Published January, 2014 Lead Jammer magazine, February, 2014 www.derbylife.com
COMING OUT AS BI-SKATUAL
In the beginning, there were quads (invented in 1760 by Belgian John Joseph Merlin). The derby goddesses saw that and it was good. Fast forward to the 20th century and some creative winter sport geeks commercialized the existing but obscure inline skate so they could practice their cold weather sports (like ice skating and skiing) in the summer. The first brand available to the masses was Rollerblade in 1987.
Well, before you could say spandex shorts and headband-wearing d-bags, inlines exploded in the culture and quads were a quaint throwback to childhood sidewalks and skate dates at the terminally unhip and retro rinks. Quads were as embarrassing as head gear, zit cream and the KISS Army.
But as the numbers of emergency room visits due to inline accidents climbed, like any fad, their popularity waned and the good, old quad was cool again. Like a voluptuous phoenix, roller derby rose from the corny roller skate ashes and has never looked back.
I have had Riedell Sirens for four years and love everything about them. Except.
As an addition to off-skates training and derby practice, I also attend speed skate training. I am lucky enough to have access to one of the best speed skating coaches ever born and his patience with my “moving through glue” quad skating next to his team of lean and mean (and blazing fast) inline skaters, is legendary. I am the slow and ugly duckling among the speedy swans. They pat my head and encourage my nearly indiscernible progress. In practice races, I am put with the toddlers just learning inline skating and they beat me every time. But I’m not fast enough to skate with the grown-ups, so there I am in full-frontal nerdity, towering above my competitors and trying not to let it bother me when I do my best and still come in dead last. That is fine speed for derby; I have no problem getting my 27 in 5, but I want more.
One practice, Coach timed my laps and congratulated me on beating one of his most dedicated skater’s times. A six-year old boy. And then there was that memorable time that Coach decided to pull me, tandem-style, at his speed, around the track. It was thrilling and terrifying. I couldn’t scream or throw up because Coach’s head was too close and I had to keep my eyes open, so instead, I peed a little. But that episode opened my eyes to just how slow quads are in comparison.
When we are doing laps in a pace line at the beginning of speed practice, in quads, I am huffing and panting and sweating and running to keep up and the speed team is bored and coasting and chatting and having snacks and smokes without a hint of perspiration.
So, rather than give up speed class or just accept being the lone quad skater, I decided to roll on over to the dark side. I bought a pair of Powerslide inlines and although it is the first month and I am still Bambi on ice, I can feel the early euphoria of “someday” speed. Granted, competitive quad speed skating is a growing sport, but not for me. I was tired of fighting the built-in sloth of my beloved Sirens and I wanted to taste the exhilaration of an easy glide.
At practice, when I race now, I wave at everybody as I fly over the finish line yelling, “I can’t stop!” It took only once for me to learn never to attempt the turnaround toe stop that is automatic in derby. I got fiercely tangled and flopped down to the wooden floor like a fish in a net. And the giant swan dive belly drop I did last Saturday was a big hit, especially with the gifted speed children.
But even the glamour of speed cannot get me to skate without my derby pads. It is too ingrained and I’ve been grateful for their protection too many times.
Why be bi-skatual? My reasoning is that it is win/win. At speed, I will get faster, stronger and steadier with more endurance and that cannot fail to help me on the derby track, even though I will be in quads.
But the progress is frustrating. Things I can do effortlessly on quads, I’m helpless on inlines; such as doing gliding one-legged squats on the straight away. It was so difficult to balance, that I finally shouted, “I’m changing into my quads!” Picturing my Sirens nestled in my skate bag, waiting quietly on the bench. Ah, familiarity. Oh, stability and comfort. And Coach immediately screamed back, “no you’re not!” I didn’t. Also, the bloody blisters that ring my ankles like an infected bracelet of scabs hurt like someone has a flame on my skin all the time. I go through a box of band aids and a roll of duct tape a week.
However, I am getting better. Last week, I finished fourth at a practice race. And just like skating derby practice, all the aches, pains and worries just melt away when the wheel meets the track. Speed is making me stronger and what derby girl doesn’t want that?