Thursday, March 24, 2011

Freeze frame

Photos from last Saturday:

ZomB Blokr, Gladi8Her and new addition Few Screws Lucy line up for a jam

Photo by Cathy Kovach

Left 4 Deadwards (333) battles back as jammer
Photo by Cathy Kovach

Benzo Bang and Animal Mother put the squeeze on an Unholy Roller jammer
Photo by Dave Shrader

Bat R Up simultaneously blocks an Unholy Roller and gives a whip to Ophelia Fracture (far left)
Photo by Cathy Kovach

I push out an Unholy Roller jammer while Gladi8Her (far left) skirts around and Killer Baker and Benzo Bang look on
Photo by Cathy Kovach

Fannysaurus Wrex stymies the opposing jammer while Gigahurtz (far left) and Ophelia Fracture close the gap
Photo by Dave Shrader

Monday, March 21, 2011

Front and center

The Mad Rollin Dolls of Madison, Wisconsin have long been a mainstay on the regional derby scene. They've been established for several years and have grown into a premier four-team league. Their Unholy Rollers were named 2010 league champions after losing a single bout all of last season, and several of their roster skaters also compete on the Mad Rollin Dolls' all-star travel team, including the venerable co-captain Twisted Halo.

So although the Old Capitol City Roller Girls finished our own 2010 season 9-2 and came into Madison on a five-game win streak, we were facing a tall order in our first bout against a WFTDA team. Coach and captain Bat R Up had run a slew of demanding and grueling practices all winter, and we were returning just one week after a comfortable victory over the Quad City Rollers. OCCRG was a team in good form but clearly entered the bout as underdog.

Having a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for a veteran WTFDA team/league, we had been thrilled just to have been asked to come and play. Like the rest of teammates, I had been telling myself going in that we would come, play hard and in the very least glean some valuable experience in the process.

Yet within the first few jams of the bout it became evident to everyone in the coliseum that OCCRG was in with a very big chance. We took a solid early lead with Gladi8Her and Ophelia Fracture racking up the points and smart and unrelenting defense from our blockers -- Bat R Up, Animal Mother, ZomB Blokr and Fannysaurus Wrex were in especially fine form.

But quickly several of our skaters ended up in the penalty box over the new few jams, affording the Unholy Rollers' jammers easy points that allowed them to cut into what had been a clear lead. OCCRG's points continued to accumulate in the jams that followed but the Unholy Rollers were tenacious and continued to draw closer, eventually taking the lead with the aid of a few power jams. It was nerve-wracking, but OCCRG's ability to secure the lead jammer title in the majority of the jams was tantamount to regaining the lead 63-62 at half-time.

"If we stay out of the box, we can win this," Bat R Up had emphasized going back into the second half, but it was easier said than done. There were a few more turns in the penalty box for OCCRG skaters though the increased aggressiveness and physicality of the blocks from the Unholy Rollers also resulted in their own fair share of penalties. The lead continued to be traded back and forth behind both teams until the final six minutes of the bout, when GladI8Her and Ophelia Fracture had bold and swift jams that pushed OCCRG's lead 141-123 with just over a minute left to play out.

With an 18-point lead, the outcome all but seemed like a foregone conclusion. The last jam started with no OCCRG skaters in the box and the crafty and reliable Left 4 Deadwards jamming. But the apparent victory seemed to slip away in an instant. From the bench I watched with a sickening feeling as Left 4 Deadwards was sent to the box for a major low block, in the process leaving the veteran Unholy Roller jammer Twisted Halo on a power jam. Still, all four of OCCRG's blockers remained on the track... for a few more seconds. Bat R Up and Ophelia Fracture soon joined Left 4 Deadwards in the penalty box, leaving Fannysaurus Wrex and ZomB Blokr to tough out the last moments of the bout alone.

Like other members of my team, I had flashbacks of our bout with the Mid Iowa Rollers last June, in which we led the entire game only to lose by three scant points when Left 4 Deadwards was sent to the box in the final jam of the night and our blockers were unable to keep the opposing jammer at bay. My fears only intensified when Fannysaurus Wrex's toe stop broke off of one of her skate's, and with her toe guard dragging on the floor was forced to the sidelines. Now ZomB Blokr was the last OCCRG skater left on the track to impede Twisted Halo, who was gaining momentum and with each pass. The crowd was on its feet now and hollering loudly for their home team.

Twisted Halo continued to skate out the jam as the clocked ticked down. I kept my eyes mostly on the floor, trying to pretend the scenario playing out in front of me wasn't happening. But out of the corner of my right eye I caught a flash of black and red shoot onto the track.

It was Left 4 Deadwards, and she wasn't going down without a fight. I watched as she made her first pass through the pack swiftly and without hassle, as the Unholy Rollers did not seem prepared for her re-entry into the jam. Left 4 Deadwards motored past the bench and around the turn to our cheers, and pushed on to lap the pack for four points just as the clock ran out.

Bat R Up called the team in for a quick huddle but I stood alone to the side, my eyes glued to the scoreboard. I watched the Unholy Rollers' point tally jump to 143, two points higher than OCCRG's 141. But I kept waiting. We'd entered the jam with 141, and Left 4 Deadwards had scored at least four points... hadn't she? The referees gathered in the center for a few seconds, and then the scoreboard changed again:

Unholy Rollers: 143, Old Capitol City Roller Girls: 145.

The rest was all a blur of screams and cheers, tears and hugs.

In the days following I find myself replaying the bout constantly in my head. Did it really happen? Did we really triumph over a talented and accomplished team like the Unholy Rollers?

But we did, and people are taking notice.

Online publication Dane101 wrote of the bout:

For Old Capitol City, the victory was a major accomplishment for a league that began bouting less than two years ago. “Mainly coming in, we were so honored to be invited by the Unholy Rollers and Mad Rollin' Dolls...we are so excited to play a team of their caliber, we were honored to just come and play,” said OCCRG's Tynamite. OCCRG relied heavily on a quartet of jammers for their points, with Gladi8her leading the team with 51 points, followed by Ophelia Fracture with 46, Triple D Zaster with 30 points and Left 4 Deadwards with 16. Blocker Animal Mother led OCCRG with a plus/minus rating of 33, followed closely by Bat R. Up with a rating of +30. Bat R. Up had a particularly strong night as a blocker, leading in both attacks (14) and assists (9) for the up-and-coming league.

Iowa Roller Derby:

On Saturday night, the Old Capitol City Roller Girls journeyed to Madison to play their first WFTDA on WFTDA bout against the Mad Rollin’ Dolls: Unholy Rollers. Surpassing all expectations, they won 145-143. Should we call this “The Miracle in Madison?” I don’t believe it would be appropriate. OCCRG is amazingly talented, endlessly creative, well coached and conditioned with a superb jammer roster and pulverizing defense. You knew they were going to be competitive. But to take home a win? No words can express what it meant to Iowa Derby, both players and fans. I’d like to think of it as OCCRG making a successful first step on the road to gaining a regional, and eventually, national reputation for Iowa as being a hothouse of derby talent.

I'm so proud of my team and honored to be a part of it that I could burst.

On a personal reflection, I myself had a complete reversal of form from the previous bout, managing to keep my nerves and emotions in check and bolstering my performance. I fought hard and succeeded in getting lead jammer status in most of my turns as jammer, kept my elbows in for the most part and made only three trips to the penalty box (a career low). I was incredibly proud of my teammates, but also greatly relieved to realize that I had never regressed in skill or ability at all; only needing to conquer my own self-doubt to fulfill my potential.

Oh, and I also rode a unicorn.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

Shaking off the rust/March madness

If you hadn't heard by now, the Old Capitol City Roller Girls opened their 2011 season with a victory over longtime rivals the Quad City Rollers last Saturday at the Coralville Marriott. The final tally was 191-83, and though the Quad City Rollers put up a good fight in the second half it was enough to derail the momentum of OCCRG.

Fancy footwork by Left 4 Deadwards adds another few points seconds before the jam is called off

Bat R Up takes out Lady Gotcha of the Quad City Rollers while OCCRG's Ophelia Fracture skirts along the inside

GladI8Her had several big jams, including this 23-pointer

Myself booty-blocking a Quad City Roller jammer

But though the team was ecstatic with the winner, I left the Marriott more unsure of myself than I had been in some time.

Pre-bout jitters have always been something I have struggled with, but last weekend my anxiety levels were off the charts. It was something of a bad omen when, the day before the Back in Black bout, I weathered my worst anxiety attack in several years. I tried to refocus and told myself I'd be better now that I'd gotten that out of my system, but I slept poorly that night as well.

Saturday found me highly strung and skittish. In the hours before the bout I did my best to relax by doing yoga and some core exercises. But I just couldn't calm my nerves. I try to keep my everyday stresses from spilling over into derby every time I lace up my skates, but sometimes it seems like an exercise in futility. Add that to the feeling of overall rustiness from not having bouted since October and you have a recipe for disaster (no pun intended).

As for the bout, my nerves got the better of me and I underperformed. My turns as jammer weren't as stellar as they usually are, and as a blocker I could have played a little smarter. I ended up in the penalty box too many times. It didn't help that I had an even more severe anxiety attack that lasted the entire half-time, but with the encouragement of bench coach Tynamite I shook it off just as the entire second half was beginning. In the minutes that followed I did manage to make lead jammer and improve my performance blocking.

Someone later told me I had shown a lot of guts to come back like that while battling my own inner turmoil, but I still went home that night feeling disappointed in myself. I thought about the bout constantly all week; at first only things I had done wrong. But towards the end of the week my began to zero in not in the areas I had come up short, but instead on the things I wanted to improve on: Hit cleaner (i.e. no elbows). More ducking, jumping and weaving while jamming. Improve pack awareness.

And finally: Being confident in myself and my abilities.

I was surprised to find a lot of the anxiety dissipating as the week wore on, even with OCCRG's bout with the Mad Rollin Dolls' Unholy Rollers--the toughest endeavor the team has taken on thus far-- fast approaching. I'm slowly realizing that, although I can't skate as well as I'd like all the time, I can train as hard as I can at practices and try my best at the bouts.

And I think I can live with that.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Breaking up the girl

Triple D. Zaster has fallen off of the face of the planet.

That's what some might of thought, with it being some six months since my last post.

A lot can change in six months. This winter in particular had been especially draining. Despite my best efforts to extend his well-being, I had to face the fact that my dog, my best friend of over fifteen years, was slowly dying. Several close friends fell out of my life suddenly. My grades slipped at the university, and I barely made it through my finals. And I continued to wilt from the lack of sunlight and warmth.

Yet I still held out hope for the spring, when the weather would be fair and mild. I'd get a fresh start with classes, and a whole new season of derby would be fast approaching. Feeling directionless, I through myself wholeheartedly into exercise.

The endorphins are good for you, they say. But more important to me, I wanted to be a fitter, tougher Triple D. Zaster in 2011. And so I devised an ambitious training plan for the winter, upping my old standards to five miles of running, 60 push-ups, 150 crunches, several planks and other core exercises. Every day.

I was convinced that this regimen would drive me to the limits of robustness, sending my speed and stamina through the roof. But I was disappointed as the weeks wore on and my performances at practices seemed to plateau. I could no longer keep up with Ophelia Fracture during sprints; in fact I could hardly sprint for more than a minute without feeling light-headed and weak, barely able to catch my breath. My 25-lap times were slower than they had been in almost a year.

But I just couldn't understand how someone who had been training so hard could be regressing. I had thought I would be bursting with energy, tireless; not someone who could barely keep her eyes open past nine. I'd been dedicated to my training plan; of the 365 days in 2010 I had not exercised on exactly four.

"I'm losing weight and I haven't gotten my period in almost a year," I remember lamenting to my mother, a registered nurse, on the phone. "I'm tired all of the time... I don't know what's wrong with me."

"See a doctor," she said simply, and so I did two months ago.

As it turns out, I have an eating disorder.

This obsession with exercise, the compulsion eat increasingly smaller amounts of food, feeling cold and exhausted... it feels silly to say it snuck up on me. When you think of girls with eating disorders, you think of 80-pound wisps of girls with ghastly hollowed faces and every bone visible on their emaciated frames.

Not girls like me.

"I'm concerned about you playing roller derby," the nutritionist told me. "I have girls who have broken hips just from running." I shook my head. Even the very thought of taking a temporary hiatus from my team and the sport was overwhelming and despairing. And so I haggled with my nutritionist and doctor until a deal was formed to satisfy both parties: I would continue to skate if I promised to follow their strict diet and exercise plans with the greatest rigor and dedication.

For starters, I would have to take one or two days off a week from exercise. When I did exercise on the days I did not have practice it would be limited to no more than 30 minutes per day. No consuming diet, light or low-fat food; in fact I was instructed to take in a certain amount of necessary fats and to eat one dessert per day. I would have to attend weekly nutrition and therapy sessions, and see a doctor monthly to monitor my physical condition and weight gain.

But I'm already reaping the benefits. Instead of a chilly 95 degrees, my body's temperature has risen to a far healthier 98 degrees. At work and in class I no longer struggle to stay awake and focused. And the skating! I had forgotten what it felt like to push myself without feeling dizzy and unbalanced, to be able to dig deeper for more without worrying that my body would be too enervated to respond. And yes, even keep up with Ophelia Fracture (well, at least within 15 feet).

There's still such a long road ahead before I am both physically and mentally well. But I am feeling better and stronger than I have in almost a year, and with the team's seasonal debut against the Quad City Rollers on Saturday I feel that more than ever I am ready to put my best foot (skate) forward.

Wish me luck.