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Friday, August 7, 2020

Columns

Skating the stress away at semester’s end


When my arts editor at The Daily Cougar asked if I’d be available to cover a series of stories on the Houston Roller Derby, I practically jumped out of my skin; I’d been looking for a distraction from the semester workload.

Not only was I going to be among women from a local roller derby team, The Valkyries, but I would be learning how to skate like a real derby chick and possibly get a cool name like “Hot Rod Bettie” or “Wicked Sweet.”

The Valkyries is one of four home teams—the others being the Bayou City Bosses, The Brawlers and the Psych Ward Sirens—in the all-female HRD league that was organized in 2005.

It was 7:20 p.m. last Tuesday when I arrived at Houston Indoor Sports. Once inside, I was greeted with a stack of waivers I was required to sign before I could participate. Next, I was given seven pieces of equipment that consisted of knee and elbow pads, protective gloves and a helmet. I was ready to put on my skates.

Anticipation was killer.

The last time I owned a pair of old-school skates—white shoes with purple wheels—the rhythmic dancing of my hair was interrupted by a sudden jolt of pain as I lost control over uneven surfaces and landed with my back against the concrete.

I remember laying there for a while before I dragged myself up and gathered the remaining pieces of my Walkman. I retired those skates.
Tuesday, though, I was ready to redeem myself.

Newcomers spend six weeks reviewing basics such as skating, learning how to stop, turn, prop on and off the floor, and fall. Yes, there is a proper way to fall.

It’s called “falling small” and, when done right, it keeps your fingers from being crushed by rolling wheels and your butt from being sore.

All these skills are evaluated on the last day of the 6-week training period and help determine if you proceed to the intermediate level and eventually tryout for one of the teams. Upper level learning involves skating in a pack and learning how to block opponents. I had a hard time just trying to skate.

“So when you’re skating, you want to bend your knees and basically you want your shoulders over your hips, kind of like you’re squatting over a dirty toilet,” one of the experienced skaters said to the group of about 30 women. “It sounds funny, but the lower you are the better your center of gravity is and the sturdier you’ll feel.”

Of those 30 women at practice, 10 or so were currently on the six-week track and there was one other “new skater” besides myself.

Novice skaters are instructed to stay on the outer vicinity of the roller rink, while advanced skaters dominate the arena. Besides being taught the basics, all the women joined together for two group stretching sessions, once at the beginning of practice and anther towards the end; both in full skater gear.

Overall the practice lasted two hours. Women are encouraged to bring their own gear, water/sports drinks and dress comfortably. Donated equipment is available. Next time, I’ll bring my own. Free gear is nice, but the stench requires a longer shower afterwards.

The next day I was a bit sore, but nothing out of the usual for exercise. I felt the workout on my lower back and butt region.

Through it all, I completed practice without being a “floor hugger,” although I did fall “improperly” on my left thigh, but my interest in roller skating had returned.

With a lot of practice and most likely a sore butt, I too, just might get an awesome roller derby name. I like Kit-Kat Killer.

The Houston Roller Derby hosts its next team bout from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the Bayou Music Center (formerly Verizon Wireless Theatre), 520 Texas Ave.Tickets are $15 general admission; $25 VIP entrance.

For more information, visit www.houstonrollerderby.com.

Coming up: A review of Saturday’s bout and a story on HRD’s ties to UH.

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