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Oh baby! The other day was one of our first scrimmages, so incredibly fun! On the way to every practice, I blast music in my car to get hyped up. Black Mountain’s “Stormy High” was the choice de jour. The guitars are hard and the female singer’s voice is haunting. Oddly fitting, but an unintended coincidence on such a dark and rainy night. As I arrive at practice, the excitement in the air is palpable and everything from the outside world fades. The girls get their gear on, lace up, and hit the track. The quiet few skates on the pavement before the other girls get on the track is a calming sound. The calm before the derby storm, I suppose.
Our practice space is a covered outdoor space and it was c-c-cold. After a really good warm up, stretching and instruction from our coaches, it was scrimmage time. We toss our helmets into the middle to determine teams and each team gets a couple of ‘seasoned meat’ as coaches. The referees come to our scrimmages so we can get called out for the plethora of penalties we commit. There is a lot to think about as we try to learn the role of each position in the pack and maintain awareness of the jammers’ positions, so somehow keeping our elbows to ourselves gets forgotten. Despite what you have seen from old-school derby, elbowing is illegal. Definitely.
The anticipation is building as we line up for our first jam. The referees blow one long whistle to start the pack rolling…here we go! Two more short blasts start the jammers. There are specific positions in the pack to help the jammer on our team get through the pack and specific positions to impede the opposing jammer. As the jammers approach the pack, the girls all start calling out to each other so that we know where the jammers are at all times. Our eyes constantly dart behind us, shoulder checking, trying to find our jammer to whip and push her through the pack. We’re body checking, booty blocking and shoulder checking trying to clear a path for our girl. The other girls on our team are focused on keeping the opposing jammer back. The moment our jammer gets through the pack and is off racing around the track, our team burst out in cheers as she speeds around the track. But our work is not done. The opposing jammer is coming up behind. We have lines of defence and if the jammer starts to break through it is up to the Pivot, the front position, to get in her way long enough for our team to catch up and get in her way even more. The girls are calling out to each other how to stop her and who she is coming up upon and on which side. Bodies are flying. There are girls knocked to the ground, skidding on their knee pads. Then they are up and sprinting back into play. There are a few big knockdowns where the rest of the pack has to dodge, lifting skates, anything, so our freshie friend does not kicked by the skates rushing past her.
The sounds of the girls calling to each other, knees pads scraping against asphalt, and cheers from the bench is so invigorating! As soon as the jam ends and we switch up the lines, we wait anxiously on the sideline to get back on. The sidelines are a cacophony of heaving breathing, chattering about the previous jam, cheering, and our coaches trying to yell instructions over the noise. In all the excitement, our arms are flailing – common among freshies – so we get a few penalties. It is such torture to sit in the penalty box and watch the jam play on. The penalty is only one minute of play time but it feels like an eternity, it takes all of my self restraint to stay seated when I was in the box. When I get the 10 second countdown to rejoin the game, my heart starts pounding. Finally! It’s time to get back in. I have to wait for the pack to pass so I re-enter play legally, then it’s a race to catch up to the pack. The pack is a blur of blue and green pinnies, star helmet covers and girls weaving in all directions as we race around the track. Here comes the jammers again, the girls in the pack get a renewed sense of determination that shows on every face, the blocking and body checking become more aggressive in anticipation of the jammers and TWEET TWEET TWEET TWEET! Arrggghh…..the jam is over!!? My heart sinks a little. It’s like hearing the bell to signal that recess is over, that burning urge to just…play…one…minute…longer. My body is thankful for the moment’s rest but my adrenaline is still rushing!
As practice ends, we’re all exhausted and the sweet and pungent smell of girl sweat fills the air in the change room. I definitely needed a yoga class the morning after but I’m counting down the hours until we get to play again.
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Promotional photography courtesy of Nicolas Charest for Rollergirl Roller Skates and Bob Ayers, unless otherwise noted.