Our Training and Recreation program is divided up into three levels, each named after a line on Boston’s T: the Red line, Green line, and C Team (T-Wrecks). As skaters progress, they move up each level and learn new roller derby and skating skills. To help prospective skaters get a sense of our program, we asked Green line skater Kat Setzer if she would keep a blog as she goes through the program. Here’s her entry on starting practice.
The first practice of Red Line, I pretty much knew I would cry afterwards. I predicted it before the session even started. Not because there was anything particularly daunting about my interactions with the Boston Derby Dames up until that point, but because let’s face it: group exercise makes me cry.
First Zumba class I took, which only contained six people? Ran into the bathroom crying after. Body Pump? Sobbed in the showers. Hip hop class to boost morale among employees at my work? Sniffled in the corner while my friends shook their booties. Strength training class taught by one of my best friends? Nearly had a nervous breakdown near the end, at which point my friend promised to never encourage me to take one of her classes again.
Yet I found myself at The Fort nonetheless. “The Fort,” by the way, is the warehouse in Somerville where Boston practices. To help you visualize, it’s (for the most part) what you’d expect of a warehouse: white cinderblock walls and concrete floors—and not much else. A track is laid out with duct tape and rope, and the support columns are padded with blankets and upholstery foam, because, you know, safety. The space has been Martha-Stewarted with some handmade posters and a smattering of camping chairs.
A variety of practices are hosted at the fort throughout the week, ranging from the Red Line basic skills classes on Saturdays to mid-week sessions on skills like agility, endurance, offensive teamwork, etc, and all the way up to team practices for our home and all-star teams.
Thankfully, for criers like me, all the practices are taught by other players who have, at some point, wobbled onto the track in their own fresh-from-the-box skates. There’s a lot of actual, physical hand-holding during the first few weeks.
Redline practices are coached by Estrogeena Davis, who, besides being delightfully Finnish, has an incomparable number of euphemisms for ladies’ pelvic regions—you can’t get through a derby practice without at least one creative name for a booty block or the proper way to hold your hips when in derby position.
She and a handful of other skating veterans lead the three-month Redline program that teaches all of the basic derby skills in a progressive manner; in other words, you don’t, say, learn to jump over cones before you know how to fall safely. Each incoming group has about twenty-five new skaters, some who come in able to crossover and skate backwards, and a lot more who (like me) find navigating a track full of skaters challenging enough—without adding in any fancy footwork.
My first derby practice started with a gear check. The coaches go around, tugging on your pads, toe stops, and helmets, to make sure everything’s secure before you go out on the track.
Thunk. We all turned and looked. Somebody’s feet slipped out from her while waiting for gear check. “You okay?” one of the coaches asked, and the skater nods bashfully and stood up.
Lesson 1: We all mess up at stupid times. It’s okay.
After, we headed out to the track for a warm-up: skating forward, weaving across the track, some standard stretches on skates. I wobbled through all the pieces, afraid to lift one foot off the ground to stretch my quad or move my leg around in hip circles. (Sidenote: The stretching routine actually led me to my greatest accomplishment in my derby life—I can finally do a figure four stretch on skates, which is when you lift one ankle to the top of your other thigh and sit into an imaginary chair. Seriously, kids. I’m prouder of this skill than pretty much anything else I can do on skates at this point, possibly because of the many, many warm-ups where I couldn’t do it.)
Once we all got sufficiently warmed up, we moved into a series of drills that would make up a bulk of the practice session. I would love to have some funny, charming memories to tell you about right here, but, honestly, it’s a bit of a blur at this point. (So many practices! So little brain space!) Geena always spends a few minutes in the middle of the track explaining the next drill, then we all head to the track to practice.
This first day, we covered basic falls and stops. We began in lines with cones, skating as quickly as we felt comfortable (which, for me, was pretty slowly), and then practicing the falls. Yes, it is very similar to the relay races of elementary school, but better. Unlike in elementary school (well, at least my elementary school experiences), nobody makes fun of your white-girl afro or the fact that you just skidded into a wall. Everybody gives you high fives and encouraging feedback after an attempt at, say, sliding on one knee.
Cue the heartwarming music.
After most people got the hang of the skills in question, we took them to the track, where we skated around, falling and stopping whenever Geena blew a whistle. The other coaches weaved in and out of the group, offering more sage advice, like don’t fall directly on a knee without sliding, because you’ll bust your knee, and most of us like our knees intact.
And then, because the coaches really like to make sure everybody knows what the heck they’re doing before progressing to the next drill, we play games. No, not scrimmaging just yet—red light, green light!
Much like in elementary school, I don’t think I got much further than ten feet from the starting line that first day, although six month later, at the beginning of my third time through of Red Line, I totally won a couple rounds. Skill building! It happens!
And you know what? No crying. Not even the tiniest bit of hyperventilation. Derby girls: they’re wicked nice.