Dining in Hell: The Uphill to Battle and Dreaming of the View from the Top

by Beatrix R. Forkids

2014 turned out to be a year of “firsts” for me. It was my first time travelling for roller derby that required an airplane, my first time in the state of California, and my first time at the Battle on the Bank tournament. To say I was excited would be an understatement. I had spent the last year working hard to make it on to the She Devils travel team and then on to the Battle on the Bank roster, and as the adage goes, hard work pays off. 
            I watched the She Devils’ 2013 Battle on the Bank debut over the live streaming broadcast from home. It was exhilarating to see my teammates playing in the ‘big leagues’ with tough teams like LA Derby Dolls for the first time (And over the internet! Live streaming is really cool, guys). The tournament was a huge learning experience for the She Devils and our league as a whole. Unfamiliar with the RDCL rule set, the She Devils struggled with penalties and many players were ejected for the first time in their derby careers.  For those of us watching from home, I don’t think we had ever felt more proud or cheered so hard for 4 points.
            When the She Devils came home from LA, it was hard to miss the energy and excitement that followed them like a wave. The change was almost immediate. Determined not to make the same mistakes again the She Devils started having extra practices during the week before league practices and on the weekends.  We started learning new-to-us skills like ‘resets’ to avoid cut track penalties, plow stopping and more advanced footwork, and strategy like how to make an effective wall. We had team dinners for learning the RDCL rules rather than for drinking margaritas, a much beloved She Devil past time. In our spare time we pored over the rules page by page, line by line. We had guest coaches from Team USA teach clinics, and invited other local skaters to our weekly scrimmages to get comfortable with the new style of playing and transfer our knowledge of the rules from paper to the track.

photo courtesy of Beatrix R. ForKids.

photo courtesy of Beatrix R. ForKids.

            The She Devils sent a whole new team to San Diego, and we felt ready for the challenge. The experience of the tournament itself was a whirlwind. The Dollhouse was packed with skaters from up and down the West coast, more refs than I had ever seen assembled in one place, and junior derby skaters who were surprisingly intimidating with their skills despite their youth and small stature. It was also surreal to meet and befriend skaters I had only seen in YouTube videos or mentioned on Derby News Network or Facebook. Taking the track for our first game, all I felt was nervous energy. It was easy to be intimidated by watching our faster, stronger, more skilled opponents warm up. But I think every skater can tell you that it all falls away when the whistle blows, and all you can see and hear are your teammates on the track. We lost that first game against Arizona, and we lost a player to an injury, but the experience of playing a high level game sticks with you. I left the track excited to try again the following day and learn from my own and my teammates' mistakes. I experienced another first that game: my first game ejection in the 4 years I had played roller derby. It happened towards the end of the game, but it felt pretty crappy no longer being able to support my team on the track.

photo courtesy of Beatrix R. ForKids

photo courtesy of Beatrix R. ForKids

            That night we met around the hotel pool and discussed the plan for the next day, who would step up where and what strategy we wanted to work on. It was exciting to feel everyone coming together as a team, pitching ideas, offering a few words of support, a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, and even constructive criticism of how we could all do better.

            We went into the next day's game with an entirely different mindset. Our bench coach had been scheduled to announce a game later in the day, the game the winner of our game would go on to play. The desire to win a game and prove to everyone and ourselves we deserved to be there had never been so strong. We were scheduled to play the Salt City Derby Girls from Utah. The second the whistle blew, we left everything on the track. We executed strategy, communicated to each other, and blocked our opponents like our lives depended on it. And we won. Another first for me and my team, a tournament win. The high from winning lasted about 5 minutes, when we're told we had 30 minutes to rest and fuel up before playing the San Diego Derby Dolls. I can't speak for everyone, but I was tired. I sat on the floor in the lobby of the Dollhouse, numbly eating a granola bar and chugging a Gatorade. Other skaters wandered off to escape for a few minutes with their iPods and headphones to gain some headspace. Before long, we met to stretch and warmup as we had before every game in the basement under the track of the Dollhouse.

            During warmups, we talk about our goals for the game and try to inspire each other along with chanting our team’s pregame chant. One of the She Devils' guilty pleasures (loved by most, hated by some) is the 2004 movie "Miracle". It is the story of the 'Miracle on Ice', the 1980 Winter Olympics hockey game between the U.S.A and USSR that inspired the famous line ‘Do you believe in miracles? Yes!’ as the U.S. beat the Soviets in the final seconds of the game 4-3. One of my favorite things to do before a game is for someone, captain, bench coach, or the entire team; to recite the famous speech from the locker room. It tells us that "Great moments are born from great opportunity" and it applies to derby just as much as it did to hockey. We were given the opportunity to play a great team, and show what we could do.  We didn't win that game against San Diego, but we accomplished something that felt almost as good as winning. In 2013, the San Diego Derby Dolls beat the She Devils 214-4 in the biggest blowout Battle on the Bank had ever seen. This time around the game ended with a score of 181-23, San Diego. While we didn't win, we were able to score 19 more points than the previous year and reduce San Diego's score by 33 points and that felt like a pretty great moment. Battle on the Bank ended with LA derby dolls taking home 1st place, and a fantastic celebration that brought everyone who was there together with music and dancing. It was the perfect ending to our tournament experience.

photo courtesy of Beatrix R. ForKids

photo courtesy of Beatrix R. ForKids

            This year's Battle on the Bank tournament will take place on June 5th-7th in Seattle, WA. The She Devils have spent the last year training just as hard and getting more RDCL games under our belts. I feel like we are coming together as a team when we skate, learning strategy and skills together at practice and during games. I love watching my teammates push themselves and having them push me to be better and work harder. I want to continue to build up my skills so they can rely on me and trust where I am on the track. We all set goals at the beginning of the season and I am looking forward to seeing everyone complete their personal goals, as well as our team goals. I think if we can work together, and stay out of the penalty box, we can do great things this year at Battle on the Bank.  I am looking forward to more "firsts" for 2015: my first time to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, my first tournament not getting ejected from a game, and with any luck, our first time winning two games at Battle on the Bank. Do you believe in miracles?

Yes. I do.

photo courtesy of Beatrix R. ForKids

photo courtesy of Beatrix R. ForKids