Leave of Absence and Taking Care of Yourself

People take a leave of absence (LOA) from derby for many reasons. Injury, work, family, mental health. My LOA came about unexpected but needed.

I have been playing roller derby for two years. I started six months after having my beautiful little girl. Deep in the new world of parenthood, I began this derby journey lost and searching for myself, searching for a new me after becoming a mom. I was looking for a way to redefine myself, and I wanted to become a better person so I could be a better mom.

Derby did just that. I learned every week. I learned new skills every week. I met new people. I made new friends. I found a group of people who opened my eyes to confidence, strength, courage, and compassion, all while learning how to skate and bumping each other around on a concrete track. We faced fears, we jumped cones, and we skated an entire practice backwards (which solidified one of the best derby friendships I have right now).

I was learning to be comfortable with myself. I began to love this body that could do amazing things. I took chances. I was loving the life. I remember passing my skills test in February 2015. I remember that feeling I had when I found out I had made the Vigilante team. I remember my first bout. I remember my first MVP Blocker award. All those memories bring me euphoria.

But not long after all those wonderful things, I started losing sight of the real purpose of derby. I can remember that happened around October of 2016, shortly after Mitten Kitten and shortly after I sprained my ankle in November. I began to get terribly hard on myself (more than just the usual). At the beginning of this season, I thought I was in a good mental space but I came to find out that I wasn’t, and I just wasn’t admitting it. I was placing all kinds of unwanted and unneeded pressures on myself.

Early in the season, my wonderful captains set aside some time before one practice to bring up concerns that they had and what other teammates had expressed through observations. On the outside, I blew this off like no big thing, but inside I was falling apart and wasn’t ready to accept it or more importantly admit it.

I continued through the next few weeks, when my husband and I were fortunate enough to take an unexpected trip to the Czech Republic and Germany! It was great, but it also took me away from derby, missing practice and missing the first few bouts of the season. Long story short, I needed to step down from my team roster. I know it needed to happen and that I was following the guidelines. It was the right thing for me to do, but I really didn't handle it well.

My attendance at practice from late April to June was on and off, when I finally admitted to myself that I needed to take some time off and focus on me. Focus on my family, and focus on my issues around self-doubt, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Most of all, I wanted to deal with anxiety issues that were limiting me more than I really knew. I was fearful to take LOA because I wasn't sure if I would return.

Admitting this was so incredibly hard. It was a punch in the gut. It made me feel powerless and useless, but I know without this league, I would have never pushed myself to take this step of taking care of myself and seeking professional help. Without that initial conversation with my captains, I might never have taken those first steps to work on me. So to you both, thank you for being wonderful and supportive captains.

A2D2 is so strong and open and supportive of each other. Of physical health. Of mental health. I'm not sure I've shared how much, how important, and how essential this league has been in me reaching out and admitting I needed help and really identifying what anxiety looked like and how to deal. I'm an observer, and I've seen so many leaguemates grow their strength and confidence in the few short years I've been involved.

I cannot thank this league enough. Making my return this month hasn't been easy, because life happens and mentally I'm still working on things. I'm still figuring out how to be OK with me, and how to deal with the anxiety that controls me on a daily basis. But like always, my leaguemates are supportive. They offer hugs when I need it... and the occasional encouraging hip check on the track.

In my short time playing derby, I've found myself, lost myself, and am learning to redefine myself as I embark on a journey to a better me.

Kaboom is a 30-something year old Bank skater for A2D2, mom of a 3-year-old, wife, crossfitter, and physical therapist. She loves all things duct tape, Harry Potter, Disney, and the occasional Aqua song.

Posted on March 27, 2017 .

A2D2 Year In Review 2016

Top: Brawlstars took first place at the 2013 Mitten Kittens tournament.
Bottom: Arbor Bruising Company brought home the first place trophy in Mitten Kittens' 2016 division 1 tournament. 

2016 was an exciting year for Ann Arbor Roller Derby! All three of our teams played hard to put Ann Arbor on the map, and each team ended with positive win-loss ratios. All three teams went to tournaments to close out their seasons, and each team made Ann Arbor proud.

After losing only one game in the regular season, leaving them 11-1, the Brawlstars made WFTDA Division 1 Playoffs in Columbia, South Carolina for the first time ever, playing with some of the best teams in the WFTDA. The Brawlstars are now ranked 31st overall in the WFTDA

The Bruisers went into the Mitten Kitten Mash-Up tournament seeded first in their division and took home the first place trophy after winning all of their games that weekend. Bruisers ended up 12-4 after Mitten Kitten. 

The Vigilantes also participated in Mitten Kitten in their division, ending up taking 3rd place and leaving higher ranked than they entered. They played a number of grudge matches against teams who had bested them earlier in the season, and ended 7-4.

A2D2 home bouts got a little more exciting in 2016 with the approval of our liquor license. We began selling a few kinds of beer and cider to spectators to enjoy while they watched the game! Skaters who were not participating in the bout got certified to sell and had a great time.  

Off the track, we stepped up our community outreach this year, from adopting and cleaning up a stretch of local highway to gathering donations for local charities. Plus, we spread the gospel of roller derby far and wide by gathering donations and sending three boxes of used gear to a league in Beirut to help them get their start. 

Ann Arbor Roller Derby thanks you for tagging along with us on our 2016 journey, and we hope to see you as we move onto bigger and better things in 2017! Happy New Year!

Ypsilanti Vigilantes celebrate their third place win in the 2016 Division 2 Mitten Kitten Mash-up, scoring 168-116 against Keweenaw.

Sonnet Boom is a Bruiser/Brawlternate who would write and roller skate at the same time if it were feasible, but her trainers keep telling her not to.

Posted on January 1, 2017 .

Retirement Tug-of-War

Image via Team Anderson

I intended to write an article about retirement. And then I hesitated. Was I sure, absolutely sure, like put in writing sure, that I was going to retire? It wouldn’t be the first time I said I would retire (third actually, but who’s counting?). I procrastinated and procrastinated despite our PR chair’s gentle but persistent prodding. 

Despite the fact I had said “retire,” my old league heard “come back to play with us.”Who could blame them? They’ve heard it before. As I was, and am, engaging in this mental tug of war, I realized this writing was not going to be about retirement. It was going to be about belonging. 

Our sport is an amazing sport to play. Whenever I talk about one of the reasons I hesitate to retire, even non-derby players get it. There is nothing like this sport. There is nothing I will take up that comes close to the speed of sprinting on skates, the mental chess match of reading play, and the physicality of giving and taking hits. I will certainly miss these aspects of it. Whenever I’m in game play, even when it’s not going well, there is nowhere I’d rather be. I honestly could not care less about my graduate degree, my utility bills, or if continuing to play derby would make me less of a parent, employee, or friend. It’s kind of like a drug that way. But that’s not the thing the retirement tug of war is really about. 

It is cool as shit to be a derby player. Anyone who tells you that’s not part of the reason they play, I’ll accuse of lying. It’s got social cache´. More than once it’s opened up doors and conversations, personally and professionally, that I’d never gotten into without that first “Really? You play roller derby? How cool!” But that’s not the thing the retirement tug of war is really about. 

You make friends, lots of them. I have found so many people I never, ever would have found without derby. I have friends of almost every imaginable background. I even got the love of my life out of the deal. All those boot camp posters that say you’ll get 50 new friends? Try hundreds. You will always have a place to stay and someone to skate with. You can drop into any mid-size and up town in the nation (and in a lot of instances, the world), and email your local derby league, and you will have friends. But that’s not the thing the retirement tug of war is really about. Close, but not quite. 

In thinking about retirement, one of the things I reflected on was my friends who have already retired. I’ve been around a bit, so there are plenty of them. I see their path being something like this: Months 1-4, gloriously happy. They can’t believe all of the things they get to experience that they’ve been neglecting. Other sports, sleep, non-derby friends, Saturday nights. Months 5-12, still pretty happy. They’ve taken up a new interest or two. They miss it some, maybe they drop by some games, sporting their track jacket, but overall still pretty happy. One year plus. Either they come back, or they deeply miss it. This is scientifically proven by a careful analysis of Facebook and Instagram. Maybe it was playoff season, maybe an after-party, but something pulls them back in or sends them into a deep longing. 

This. This is the thing that the retirement tug of war is about. Belonging to something, and what happens when you leave that something. Derby is a demanding and fickle mistress to be certain. What is demanded of you is time, emotional energy (gobs of emotional energy), physical work whether you play or staff, giving up on other things you love, your non-derby talents (if you call writing a rambly run-on blog talent), your body, sleep, and a whole host of other things I’m probably not thinking of right now because of all those things I just mentioned. But what you get in return is belonging to something. Belonging in a way many of us never experienced in other areas of our lives. 

I was stalled out finishing this piece until I saw a quote from leaguemate Slamuel L Jackson (Jax). In being asked about a mantra or motivation, she said, “Get up. Your team needs you”. I teared up. She uses it as morning gym motivation. And I’ve seen her say something similar before. This time I realized, it wasn’t just about her alarm clock in the morning. It’s so much more. It’s your will. Your reason for popping up after a monster hit. Your reason for the umpteenth time you’ve said, “I can’t, I have derby”. For some of us, our reason for staying on the planet. You belong to something. You belong to something better than what you are by yourself. A team, a community, you’ve found your people. And that is an incredibly, incredibly hard thing to walk away from. Sure, you can still see a game and go out to lunch with your friends, but we all know it’s not the same as the deep sense of belonging you feel when you are part of a league or team. 

Next month the Bruisers head to Mitten Kittens. I am so lucky and grateful that not only will my team be there, my partner will be there, but also many friends from derby. It’ll be great, but I’m tired today. My work load is huge. December graduation of my Master’s seems eternal ages away. My beautiful babies are getting ready to start school, and my bed is comfy. Really, really comfy. But I will get up and head to practice. My team needs me.

ShamWow is a proud Bruiser, mom, and educator.

Posted on September 18, 2016 .

Coming Back to Roller Derby

Sometime last August I put away my derby gear like I did after every practice. At that time, I had no idea I wouldn’t touch it again for a year. Things were changing – I had a new job, a new breakup, a new living situation. And, since I was questioning or changing so many other things, I started questioning my place in roller derby, and roller derby’s place in me. 

Derby was a difficult thing for me. I had never played sports, and hadn’t skated in over 20 years. I wasn’t particularly athletic. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be there.

Although derby gave me a respite from the daily grind, that was the most expendable thing for me at the time. I threw myself into work with so much gusto that I got more projects, which gave me even less time to do anything at all with the derby community. I was creating my own excuses. And so, after much deliberation, I went on an inactive LOA.

But derby wouldn’t go away. The bout posters that were hung in my office were a daily reminder. I creeped the league media pages. People who remembered I played would ask when my next bout was. I watched as the Brawlstars rose through the ranks, leapfrogging Division 2 to land a spot in the Division 1 playoffs. I missed being even a small part of that. 

Choosing to come back, though, proved to be even more difficult than taking a break. What if I forgot how to skate? I had quit, would I be welcomed back? What if everything has changed? And then I realized the answer to all of my questions was “so what?”

 Once I had overcome that mental hurdle, I made the decision that I would join Wave 12 Fresh Meat bootcamp. A2D2 has, in my opinion, the best Fresh Meat bootcamp on the planet. It’s 18 weeks of intense, thorough training that gradually introduces you to roller derby skills and gameplay. It would be the ultimate safe space for a reintroduction to the sport. Sure I’m nervous, but so is everyone else who will be there. And at least this time I know what to expect! 

I’ve always said that I’d try just about anything, twice. So tonight, a year after I took a break, and two years after I started, I’ll hit the track again. I’m not particularly excited about having to skills test again in 18 weeks, but I am ready to get back into it, to meet the new skaters, to reconnect with my teammates, and to fall back in love.

Sneaking Beauty is a former Ypsilanti Vigilante and returning Fresh Meat skater.

Posted on September 14, 2016 .

Brain & Limbs: Sometimes They Even Work Together

Growing up, my entire self-perception was essentially “Brain + Limbs”. Little me was overly cerebral, and mobilized by long legs and arms that always seemed to get tangled up in efforts to walk without tripping. That was most of my body awareness in elementary, middle, high school, college, and even graduate school.

I had never played a sport before roller derby, and that was for two reasons. First, I taught myself that I wasn’t coordinated enough, wasn’t fast enough, and couldn’t catch or run or jump well enough that anyone would want to play with me. Sometimes I told myself these things, and sometimes other people did. The second factor was that school was a place I was privileged to thrive. I earned good grades and never felt the need to take on the physical challenge of something like a sport. I’d found a realm that rewarded my achievement, so why would I try anything in which I had told myself failure was inevitable?

For the past year, roller derby has reintroduced me to what my body can be and do. When I joined Wave 11 of A2D2’s boot camp last September, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for in derby. On day one, I mostly hoped nobody would laugh at me when they found out I was the World’s Worst Sports-er. On day six, I hoped I could forget for a few seconds that I had put wheels on my feet, just enough to get out of my own way to execute a skill.

Then on day fifteen, I sustained a minor ankle injury that took some time to heal, and I hoped my skills wouldn’t completely revert over the course of a few off-skates weeks. During these weeks, I sat in the middle of the track and listened to drill explanations, watching as other Wave 11 skaters practiced them. While my ankle was healing and I just wanted to put the wheels back on my feet, I had a moment of realization. For maybe the first time in my life, I craved learning-by-doing instead of learning-by-thinking, even though that meant literally falling on the ground countless times in front of a lot of other people before finding success. At 8 years old, that would have been my complete nightmare. A2D2 has many facets that make it an excellent place to learn and play roller derby, but skater-to-skater encouragement is near the top of the list. My day-one fears have never materialized; the opposite has been true. Many skaters whose own skills I’ve admired have said kind words to me or offered me tidbits of advice on achieving skills.

My skating progress frequently feels slow, but thanks to a lot of hard work and many graceful, patient trainers; I know it’s happening. I’m also getting closer to knowing myself as an athlete. There’s a newer inner voice somewhere that reminds me I can learn through my body, and that it can do some cool things. When I fall down for the thousandth time and jump up for the opportunity to try it again, the inner voice is there: I’m an athlete. When I’m shaking with anxiety but I go to practice anyway: I’m an athlete. When I reflect on what it means to be coachable or agile or mentally tough: I’m an athlete. When I have one more day to play roller derby with this incredible league: I’m an athlete. My 8-year-old self wouldn’t recognize me, but I’d like to think she’d be proud.

Velociroller is a 29-year-old Bank skater who enjoys complex consonant clusters, winter weather, alliterative phrases, and Jeff Goldblum. She's always happy to provide cookies, a bandaid, or a great portmanteau.

Posted on September 12, 2016 .