Secrets of an Over-Achieving Derby Girl

by Clara Nipper


Published in Lead Jammer, Five on Five magazine and USARS magazine

Secrets of an Over-Achieving Derby Girl

                As an author, candy maker, wildlife gardener and derby skater with a full-time “real job,” here’s a question I frequently get: how do you do it all? The short answer is self-discipline. Snore. I know, boring as hell and not at all sexy or easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it. But you’re not everyone, you’re a derby girl and capable of anything.

                However much of a drag it is, it is more than that. It is excellent character development and the sense of accomplishment you will earn is profoundly gratifying. Here’s a typical day: 5 am, my alarm goes off. 5:30 am, I actually get up. 5:45-6 hip hits on my heavy bag, 6-7 workout in home gym, 7:30-12:00 work, 12:00-1:00 eat and write, 1:00-5:00 work, 6:00-9:00 pm, errands, dinner, make candy, weed and water garden or go to derby practice, whichever night it is. Then to bed and up to do it all over again the next day.

                I do not have two major complications that many derby girls have: university or kids. But those were choices you made and you can still work with those limitations.

                If it’s University, try to schedule your classes around derby practices, bouts and events and if that’s not possible, school comes first. You may just have to miss an occasional derby practice, bout and/or event.

                If it’s children, discipline them well and bring them to the rink with you. Or leave them with your spouse, partner, in-laws, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, chosen family or friends. It isn’t inconveniencing anyone for that little amount of time per week and you can rotate sitters and offer to reciprocate. Most people will be thrilled to know a derby girl and will want to support you. Also, I’m sure you’ve raised your kids to be utter charmers and everybody in your circle is constantly clamoring for time with them. It’s good for you to let go a little; it’s good for family (blood or chosen) to invest in children and it’s good for children to be socialized and to have a variety of experiences. Unlike a derby bout, it’s win/win/win.

                If your obstacle is both college and kids, then may the derby goddess bless you.

                Ok, so you’ve evaluated your life and you’re ready to get more out of every day. How do you begin? Focus. Become extremely focused on your goals, desires and intentions. Realize that self-discipline is a muscle that gets stronger with use. Understand that we each have the same twenty-four hours and it’s up to you what you have to show for it at the end of the day. Pretend there’s a fire-what would you save? Pretend you’re dying. What do you regret or want most or with what do you wish to have a second chance? Those are the answers to what matters most in your life. So now, eliminate everything extraneous from your life that isn’t absolutely required (peeing, death, job) or that doesn’t serve to further your goals (skating, sleep). When listening to that shitbag friend complain for the millionth time, do a cost/benefit analysis: what is this costing you v. what are the benefits? This will take some difficult self-examination because if there’s no benefit yet you keep engaging in whatever it is, then you are getting something out of it that you won’t admit to yourself (e.g. you enjoy feeling superior, you need to feel needed, you’re addicted to drama, you like being rescued, you have to be a martyr, you can’t function unless you’re a powerless victim, you love complaining) and all that is ok if you’re truthful with yourself, aware and clear on it and choose to keep that unchanged. Your life, your choice. So once you have all that sorted out and your goals set and the room in your life to implement them, then make every minute serve you. For instance, I skate seven miles to work as often as I can. This helps my strength, endurance, balance and skills as well as saving the environment a little and getting me to work simultaneously. I garden for my own pleasure but I have created a certified and organic wildlife habitat so my garden also feeds and shelters many species. I have to eat lunch every day, but I write while I’m doing it. I despise socializing in any form, but if it serves me for networking or PR, I suck it up and I’m there. And you don’t have to start big; my garden started with one herb in a pot. My candy company started with one Christmas batch of peanut brittle for my father. My writing started with one page a day. My skating started with one, slow, wobbly trip around the block.

                The point is to move toward something and to eliminate all non-productive distractions that stop you. A writing teacher even went so far as to advise students to stop gardening and decorating our homes for the holidays because those things are giant energy and attention drains from our manuscripts.

                Once you get into the habit of self-discipline and prioritized goals, the inertia of that will carry and support you. It’s easier to clean a clean house, which means it’s worth it to maintain a clean, orderly home by smaller daily efforts than it is to see-saw from the extremes of dirty and disorganized to clean and organized after lots of dread, procrastination and Herculean effort. Wouldn’t it be nicer to spend fifteen to twenty minutes a day keeping things clean consistently than wasting an entire weekend playing scullery maid, charwoman catch-up? The same is true of achieving goals. Take baby steps and take them now. Everyone is a beginner in the beginning.

                Who am I to tell you all this? A very serious-minded borderline robot who walks this walk. It isn’t easy and maybe you’re not ready for it. That’s ok too. Just be aware that that is the case. This way of life is difficult but it works. So if you want the immense inner and eventually outer rewards, start examining your life. But if anything stops you, let it.            

 

 


Yoga for Derby Girls

by Clara Nipper


First published in Hit and Miss Magazine and Five on Five   

YOGA FOR DERBY GIRLS

            What is the perfect complementary companion to roller derby? If you said beer and cigarettes, skip this article. It’s yoga. Derby is pounding and slamming; yoga is lengthening and aligning. Derby is brute force and yoga is smooth balance. Yin and Yang.

            Anyone can be a yogini. You don’t have to be Buddhist, speak Sanskrit, chant, meditate or be vegetarian. If you do poses with reverence and that’s all you do; it is enough. It is yoga and you are a yogini.

            Some basics: Patanjali wrote The Yoga Sutra 2500 years ago. This text describes yoga as having eight limbs, but most of us become acquainted with yoga through limb number three: asanas or postures. There are many types of yoga asanas; the most common is Hatha. The word Ha means Sun and Tha means Moon and together, they are a harmonious union and balance. Hatha requires both surrender and effort.

            Within Hatha yoga, my favorite is Ashtanga vinyasa, which is vigorous and demanding and ideally suited for this vigorous and demanding derby girl. But you can shop around find a style that is perfect for you.

            To paraphrase Bryan Kest, one of the world’s top yogis, ‘yoga is not about being loose or strong; it is about letting go of tension. So you don’t have to be loose or strong to do yoga.’ Just show up. Yoga is like derby: you are never too old or too young; you are not too small or too big, too fat or too thin, too weak or too tight. Wherever you are, you are perfect to begin.

            Here is a different version on the classic sun salutation that I find rewarding. This is my variation, but you can play with the vinyasa and compose your own combination to suit your body’s tastes. Yoga poses are powerful; they can heal and the variety within a pose is nearly infinite. You can modify and adjust each asana to make it easier or more challenging, depending on where you are in life or just where you are that minute, that hour, that day. When doing your practice, relax, be gentle, accept yourself as you are in the present moment, do not force your body into anything, have compassion and breathe, breathe, breathe, breathe. You can breathe as hard as you need to but you should have calm, nose breathing through your entire practice. Any time your breath becomes ragged, uneven or out of your mouth, back off.

            Regular yoga will help your strength, endurance, flexibility and balance, all of which are vital in a strong derby player and it is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself. See you on the mat! Namaste and derbylove-Cat Owta Hell.

Tadasana                                                                                                                                                                 

Volcano Pose (overhead stretch)

Tree pose right leg                                                                          

Standing forward bend                                          

Extended standing forward bend                                    

Plank                                                                                     

One arm plank, right arm only                                          

Chaturanga                                                                         

Up Dog or Cobra                                                                 

Down Dog                                                                            

Lunge, right leg forward                                                    

Side Angle Pose to the right

Triangle to the right

Vira 1 to the right

Vira 2 to the right

Vira 3 to the right

Half Moon right hand down, left leg extended

Down Dog

Standing forward bend                                                                                                                  

Volcano Pose (overhead stretch)                                    

Tree pose left leg                                                    

Standing forward bend                                          

Extended standing forward bend                        

Plank                                                                                     

One arm plank, left arm only                     

Chaturanga                                                                         

Up Dog or Cobra                                                                 

Down Dog                                                                            

Lunge, left leg forward                   

Side Angle Pose to the left

Triangle to the left

Vira 1 to the left

Vira 2 to the left

Vira 3 to the left

Half Moon left hand down, right leg extended

Down Dog

Cat

Bow

Wide-angle forward bend

One-legged forward bend

Cobbler’s

Pigeon

Reclined leg stretch

Reclined twist

Plow

Happy baby

Savasana

 


Go Fast, Turn Left

by Clara Nipper


First published in This Land Press, Five on Five and Lead Jammer 

Go Fast, Turn Left

            I removed my contacts, washed off all the makeup, unbraided my hair, took off the bandages, slid the fishnets down my legs to the floor, unhooked my athletic bra, peeled the Tiger Balm patches from my back and stepped into a cold shower.

            I was home from a roller derby bout.

            Reading from top to bottom, my name is Clara; my skater name is Cat Owta Hell. I’m a very serious, solitary, snobby, bookish type and if anyone had told me a year ago that I would be madly in love with roller derby, I would’ve sneered him into oblivion, after first asking, what is roller derby?

            I will not bore you with roller derby’s unsavory and seamy history and all its reincarnations. But like the mythical phoenix from the ashes: derby is back, bigger and better. Women’s flat track roller derby is exploding worldwide. There are at least ten teams in Oklahoma and according to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, our governing body (wftda.org), there are 98 sanctioned leagues and 53 apprentice leagues with more teams in Australia, Canada and the UK.

We have our own magazine, Five on Five, our own movie, Whip It, our own books, Going in Circles, Rollergirl, Down and Derby, among others, our own DVDs: Blood on the Flat Track, our own television series: Rollergirls, our own live sports news site: DNN.com (derby news network), our own Dionysian convention in Las Vegas every year called Rollercon, and dozens of suppliers for everything a derby girl could want, such as derbylove.net, dolledupderby.com, wickedskatewear.com, derbyordie.com, to name only a few.

            It’s an authentic American sport in which anyone can to achieve the derby dream. Young, old, fat, thin, gay, straight, clumsy or graceful, it doesn’t matter. Because if you work hard, you will get there, no experience necessary.

Some basics: the games are called bouts and each bout is made up of two ½ hour halves and each half is divided into two minute segments called jams. During the jams, each team has five players on the track: four blockers and one jammer.

            I am a blocker. My job is to prevent the other team’s blockers from hitting my jammer and to hit them out of my jammer’s way so she can score points. That is also what the other team is doing to us.

            Skates are called Quads because they have four wheels and are of traditional design to differentiate from inline skates. High-quality skates are very expensive, but that isn’t necessary just to start. In the first five minutes of practice when I knew I was hooked, I just bought the standard Riedell R3 rookie package and that was absolutely fine. As I improved, I learned what I needed, and after six months, I bought my Sirens, which are the most expensive footwear I will ever own. Second are my cycling shoes and third are my garden boots, so obviously, I won’t get cast in Sex and the City 8.

            Required equipment is also a helmet, a mouth guard and wrist, knee and elbow pads. The sparkly whipping belt, animal print duct tape, black fishnets and red lace tutu are optional.

            Being the independent loner that I am, favoring solitary sports like yoga, cycling and weight-lifting, I have never participated in a team sport, thinking teams are for obsequious fools without enough sense to go it alone. People who are social animals with a canine devotion to being one of a constant pack would be the sorts of co-dependent twits who needed a team sport.

            What hubris! To humbly admit I was wrong will have to be my apology. When I attended my first practice with Tulsa Derby Brigade, I came home exhilarated and filled with an ineffable joy that is only to be obtained from tying the laces on my skates and soaring across the sparkling wooden floor.

            To those of you who never thought roller skating was cool and it was only a place for the tweens to play pinball, eat nachos and flirt, you’re right. There’s something unavoidably retrograde about the rinks. But that’s also part of the appeal. You get to go back in time to your imaginary childhood and revel in the environment that time forgot. Have a sour pickle and wax nostalgic over your first crush.

            If returning to the rink is a little like going to visit your elementary school cafeteria, with the unforgettable smells and tastes, then joining a roller derby team is exactly like 7th grade gym class.

            For the first few months, before I left the house for practice, my anxiety level would start as a vibration and gradually rise until I felt like a panic-stricken Chihuahua and once at the rink, as I rolled timidly around the rink prior to beginning, I would shudder with chills and think, ‘what the fuck am I doing here? It’s not too late to flee.’ But there I was, standing with the rest of the derby chicks, padded and helmeted, waiting my turn in line to do drills while everyone, including the coaches and any civilian spectators we had on the sidelines, watched.

            The performance anxiety was excruciating, but the lure of derby persisted, beneath all the frustration and failure, night after night, month after month. With each practice, I loved it more. The obsession with derby held me tight even through those many evenings I returned home crying because I had never worked at anything so hard and for so long and failed so miserably. Even when I felt the sting of cliques being formed and the disappointment of not being one of the superstars, I still craved it. Even when practices went late and I had to get up at 5 o’clock the next morning and practically slept through my day job; even when I got injured and had more bruises than I could count and had to limp stiffly through the office, derby was in my blood.

            I was very slow, both on skates and in my understanding of the sport. Neither speed nor comprehension has come quickly or completely. I work at it. After a year, I can finally keep up with the pace line, even passing a few and I have a rudimentary knowledge of positions and strategy. At last, derby is more fun than fear and I actually relax and enjoy my time on the track.

            A typical practice is first untangling the many Velcro straps that hold on the pads, tying the skate laces just so and getting out on the floor. Then, the delicious pain really starts. When Coach smiles and says, “Endurance night!” We all groan. He has invented many diabolical endurance drills, in between which we are to do pushups, crunches, and squats to failure. Then he puts us through races and juking drills. If he’s been unhappy with our performances, then he might have us do endless falls and explosive starting drills, and that’s just the first hour of a three-hour practice twice a week.

            And when I’m panting, perspiring and muscles burning, I’m convinced I don’t have any more to give, Coach calls out, “thirty more seconds!” and I scream inside and do it and swear his watch is broken, that it’s been five minutes and he says, “ten more seconds!” and I do that too until he finally blows that whistle signaling brief rest. When practice is over, we all stagger like Night of the Living Dead zombies out to our cars to go home to cold showers and excruciating pain the next couple of days.

            Another problem I had was my mind going “bout blank.” I could be instructed to “hold the line,”, “waterfall,” or do a “three-girl wall” and I would nod and agree like a normal person and then once the whistle blew, my mind went as blank as an Etch a Sketch. I had to learn to focus on only one thing at a time and struggle to remember that. Once I mastered one thing, I added a second. And so on.

            During the summer practice, the heat was so intense that several skaters, including me, suffered from heat exhaustion. One fainted dead away right in the middle of scrimmaging. To prevent that, instead of not attending practice as a civilian would do, I wore a Ziploc bag packed with ice under my helmet well into September. And the ice was always melted to a bag of lukewarm water halfway through the night.

            I knew I had really arrived as a derby girl the night I felt sick overexertion and I vomited into my hands, wiped them on my jersey and kept skating. My coaches never knew. They just said, “Let’s roll,” and in perfect synchronization, we all put in our mouth guards and took off.

            I saw how life surprised me and I laughed at myself and my new thoughts, such as, can my skates fit into my airline carryon bag? Will my insurance cover visits to the podiatrist? This “Fight Club in Fishnets” has taught me more about myself in the past year than I could’ve imagined. There is nothing I won’t do for the team. For example, selling is anathema to me. But for The Brigade, I have chased people down and made promises of every nature to sell tickets and sponsorships; I have prowled the streets handing out flyers and hanging posters; I have skated in many parades, waving and passing out candy; I have alienated most of my friends with my relentless recruiting; and I have put people into polite comas with derby anecdotes..

            Then after months of failing at almost everything, I passed Minimum Skills. I made the team! Then, when I got picked to be on the roster for my first bout, I grappled with the conflicting emotions of pride and panic. I didn’t sleep well and as the day drew closer, I had knee-knocking, stomach-churning, mind-blowing terror. What I learned was once I start skating, all that ebbs away and it’s me and my skates and my derby sisters. Fear eventually evaporates and is replaced with training memory.

            Why would anyone do this? And my honest answer is, I don’t know. It would seem that after all the intense training and monthly bouts, I could explain the bone-deep addiction, but I can’t. It’s like trying to explain why I love blood in my veins or oxygen in my lungs. I’m too close to it. My recommendation: try it for a month and if it doesn’t have you, then no words would make it clear and if it gets you, then no words are necessary.

            It’s not a sport for sissies, so if you’re a whiny, delicate flower crybaby, don’t waste your time. But if you’re brave enough, it is so easy to begin! Just pass by the tough girls who are outside the rink smoking; (and don’t be nervous, they’re really sweethearts who will slam girls into orbit to protect you); and if you can accept being really scared most of the time, if you can face failure frequently, you will be rewarded with one of the richest and most thrilling experiences of your life.

If you decide to become one of us, this is what you have in store: You will be called Fresh Meat for awhile and you will fall a lot and curse your quads, and feel as if you’ve been in a car wreck after practice. You will learn to like Powerade and granola bars for dinner; you’ll learn the best way to freshen your pads (each skater has her own way), you’ll become attached to a derby name; you’ll debate the qualities of different rink floors: concrete or wood? Is there fresh plastic? Is it a tight or loose surface? Sticky or slick? You’ll change from despising quads and wishing they were fast inlines to loving your skates like a part of your own body and realizing there’s nothing sexier than the sound of your Stroker wheels on polished wood.

            You are lifted from who you are in your regular routine and you’re someone else entirely new in derby. You’re not the banker, teacher, attorney, salesman, realtor, business owner, designer, mother. You’re dangerous…cool….a derby girl.  Your spouse or partner will have to accept being a widow/widower to your new passion. You will form deep bonds with diverse and unlikely women with whom you have nothing in common and it won’t matter. You will share skate tools and duct tape and tampons. You’ll compare blisters and debate the best treatments. You’ll see every single roller girl cry at least once. You’ll be yelled at by the coaches. You’ll be shamed by your own bad performance. You’ll compare contusions, lacerations, sprains and hematomas; you’ll find yourself arguing about strategy and penalties; your pain and soreness from training will go on for months, your knees will quake and your stomach will flip with every scrimmage; you’ll begin to discuss different wheels and their merits; you’ll learn to clean and change your bearings; you won’t want birthday gifts anymore, but will wish for a derby registry. You’ll become as proud of your bruises as of your ass and legs as they gradually become solid granite.

            Your derby girls will become your familiars and you will light up when you see them. You will know each other at your weakest and your strongest. You’ll talk derby endlessly. You’ll laugh and argue, you’ll high-five tiny victories, you’ll love and hate but at the end of the bout, you have each other. It is a strange, intimate sorority, but one I’ve come to depend on in spite of myself.

            Derby will take over your life and nearly all your waking thoughts. It will become the best unpaid part-time job you could ever hope to have. You’ll go berserk buying skull tees, personalized shirts, team gear, helmet stickers, custom toe guards, special skate laces, booty shorts, pantyhose of every pattern and color, frilly panties, bandanas, the list is only as limited as your credit card.

            But it’s not just shopping and socializing. We skate with sprained limbs, with cancer, with pneumonia and bronchitis, with allergies and with deep personal griefs. Eventually, nothing matters but showing up and getting to work.

            My coaches’ advice: trust your skates, which for me, is a gradual and ongoing process; my derby wife’s advice: fall small; my speed coach’s advice: turn and burn; my advice, get the jumbo bottle of Advil and learn to love cold baths. My favorite cocktail? Dew and Lortab. It makes every bruise, strain, sprain, and pain more comfortable and I can keep skating. And that’s all that matters.

The style of the sport is changing as its popularity grows. It’s not so much the lowbrow, blue collar spectacle any more, as a serious sport with serious athletes. The best skaters on the top teams are either former hockey players or speed skaters.

However, as someone who looks like a boring librarian and is not punk, not Goth, not pierced, not tattooed and who doesn’t drink, I may represent the future of derby. As the sport becomes more professional and mainstream, it may lose the fun derby names, face paint and wild clothes in favor of modest uniforms and a harder focus on clean competition. With derby featured in television commercials for Cheerios and Aleve, stories on derby in the New York Times, and on National Public Radio, perhaps the complexion of the sport is changing to one of mass appeal and acceptance instead of the sideshow reputation it used to have. Either way, it’s derby. Count me in.

There is a saying, “derby saved my soul,” which makes me gag it’s so hyperbolic, but then I reflect. Well, hasn’t it? I live differently in the world because of derby. When there’s an obstacle or challenge in my life, I think, I do derby, I can do this. It is a powerful secret I hide behind my conservative clothes and big smile. I may not look it, but I’m derby.

You’re braver and stronger than you think, so suck it up and start skating.

Let’s roll.

 


Rollercon Wrap-Up

by Clara Nipper


First published in USARS Magazine, 2012

ROLLERCON WRAP UP

 A NEOPHYTE’S INITIATION

            It all started with a vow I made to myself never to go to Vegas. I hate lavish shows, gambling, shopping, garish ostentation and conspicuous consumption, so Vegas and me = fancy oil and plain water.

            However, in the short time I’ve been a derby girl, I’ve been deeply shocked to learn that like Ron Burgundy in The Anchorman, who will read absolutely anything off a cue card, derby can make me do anything. An ee thing guh.

            So as a sober, book smart, bisexual vegetarian who would rather garden, cook or read for recreation, there is much in the world abhorrent to me but for which I would grin and git er did for derby. So when I heard the siren song of Rollercon, I astonished everyone by asking, “Yes, I’ll jump, how high?”

            So I packed my practice uniform of spandex bike shorts and scrimmage tee and filled my suitcase with cute little outfits I might need like strappy sandals, summer dresses, white capris, frilly blouses and sparkly jewelry. I never check baggage so I made arrangements to Federal Express my skates, pads and helmet. $200.00 for shipping and a long flight later, I was wondering lost with my precious Fed Ex box in a hotel so enormous that its lobby stretched as far as I could squint. I expected to pass under a sign any minute that read, ‘Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.’

            Because, with apologies to Dante, I have always believed that Vegas, like Branson and other ersatz environments catering only to the crass and tacky, is a level of hell and yet an apt expression of American character. Pioneers and Mafia may have found meaning and exultant triumph in Manifest Destiny, but all those debatably lofty ideals seem lost in the lurid blue swimming pools, KISS on the muzak, paycheck loan stands and tawdry souvenirs made in China.

            However, I checked into my room and proceeded to register for Rollercon, which went so smoothly, the organization and volunteer training was obviously fierce and comprehensive, so I felt that I was in good derby hands already. I had run my highlighter dry choosing classes I wanted to take, so I put on my shorts and top and headed to my first class.

            I had been exhorted by friends to leave the hotel at least once and people watch, but as a confirmed misanthrope, I didn’t even pencil that in. Was it for the benefit of derby? Did it help my team? Then no. But derby girl watching was endlessly fascinating; I had no idea there were so many of us! And it was wall to wall ripe, round asses. I definitely had glute envy and pledged to do more lunges. Seeing all of us rollergirls together, fearsome, athletic, unorthodox, brilliant and beautiful and I had never been prouder or more thrilled than that weekend to call every one of them family.

            Skating on Skate Court was odd since I’m spoiled to a sweet maple floor, but I adjusted. And the time just flew by! The training was excellent and the instructors I had were well-prepared and overly qualified and there was a good mix of skating ability in each class. I made skatefriends for two hours at a time all day, every day. The volume of information from the teachers was so immense that many skaters took notes at every water break, which I should’ve done. All I can remember is the class in which we were instructed to hit each other in the buttocks with our cooches. That is one ferocious hit I didn’t need any practice to master.

            The time not spent in class, I shopped all the glorious derby merchandise. When you come to Rollercon, bring quadruple the amount of money you think you might spend because you will be dazzled by all the great vendors that have that perfect thing just for you.

            I never left the hotel, just rode the elevator from my room to classes and gladly paid $3.00 plus tax for a cold can of Dew when I needed it. Everything was in one location, which was ideal. I never gambled, but I would’ve had better luck at the slots than getting into one of Quadzilla’s many classes; the lines for which formed well in advance of admission tickets being issued. The only thing I would change if given the chance is to be able to pre-register for classes so the schedule isn’t so hectic, chaotic and unpredictable. However, it is well-known that I’m a confirmed Type-A tightass, so I don’t do well with spontaneity. And I’m sure that making pre-registry would be an Herculean task and a monster migraine of additional work and so I understand why it isn’t done.

            Four days later, I had not brushed my hair, flossed or changed out of my practice uniform. I was using leopard print duct tape to attach my pads to the a/c unit in the hotel room to dry them overnight. And running for the elevator once, I could’ve sworn I saw Wayne Newton.

            A big booty block of appreciation to Scar Leigh Ermey, Atomatrix, Tannibal Lector, Catholic Cruel Girl, Vicki Handyside, Smarty Pants, Iron Maiven and of course, the Queen Goddesses: Ivanna S. Pankin and Trish the Dish, both of whom I had the honor of meeting at the Black and Blue.

            Although I’m a Vegas virgin, the Riviera Hotel was an excellent choice because not only did they have more than enough room for all of us, a pool, restaurants, room service, gym, tattoo shop, wedding chapel and other standard amenities, but also express check in and out, multiple mini-grocery stores for all those lip balm, tampon, Dew and Snickers needs and a business office where I printed my boarding pass and to which I returned my beloved package to be shipped home. I followed, exhausted, achy and derbyhappy.

            See you there in 2012!

 


The Case for Commuting

by Clara Nipper


First published in Hit and Miss Magazine and Five on Five magazine

 

THE CASE FOR COMMUTING

You don’t want to be part of the problem, I know that. And you’re a derby girl, so you probably don’t get enough time on your skates, so consider this: commute to and from your day job.

            To all of you who just inundated me with shouts of protest and reasons why that’s impossible, telling me that it would never work because you have to skate uphill both ways through snow with kids strapped to your legs, just relax. It’s only an idea. Take a breath and just think about it.

            I am fortunate enough to work and live close to a trail, so I take advantage of it. Pre-derby, I used to commute by bicycle. Biking is so much easier than skating! No worries about sticks, rocks, cracks, sweet gum balls, gravel pits and dust wallows or shallow ponds that shouldn’t be but are there due to poor drainage. But after five record-setting flat tires in two weeks, I decided to leave cycling to those who like to walk.

            After derby, I appreciate all the extra time with my trusty Riedells and Radar Pure wheels. As a confirmed multi-tasker, I love that I can work on my speed and stride while getting to and from work.

            On a typical morning, because my trail is on a river, I am gifted with experiencing all the wildlife I could want. We have blue herons, brilliant white egrets, brown pelicans, hawks, eagles and the terminally cute Canada geese with peeping flocks of plump, green, fuzzy goslings. These geese are almost as tall as I am and they hiss at me as I whiz by. I see turtles trundling along the asphalt and scores of bunnies conferring in the shade. I’ve seen mockers, robins, doves, orioles and killdeer. Depending on the time of year, I am surrounded by either Eastern black swallowtails or migrating monarchs. In spring, the wind is fragrant with elderberry and honeysuckle and in autumn, it is the earthy smell of leaves and wood smoke. The clattering of cottonwood leaves as I skate under their canopy is just like a good rainstorm. So a better way to bookend my day, I cannot imagine. This may not be your experience if you try commuting, but you could experience your own interesting surprises. I recommend trying it at least once just to see what those might be. Once out of an insulated and isolating car and feeling the strength in your legs and the momentum you’ve created as it vibrates up your skates to your legs and you smell the fresh wind in your face, it’s a completely different world.

            To get started, I bought the biggest backpack I could find (thank you, Swiss Army!) and put everything in it I would need once I arrived at work, such as my office clothing and shoes, accessories, hair products, deodorant, powder, cologne and extra socks and sunscreen for the skate home. Because I’m also weird and fiercely independent and self-sufficient, I packed my manuscript, my breakfast, lunch and an addict’s amount of Mountain Dew. I put this pack on the scale and it weighed in at a whopping forty pounds but I didn’t mind. It just makes me stronger and reminds me to stay low and steady.

            Then once I was ready to try this crazy thing, I strapped on my pads, turned on my IPod and skated to the office on a Saturday so I could see how long it took. My commute is only about five miles each way so with road construction and rush hour traffic, it is actually faster for me to skate than to drive. Then Sunday, I set my alarm and on Monday, I sprang out of bed and haven’t looked back.

            I think it’s important to consider commuting for several reasons. 1. environmental, 2. personal health and well-being and 3. raising visibility and awareness of derby girls. Because unless you live on a coast, which I most certainly don’t (considering the politics of my home state, I barely live in the modern age), derby is still unfortunately stuck just outside the mainstream in either total invisibility (there’s roller derby here?) or in television from the 1970s. And I believe in my own small way, I can influence people and help derby just by commuting and talking about it to civilians.

            Plus, after a hard skate to work, I’m in a great mood and the rest of the day is easy. And after a hard skate home straight into the wind (it’s always into the wind!), I’m ready for that Krispy Kreme. And I’ve earned it.

 

 

 


Bout Braids

by Clara Nipper


BOUT BRAIDS

            If you’re anything like me, you have hair and therein lies the problem. What to do with all those glorious tresses on bout day? Sure, you can jerk it into a boring pony or scrape it into a standard braid, but it’s not just another practice, it’s Bout Day, sacred to all derby girls.

            You have your boutfit, your lucky charms, maybe your glitter and face paint, your Sunday go to meetin’ socks, your special mint-flavored mouth guard, why not do something nicer with all that hair?

            So unless you’re going to shave your pate bald (which is a fabulous and functional look. I’ve gone to bone many times and I would really recommend it. Plus, you can donate your hair to a good cause and get this-it grows back!), then I, Cat, am here to help or hurt, depending on how frustrated you get attempting these styles.

            My two favorites are the rope braid and the herringbone braid. What it great about these styles is that once mastered, they’re easy yet sophisticated; they look beautiful and they’re fancier than a regular braid which will give you an edge over your competition with their sloppy frizz or plain, sad ponys.

            To do a rope braid, first gather your hair into a pony and secure with an elastic. Make sure all your bout ponytails are as low as possible so your helmet will still fit. Then divide the pony into three equal parts. Take the right section, twist the hair in that section to the right and then move the twisted section over and across the other two so now it is on the left. Next, take section two, formerly the middle and now on the right, twist it and cross it over. Then repeat with the third section and so on until you’ve gone as far as you care to and secure the bottom of your rope with another elastic.

            To do a herringbone braid, secure your hair with an elastic in a low pony and divide into two equal sections. From the left of the left section, separate a tiny amount of hair and cross it over to the inside edge of the right section. Then take the same size small section from the right edge of the right half and cross it over to the inside left. This can be done with larger, thicker sections of hair, but the smaller the pieces are that you use, the more interested and complex-looking the herringbone effect is.

            So then take an outside left section, cross over to the inside right and take an outside right section and cross over to the inside left. Keep repeating until you run out of hair or until you reach the desired length you like. Secure with elastic.

            Both of these styles can be done (and I have been in a lot of bouts, so I’ve done them all) in pigtails as well, which might be easier if you prefer braiding in front of a mirror, or if your arms get too tired and this whole ordeal makes you fussy and crabby as a result.

            Also, have fun with your elastics! You can get them with skulls or dice or cherries or even in your team’s colors.

            If you prefer to disguise your elastics, you can use this technique for the top of your style, or even the bottom if you allow enough hair to remain free to accomplish it.

            Put your hair in a low pony. At the base of the pony, where the elastic is (and before you begin braiding), separate one small strand, roughly the thickness of your hair band and then wind it tightly over the elastic, covering it with your own hair. When you have wrapped it and you’re at the end of the hair, use a bobby pin to attach the hair to the base of your pony or to the elastic or to your head, anywhere it can remain secure but concealed. Then begin your braid (or leave it loose). If you desire to do the same at the end of your braid or braids, allow plenty of free hair at the end and do the same process.

            One last variation on a plain ponytail to dress it up: slide the elastic down the pony one to three inches and divide the hair above the elastic in two parts. Flip the entire pony up towards the crown of your head then draw the pony down through the division and pull and straighten. The pony can be rolled through as many times as you wish. Once you are satisfied, push the elastic back up to tighten the style and conceal the hair band.

            And voila-you are ready for a victory in femalition derby and you’re gonna glamorize and terrorize. Now go skate!

 


Derby Whores

by Clara Nipper


(first published as "Derby Tarts" in Hit and Miss Magazine, March, 2013

 

DERBY WHORES

            You know them, you’ve skated with them, hopefully, you’re not one-the ubiquitous Derby Whore. It’s a slimy downside of success. We’ve all worked so hard to launch derby into the stratosphere, saturating the globe with it; each of us vowing never to rest until every person on earth is either a skater, a zebra, an NSO, a volunteer or a fan. Congratulations to us! We are fierce, ambitious amazons making our own revolution. You’ve heard of the Iron Age, the Bronze Age, and the Industrial Age? This is the Derby Age.

            When we were struggling and our leagues were held together with spit, paper clips, hope and duct tape, we didn’t have to endure such odious creatures as the team hopper.

            But now that the sport is spreading like a team rumor, busting every city’s seams to gobble more territory, cheap, derby baggage are flourishing.

            You know the type-usually young, usually mouthy, always with more ego than skills and more skills than sense and more attitude than loyalty of which they have none. They are drama divas who are too precious to do the work of derby. They just want to cherry pick their experiences and they have rotten habits, such as sleeping in on Sunday mornings when everyone else is busting a nut at practice. They skip the boring skills drills and they either never volunteer or on the rare occasions they do, they are exhausted by their own eye-rolling. They’re never available for critical derby events, they never serve on any committee, or they serve reluctantly by attending one meeting and playing with their phones the entire time. They are pot-stirring, whiny punks who are never happy with how a league is run but categorically refuse to step into a leadership role or they are in a leadership role and are entirely absent. Yet somehow, miraculously, they will move heaven and earth to be ready and willing for every single bout and they righteously recite the derby whore’s mantra: “We Just Want to Skate.”

Well, my dear, you cannot be a slackass at the rest of derby and a badass at a bout. Let me do a little math for you-to have any leagues or teams for you to “just skate with,” there first have to be those of us dull, devoted duds who do all the work for you and carry your prima donna posterior. Without us slavish workhorses, there would be no league.

            My own mantra: “anything for the team,” has demanded much of me, which I have happily given and it has surprised me by all its varied applications in almost all life situations and by not yet finding a limit of my dedication.

            So after all the meetings, minutes, board postings, emails, texts, sweating for sponsorships, team errands, brainstorming, bout production, events scheduling, equipment maintenance, paid bills, social media work, recruitment, charitable giving, car washes, candy and bake sales and other fundraising, PR, creating flyers, selling raffle tickets, and general cleanup, I am taking a break and calling you out.

            You do nothing but dishonor this sport and however badly we need skaters, my standards will always be too high to allow you on the roster. I would rather lose with dignity and with a team we’ve created together than with a skating harlot who’s either never really present for the derby work or just trolling the rinks and web for bouts. If you’re in it just for the games and glory, then you miss the entire point of DIY pride. Just keep skating on down the stroll. We don’t need you. There are skaters who may not be as skilled but who are committed, loyal and devoted who deserve the honor. Skills can be learned, strategy can be taught. But either you have a heart for derby and all it demands or you’re a whore.

            And there’s only room for one kind of skater in my pack.

 


You Know You're a Derby Girl If...

by Clara Nipper


First published in USARS Magazine, 2011

 

YOU KNOW YOU’RE A DERBY GIRL IF:

1.       You save money for new tats and piercings and let the rent slide and keep driving that hand-crank jalopy and eating Ramen.

2.       You display the same symptoms of a booty call hookup when you look at new skates.

3.       You will drop trou anytime, anywhere to show off bruises.

4.       You work derby recruitment into every conversation, even those about mortgage refis or peace in the Mideast.

5.       When you travel, you make sure to visit the local rink.

6.       Your blood is 10% Dew.

7.       You start thinking of derby names for your unborn daughter.

8.       You start preferring skate pad stench to actual perfume.

9.       You glow with confidence and happiness that is like a riddle to outsiders.

10.   You can be hooked into doing things you would never do unless it helps the team: bake sales, car washes, trivia nights, bowling tourneys, parades, interviews, calendars, cold sales calls.

11.   When travelling to play another team, your first question is: what is the floor like?

12.   You fall in love with your derby sisters because they’re so awesome but without derby, you probably wouldn’t even like each other.

13.   You couldn’t care less about the economy, but are provoked into behaving like a ring-tailed bitch on a screaming frenzy about not wearing THAT as a uniform.

14.   You don’t mind handling and rubbing against other sweaty chicks.

15.   You feel cheated if you are not hobbling sore after practice.

16.   You give up germaphobia and without washing your hands or even removing your wrist guards, eat dripping and questionable bean burritos while on break during a badass boot camp.

17.   You think nothing of skating with pneumonia.

18.   Your accessories are mostly skullys, derby bags, fish nets and jam belts.

19.   Advil and Tiger Balm are on the grocery list every week.

20.   Almost all your cell phone contacts are derby-related.

21.   You think pantyhose don’t even start to get interesting until there are half a dozen runs in them.

22.   If you had to choose between your spouse and derby, you would have to think it over.

23.   You keep harassing your accountant to find a way to make derby expenses tax-deductible.

24.   You lose all modesty and will change your clothes at the rink in front of anyone.

25.   When the thing that terrifies you is the thing you want most deeply.

26.   You feel sorry for everyone who doesn’t play derby.

27.   You sometimes can’t believe your luck in getting to be a derby girl.

 


Ode to an Ex-Derby Wife

by Clara Nipper


Ode to an Ex-Derbywife

By Cat OwtaHell

When it happened, I thought it would never end. The blissful euphoria of first falling in love with the unlikely soul mate: roller derby and then finding The One. My future derbywife. Fortunately, derby and I are still together, happier than ever, but my derbywife and me? Splitsville.

Now I am not a flake who has drama and feuds and a new best friend every week. Yes, I am a glamourpuss but also a secret goober and I am still close with childhood friends and I married my partner with our first kiss seventeen joyful years ago. So when I agreed to be a derbywife, I took it as solemnly as a judicial swearing in and thought it would last a lifetime.

When I first met-let’s call her X-we worked together and we felt a spark and a bond as a minority of sanity at our jobs. We were allies against the injustice and abuse of our workplace. X and I felt a sisterhood immediately, having identical politics, life philosophies, beliefs, values and humor. It was such a rare gift; I was convinced it was permanent. Shallow know-it-alls, egomaniacal pinheads, self-involved jerks, igmo redneck hillbilly white trash, inconsiderate tools, chatterbox chores, twisted attention vampires-all of these are too ready and available for friendship every hour of every day, but finding someone who is smart and funny, who totally gets you, who laughs at all the right times, who is so scary on the outside and so gooey and sweet on the inside, someone who is one of the two vegetarians in cattle country, who is one of the few atheists in the Bible belt, who is sex-positive, feminist with the same likes and dislikes, loves and hates and who adores cats? That happens once. So when X told me she had just started skating roller derby, I had to try it. Less than a month later, I had my own skates and we were Fresh Meat together.

We attended our very first skills boot camp together, driving four hours to another state and marveling at those skaters in the advanced skills drills. How would we ever get that good?

We had our first bout together, our jitters making our teeth chatter for the whole two-hour drive.

We upgraded to custom skates simultaneously. I got Sirens and X got Minxes. We both tried Jukes and Dubs and Turbos and Strokers. We were inseparable at practice. All the other skaters knew not to break us apart for drills or training and if we were split up to scrimmage, we became very sad like a tiny death had occurred.

We discussed equipment and practice and derby gossip and bouts so much that no one else could tolerate us; it’s like we had our own twin language. We had endless inside jokes and during every practice and bout, one of us would say, “Noggin!” and we would slam our helmets together. Yes, was my idea and yes, it’s from Finding Nemo; and yes, I warned you I was a goober. I will never forget the sound of her laughter each time we did it.

Because it is so difficult to capture good bout action photos, X and I had a ritual of taking pictures of just the two of us after every bout. In each of the photos, we are squished together like we’re on a crowded subway. If we could’ve blended skins, we would have. The happiness shining from our faces is evident-as if we’ve both come home. And slowly, but surely, over the series of pictures, we became carved into dangerous derby animals.

We took all the derby road trips together and I could convince X to do absolutely anything if I told her it was “for the team.” We hung out together away from the rink (the only skater for whom I made that exception) and shared countless meals. She was a night owl but once, just once, I managed to get her up and drag her to the farmer’s market where she walked around like a zombie in a coma. But she came all the same. When my second novel was published and I had book readings all over town, she was there every single time, front and center.

When her car started giving her problems, I planned to help her buy a new one; I was constantly on the lookout for places to rent near my house so we could be even closer; when her beloved cat had to be put down, we went to the vet’s together and whenever she got a new tattoo, haircut or lover, she showed me right away.

When we decided to make it official and become derbywives, we bought matching rings and we were eventually going to get matching tattoos, which was a huge deal for me, as that would have been my first, last and only tat. We even started planning a trip to Rollercon together.

So what the hell happened? You tell me. Your guess is probably better than mine.

Our derby team went through massive changes and it became intolerable for me to stay. So even though X begged me to remain, she knew I couldn’t. We discussed it for hours and she finally agreed and in the end, she supported my decision. She was with me when I burned all my jerseys and memorabilia. We held each other and cried. She was by my side when I picked up my skates from the rink and left forever. She remained with that team, which I supported because she had to make her own decisions, but I assumed that wouldn’t affect a bond like ours.

Later that same fateful week, I resigned from my horrible job and again, X was there, sympathizing and helping me carry my stuff to the car. And again, I assumed our relationship was stronger and bigger than our workplace and would stay intact.

The New Year came and my texts and emails were answered slowly and sporadically. I joined the derby team across town and half-heartedly hoped X would come with me but I knew she was entrenched, however unhappily with the other team. To her credit, she tried practicing with us, but ended up in an anxiety attack and weeping, saying, “it just didn’t feel right.”

I went to a home bout of our old team’s to watch her skate, but she appeared heartbroken in the lineup and never looked at me. We didn’t speak.

Then we ran into each other at a skating event and we ended up collapsed in a heap, tangled together in the center of the rink and catching up until they threw us out. She had also left her job at that toxic workplace and wasn’t really skating derby anymore.

After that, my texts and emails went unanswered for weeks and then months and I gave up.

Now, it’s a year later. I am at job heaven with a dream company; I am building a derby team from scratch and am now training our own Fresh Meat. I have just appreciated and let that time with X go as a collection of lovely experiences and a gilded era. I assume she still lives just across town but there’s nowhere farther than that if it’s over. Magic can’t be forced. I’ve lost the beautiful ring and am grateful I wasn’t foolish enough to get ink.

But I think of her-when I go to the chiropractor for the treatments we both loved; when I see anything “Hello, Kitty,” when I eat at our favorite restaurant, and most especially, those occasions in the car that catch me off-guard when I remember that time we were riding somewhere together when I said suddenly, “I can’t imagine my life without you.” She nodded and said, “I know. Me too.”

So I no longer have a derbywife and I no longer wonder why. I just know that I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Thank you, X.

Cat OwtaHell began skating derby as a Fresh Meat ‘tard with her first team in September, 2009 and by 2010 had earned the title of Captain. With two Rollercons, countless clinics and boot camps under her jamming belt, it is safe to say it’s derby until death for this Jammer Assassin. Outside the rink, Cat writes fiction (claranipper.com <--under construction), makes desserts (andyscandies.org <--under construction) and enlarges her certified wildlife habitat gardens.


"I can't, I have derby!"

by Clara Nipper


Roller derby is the love of my life. It's an empowering tough, tender sisterhood. It's the hardest sport you'll ever love; it's a passionate addiction that makes women into heroines who swear their souls to derby 'til death. It's the remedy for every problem. There's nothing derby can't make better.

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