How I Survived Fresh Meat: the girl who couldn’t skate
Mar 2015 04

By Sasha Fierce

I honestly didn’t think I could be taught to roller skate.

It’s a common story on the first day of fresh meat, “I can’t skate.” And, “I’ve never skated before.” And lots of, “Skating as a kid doesn’t count, right?”

In my (limited) experience having skated as a kid really does give you a little advantage and a great starting point for being more open to trying new skills. I think this is because, you’ve kinda already learnt that it’s ok to strap wheels on your feet.
But for me –  it is not ok to strap wheels on my feet.

I literally had never skated before.

Not as a kid. Not on inlines. Never went skiing.

Can’t even ride a bike. Not on ice. Except for that time I clung to the wall for dear life for one lap before sitting out the rest of the session perfectly happy to just watch others enjoy, calmly refusing to put the skates back on, “You guys have fun. I’m happy to chill here.”

Sasha yoga skates

On a whim, my husband encouraged me into buying a second hand $50 pair of black plastic, toy skates from the 80s off gumtree. The plate and trucks, PVA glued in. The bearings, rusty. The wheels, too hard. The size, too big. The brand, no one had even heard of it. But, I didn’t know any of that. They just looked like skates to me. We also grabbed a $30 set of wrist, elbow and knee pads from Rebel Sport but splurged a little more on a decent skate helmet.

Sasha - gumtree skates

We got home and Googled some ‘teach yourself to skate’ stuff and decided to start with one basic skill: taking a knee. I stood, shaking from fear, on my lounge room carpet in full gear surrounded by yoga mats and pillows. For hours at a time I stood, still shaking, in my skates going down to one knee. Coming back up. Going down to the other knee. Coming back up. Repeat. Nonstop. For weeks.

By chance, I saw an ad: “It’s not too late! Sign up for fresh meat roller derby with the South Side Derby Dolls.” Still shaking, I responded to the ad on a Tuesday, did my paperwork on the Wednesday, paid my fees by Thursday, and went to my first training session on Friday. That Friday I went along, I honestly thought that I wouldn’t be able to learn to skate. I pictured the derby girls kindly offering me a refund and apologising to me because I simply just wasn’t right for this activity. I risked it and went anyways (yes, still shaking).

Four months later and not only can I take a knee like a boss but I can skate, stop, crossover, jump, skate on one foot and I can even shoot the duck (pictured).

Sasha - shoot the duck

The shaking thing slowly went away. It occasionally comes back if I feel really out of my depth. But these are my top things that helped me through and what I’ve learned from being fresh:

1. Mind over matter.
I know this sounds corny but, you’ve gotta genuinely believe you can do it before you’ll be able to do it. Your body tends to be capable well before your mind realises it so, push your mind. Believe in yourself.
If, like me, you suffer from depression, anxiety, low self esteem and the like – talk to your GP about being referred to a psychologist and take an active role in your treatment. You need a strong mind for derby.

2. Off skates.
Train off skates. I’ve found weight lifting, mixed martial arts for fitness, yoga, running, and swimming all really great for overall strength, endurance and agility. Pick something and create a diverse regime that works for you. Note: It does not matter what your size is. It does not matter what your body looks like. What matters is what your body can do. You need a strong body for derby.

3. Cross train.
Pick up something that isn’t derby and do it.
I picked casual indoor rock climbing because I’m afraid of heights and derby doesn’t do much for upper body strength. Turns out that rock climbing requires a lot of single leg squat movements, hip flexibility, and fear conquering – just like derby.

4. Rest.
I loathe rest days. Surely just one hour at the gym counts as a rest, right? Wrong. Your body needs that day to heal. You need a rest day.

5. Stretch.
Every. Single. Day. I now have patella femoral pain syndrome in my left knee. That means, I didn’t stretch properly and my knee now hurts a lot all the time. Stretching at the same time each day (like, when you wake up) to establish a routine of daily stretching. Stretch a lot before and after exercise. Stretching can prevent injuries. Listen to your body. See a professional if you have any issues.

6. Skate.
The more time in skates, the better. I feel that training is where you learn cool stuff. Skate practise on your own is where you master it.
Also try non-derby skating activities like RollerFit, speed skating, outdoor skating. Although, I personally forbid you to try ramps when you’re as fresh as me. I even sometimes do my chores in skates.

Sasha - chores

7. Fall over.
Once you’ve been taught correct falling technique, practise and make it muscle memory so that your body just does it when it needs to. Falling can happen from pushing your limits so far that you overreach. That and you have wheels on your feet. Every stack is a (painful purple blotchy) lesson (on your ass). Falling is not the opposite of success, it’s the method to it. The more you fall, the more you learn.

8. Laugh.
Instead of pressuring yourself to be Wild Cherri – relax, laugh, and enjoy the moment when you’re skating. Your brain will be more receptive to learning if it’s relaxed and having fun. Be excellent to yourself. Understand that you don’t have to be good at things right away. What’s the point in doing this if we’re gonna pressure ourselves so much and have our expectations set so high that we just feel inadequate and miserable? None. Being hard on yourself won’t make you a better skater.

9. Reward your efforts.
Every time you attempt something new, mentally reward yourself just for trying. That way, you’ll teach your brain: “trying = good.” The more your brain wants you to just try, the more practise it’ll be receptive to do, the more practise you will do. And, practise makes perfect.
You’ll also feel happier (see point 8.)

10. Wash.
Wash your gear. Promise? Good.

11. Gear.
‘It is a poor workman who blames his tools’ but hot damn does investing in quality equipment make a difference. Buy decent knee pads, learn about the parts of your skates, loosen your trucks a little, and ask for help. For training, wear something practical and comfortable – this is a full on sport. If you were going for a run, what would you wear? Wear that.

12. NSO.
Be a non skating official at scrimmage to help learn the game. Watch as much derby as you can.

13. Mantras.
Having a mental database of mantras helps me through the tough times. These little slogans hark back to bigger ideas and philosophies that I use to keep my mind strong (see point 1). Sure, it’s a bit lame, but maintaining a positive frame of mind, in this sport, is a decent chunk of the work. Here are some of my personal mantras (I shout a lot of these to myself in my brain during laps):
– Feel the fear and do it anyway.
– Yes, it hurts but I do not care.
– Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.
– Turn your fear into a ‘to do’ list.
– You’re doing really well.
– It doesn’t matter how much it hurts so long as you know you did everything you could.
– The only difference between someone who can do it and someone who can’t is that the person who can do it believes they can.
– Comparison is the thief of joy.
– Identify the difference between a reason and an excuse.

14. Above all, trust your trainers.

If they say, “Throw your weight across” but you’re scared to throw your weight across, trust your trainers and throw your weight across. If they say, “transition”, transition! If they say, “Jump the apex!” Well… Just try your best, ok?

At the end of the ten week fresh meat course by London Brawling, I was deeply honoured and humbled to get the ‘Freshie of the Year’ award.

Sasha - freshie of the year

THUNDRBUTT was so proud, she made me this:

Sasha - so fresh

The trophy sits on my bookcase flanked by those aforementioned filthy $50 gumtree skates, which I did the entire course in.
If I can do it in those, you can do it in yours!

Ps. As a Xmas treat to myself, I hooked myself up with these pretty little Bonts (below). Felt like a T Rex with extendable arms!

Sasha - bonts