need to consider how to make the sport more accessible in the face of economic and cultural differences. And I have no idea how to do that, but I think if we as an increasingly worldwide community start talking about it, using the world cup as a chance for derby players to talk to each other, we're rolling in the right direction.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Getting Lapped by the Best: Derby Celebrities

Last Wednesday, I had a brush with fame. While skating the the North London Optimist Community Centre in London, Ontario, a friend of mine pointed out Killson, a FCDG player and a member of Team Canada for the 2011 1st Annual Roller Derby World Cup. We fangirled over her skating posture and general coolness. The experience provided a good example of what celebrity means in roller derby.

Not the only star on the flat-track.

Because of roller derby's DIY-nature and outsider status, we don't have our own versions of Anna Kournikova or Derek Jeter - though I'm sure they'd both be great on quads. I think the most famous derby player at the moment is Suzy Hotrod, jammer for Gotham Girls Roller Derby All-Stars and the Queens of Pain, who was profiled in ESPN's 2011 Bodies We Want Issue (warning: link leads to naked folks, NSFW).  But for the most part, even derby players famous within the sport have day-jobs and put their booty shorts on one leg at a time, like everyone else.

As roller derby grows, naturally the gap between star players and fans may widen. Until then, even our best remain pretty regular (or highly irregular) women. They aren't paid. They aren't endorsing anything. They probably aren't on steroids. In roller derby culture,  your hero can be the girl sitting next to you on the bench.

Credit: Natalie 'Vegas' Buragina

Most sports do tend to breed heroes, it's true. But how many, say, hockey fans can say they were lapped by Sidney Crosby? Last week, I skated on the same rink as a member of the team representing my country at the first roller derby world cup ever. A friend of mine almost crashed into her. It was awesome. One of things I love about roller derby is that the absolute queens of our sport are still players, still just women on skates, chasing the track.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Roller Rink: Not Just for Birthday Parties in the 1950's

For aspiring roller derby skaters, the local roller rink is a crucial resource that often goes overlooked. One of the keys to improving is practice, but skaters often get caught up in the idea that they can only skate during team practices or when the weather outside is conducive to getting your quads on. While outdoor skating is a fabulous habit (and teaches you to look out for cars), rink skating is usually available on a consistent basis, relatively cheaply (even if you’re renting skates, you can usually get away with $12 Canadian or less), and skating at the rink means skating in company, which can be great for your motivation. Being lapped by someone’s grandmother might be demoralizing at first, but you’ll soon learn from watching experienced skaters and trying your best to keep up.

Rink skating has its downsides. Skating with a crowd of strangers can be intimidating. For more experienced skaters, the crowd might be an annoyance you can’t hip-check your way through. The music selection can be iffy and couples’ skating is no fun unless you’ve come to the rink with friends. The better you know your local rink, the better you’ll be able to navigate its foibles.

With all of those caveats in mind, roller rinks give you what you really need, namely the time to improve. You may not be able to determine what you learn during team practice, but in the rink, your time is basically your own. Usually the inner circle of the rink is open for skills practice and more often than not, there are experienced skaters willing to provide some guidance. (For extra points, check in with skaters in your league and ask if they’re going. Get a group in the habit of going and your skills and motivation will quickly ramp up.)

So, if it’s your first time at the rink, here are five quick suggestions for a successful trip.

1)Bring water. You will get sweaty if you’re doing this right.
2)Invite other skaters. Offer gas money or a ride. Company will keep you motivated.
3)On your breaks, pick a skater and watch how their technique. Mirror them once you’re back on skates.
4)Bring a snack with you to keep your energy up.
5)Boogie. Seriously. It’ll keep you working on your balance and no-one stands out for looking strange at a roller rink.

For Canadian rinks, look here and here for rinks in Ontario. For rinks in the US and other countries, check  here. And don’t forget your skate rental fee in addition to the entry fee, if you don’t have skates of your own yet. Nobody likes shoe prints on the rink floor.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Getting Back on Skates + Fitness Challenge

Due to starting up my PhD, my actual time on skates has been pretty much nil. For the same reason, my time to blog has been basically nonexistent. After some hair-tearing and soul-searching, I put my skates back on last Friday. I've also decided to keep blogging on Mondays and Thursdays, so please check back on those days for new posts.

Last Friday was the beginning of LOCO's Best Fit You challenge. Skaters can, if they choose, compete in three areas, each with its own 10-skate card as a prize. Our areas are highest percentage of weight loss, highest percentage of improvement for a fitness test, and a point-based day by day system of eating according to Canada's Food Guide. Some skaters are opposed to the food guide challenge, others to the weight loss, but I decided to try all three. Though I'm not a fan of the weight-loss challenge (for reasons of size acceptance), I took part largely because I don't have a  scale at home and I was curious to see whether there would be any corresponding change in my weight after the challenge.

But I digress. Getting back on skates can be intimidating. I hadn't skated in ages. I was worried that my fellow skaters would have continued getting more awesome while I was hunched over Ulysses in the PhD1 cave. This of course was indeed the case, but I was welcomed back regardless. I chose to work with the newer skaters, because my skill acquisition has been a bit patchwork and my T-stops are terrible. (They still are.)

In some ways, the Best Fit You challenge was incredibly well-timed. It gave me a clear starting point to get back on my quads and a clear structure of activity and nutrition aimed toward a specific end-point. Structure can be key to getting back on skates: often, we've stopped skating because we stopped making time for it. Having the sense that the structure is being imposed for us (in this case, in the form of a league-wide challenge) can make getting back on skates seem easier than it really is. Am I advocating tricking yourself into skating? Frankly, yes.

League or team challenges can be a great way of encouraging absent skaters to get back in the game. It's not really about winning: it's about having these structures ready-made for skaters who are looking for reasons to skate but aren't great at self-motivating.

Now, I'm off lose a point for drinking coffee. It's totally worth it.