Seeing Stars

Like any good parent, I believe my children are exceptional. Sometimes they’re exceptional troublemakers, but for the most part, they blow me away with their never-ending curiosity, their intuitive insights, their quirky senses of humor, their good good hearts. However, it’s not every day – or any Saturday night as the case may be – where your 10yo daughter gets to demonstrate to you, to herself, and to, oh, you know, 7,000 screaming fans just how exceptional she can be…

Two weeks ago, at her weekly roller derby practice, Paisley (aka Lyka Livewire) and her roller derby team (she skates for the youngest division, ages 8-12, of the Seattle Derby Brats, the junior league for the Rat City Rollergirls, the premiere roller derby team here in Seattle) were invited to skate an exhibition bout at the half-time show of the Rat City Rollergirls’ first big event of the 2013 season. Wow – you should’ve heard the screams of excitement! Heck, maybe you did; if your ears started ringing a couple of Friday nights ago, yeah, that was them.

The big night finally arrived. As it was a special occasion, we took a little extra time to dress ourselves up (or rather, at least one of us did). The application of make-up took an especially long time, but I think the end result was well worth the work.

Looking fierce. Game face ON!

Looking fierce. Game face ON!

Off we went, face paint on and suitcase full of gear in tow, to the back entrance of Key Arena (yeah, that Key Arena – you know, just the largest entertainment venue in the city of Seattle, the place where acts like, oh, say, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen perform when they’re in town). We dropped off our daughter backstage to stow her gear (in a room aptly titled “Halftime Act”), and then Bill and I headed upstairs to find some good seats. After purchasing a hot dog, a salted pretzel with “cheese” (what is that stuff?! I know it’s not cheese, but it’s so dang good!), and a Panini sandwich for our dinners (the dinner of champions!), Paisley was able to join us to watch the first half of the first bout (The Throttle Rockets vs The Sockit Wenches), declaring her former coach, Luna Negra of the Throttle Rockets, “the best jammer EVER!!” (though the Sockit Wenches would pull off a narrow win, 176-163, Paisley was okay with this since another of her former workshop coaches, Neutrino, is a fantastic jammer for the Sockit Wenches), before taking off yet again with her teammates to lace up their skates and start warming up.

And then, finally, the half-time show started. The Tootsy Rollers took the track!

Paisley’s super-wonderful coach had whispered to me, before the girls headed backstage to warm up, that Lyka (as they call her on the team) would be skating as jammer in the fourth jam… This was VERY exciting, as all last season and most of this season, Lyka adamantly refused to skate jammer at all (the jammer is the skater who makes all the points every time she skates through the pack of other skaters – you can always pick out the jammer, as she’s the one with the stars on her helmet cover), preferring to skate pivot, the lead blocker (the pivot is the one with the stripe on her helmet cover; she and her three blocker teammates create the defensive, and sometimes offensive, part of the team, keeping the other team’s jammer from passing and helping their own jammer get through the pack to make points). With a few nudges from her coach (“a good pivot knows what her jammer needs, and in order to know that, a pivot needs to know what it’s like to be a jammer”), Lyka finally pulled the jammer cover – stars and all – over her helmet about a month or so ago during a practice scrimmage… and she ROCKED IT.

I hurried back to my seat, told Bill about Paisley’s upcoming jam, and we fired up the video apps on our iPhones. This was going to be epic!

The whistles blew and the bout began. I don’t even know what happened during the first jam, I was screaming so loudly for the Orange Crush and the Turquoise Terrors, as they took the track (the Tootsy Rollers are divided into two teams – the Orange Crush and the Turquoise Terrors – more for convenience than for any sense of rivalry; the girls might be separated by the color of their jerseys, but they are all ONE team and support and love each other like sisters). The second jam, featuring two of the Tootsy Rollers’ most talented jammers, was just pure high-octane action. Thrilling! I fiddled with my phone (my battery was dying; I was very worried that I wouldn’t catch this milestone moment!), and looked up and – oh my goodness! – there she was! On the JUMBOTRON!

Lyka Livewire, jersey number 100 Amps, had skated up to the line for the Orange Crush. Her toe stop was down. She crouched, waiting… ready for the whistle… The announcer introduced her. Lyka was jammer during what is called a power jam – the other team’s jammer was in the penalty box – and my little roller derby queen took full advantage of the situation. The whistle blew, and she RAN off that line, her arms pumping, her skates gaining speed, and looked for the line that would take her through the pack… Some jostling… some more jostling… around the corner… on the inside… and she BROKE FREE! SHE WAS LEAD JAMMER!! In the clear… Still focused, she quickly made it around the track once… twice… and came back up on the pack. She didn’t even slow down!! She cut right on through! And then, DOWN SHE WENT. A blocker for the Turquoise Terror did an excellent job of defense, leaning Lyka right off the track. Unfazed, Lyka popped right up and was back on the track before you could say “roller derby rocks!” She saw the opening on the inside and cut right past most of the pack, engaging once again the Turquoise Terror’s tenacious blocker that had brought her down. Lyka skated side to side looking for an opening, nimbly avoiding any more defensive “leaning.” And then, even the announcer went crazy with the skill these young teams possess: one of Lyka’s teammates expertly came in with some crazy good offensive moves, cutting the Turquoise Terror’s blocker off and giving Lyka the room to pass! By this time the other blockers had caught up, and one of her own blockers was in the penalty box; Lyka now faced a veritable wall of backs, and the blocker she’d left behind was BACK, ready for more! But this proved no-big-deal for Lyka, who quickly side-stepped around the other skaters, put on a burst of speed, and zipped on by TO SCORE!!! As she came up on her bench and her coach, her hands went to her hips and flew up in the air in the gesture that calls off the jam. All this in one minute. A mere 60-seconds of adrenaline-spiking, out-of-your-seats-screeching-your-head-off EXCITEMENT!

YES, EXCITEMENT!! All Caps doesn’t even come close to explaining how bubbly and giggly and happy I was feeling for Lyka/Paisley and all of the Tootsy Rollers! Indeed, I was so excited I accidentally posted the above video to Facebook TWICE, totally killing the battery in my phone in the process. I have no idea how many points my daughter scored, or even what was the final score of the short 10-minute exhibition bout. But really, the points scored and who won or lost is completely beside the point – ALL those girls skated their HEARTS AND SOULS out, out there in that big big arena, in front of literally THOUSANDS of screaming fans.

I was – and am – so impressed by how these girls, these amazingly awesome athletes, even as young as they are, handled themselves at this major event: with both intense energy and easy confidence, quietly demanding the respect of everyone who was – and is – lucky enough to watch them. They should all be so very proud of themselves. These girls are just going to keep getting better, too. And one day soon, sooner than I’m ready for I’m sure, these girls will be old enough to skate with the Rat City Rollergirls themselves. And here’s the thing… What happened in that short 10-minute bout will last these girls a lifetime. They might not know it now, of course (to them it was just a blast!), but someday, maybe, they’ll look back and really see, really appreciate, what they demonstrated that one Saturday night…

Indeed, I truly hope that short, one-minute power jam will stay with my daughter forever: I hope she will always face life with the fierce determination she showed when she put her toe to the line; I hope she will always bounce back from a fall as quickly as she did during that bout; I hope she will always surround herself with allies who support her and protect her back, running interference for anyone who gets in her way; I hope she will always step around any obstacle that gets in her way, as deftly as she did the girls blocking her; I hope she will marvel and delight in her strength, resiliency and her persevering spirit whenever she crosses any finish line; and I hope she will always remember that she can – and did – do something (scary, intimidating, and over-whelming) that she didn’t think she could (skating jammer – and even doing so in front of an arena full of complete strangers!), and the satisfaction and self-respect that come with doing so. But mostly, I hope that she (and I wish this for each girl on her team) will know – know deep in the core of her being – that she is, just as her parents have always known, exceptional, whether she wears that jammer helmet cover or not.

(I suspect, however, that after the excitement of this last weekend, she’s going to want to wear those stars on her helmet for many more bouts to come. And I’ll be there rooting her on, every time.)

***

Because I don’t want to step on any toes, I didn’t include any of the professionally shot photographs that were taken during the bout. But if you want to take a look, here are the links to some truly amazing shots. From what I understand, roller derby photography is REALLY tough due to the fast nature of the sport and usually terrible lighting conditions. These guys did a fantastic job of covering the Tootsy Rollers and the first RCRG bout of the season, and I want to thank them for making their photos available for the public to see. Having said that, these are their photos, wholly and completely, and all rights belong to them. Thanks!

Waiting backstage for the bout to begin: think she’s having fun?!
Lyka and her teammates on the bench.
Ready to rumble! On the starting line (check out that focus!!).
And this is what it looks like from the inside of the track. WOW.
Another angle at the start line.
How much do I love the look in her eyes?!
And she’s off!
Lyka Livewire, cutting through the pack.
An AMAZING shot.  She’s flying!
There is no slowing this girl down!
Passing the other team’s blocker.
Around the track.
Looking for a way through as she spots the pack.
And around again!
Love this one: in black and white.
Listening to her coach and calling off the jam.
Calling off the jam: in black and white.
And here’s another video of Lyka’s jam, closer to the track.

My Roller Derby Queen: Seeing Life Through Orange-Colored Glasses

My 9yo, representing her Orange Crush.

Spring Piano Recital 2012: Paisley (9yo)

Yesterday was my 9yo’s Spring Piano Recital. She played an original composition that she wrote, entitled “Orange Crush.” She wore orange-and-black-striped tights to visually represent her “Orange Crush.” On her feet, she sported her well-worn, black-and-white, skull-and-crossbones-with-orange-piping, custom-designed “Orange Crush” Converse All-Stars, rather than the black ballet flats I suggested (she’s only worn them once – for her last Spring Piano Recital). I anticipated an epic battle when I insisted that she may not, under any circumstances, wear her neon-orange “Orange Crush” hoodie (it’s a piano recital; even in Seattle, where dressing up means tucking one’s t-shirt into one’s jeans, I have my standards), but the day turned out warm and sunny, and she left her beloved sweatshirt at home.

Our family’s life has become permeated with all things “Orange Crush.” And I’m not talking about the retro-cool soda pop.

You see, my 9yo daughter’s roller derby team is called the Orange Crush. She is head over wheels in love with her new sport, and now views the entire world around her through orange-colored glasses…

It all began innocently enough when one of her best friends asked if she wanted to take a roller derby camp over the summer. I had almost no exposure to roller derby at the time, only knowing of the popularity of Seattle’s Rat City Rollergirls – and the hip, if fairly risqué, pin-up fashion sensibilities of said Rollergirls – from afar; I’d never even been to a bout, but knew it involved lots of bruises inflicted from knocking each other off the track. With a touch of trepidation, I agreed she could take the six week session (every Friday night for six weeks), in spite of the lateness of the practices (6-9pm – Paisley’s bedtime is usually around 7:30/8pm). I figured, if anything, the skating practice would make her a better skater and she’d have more fun at the annual roller-skating trip her school took (which represented her entire roller skating career up until this time).

And though I worried a bit that she’d learn to body-slam some unsuspecting classmate and I’d have a call from the principal, I never expected that we were actually making a lifestyle choice.

So, we took a trip to Fast Girl Skates (the first roller derby storefront in the country is here in Seattle!) to get Paisley geared up for camp: a new pair of skates, a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, and a mouth guard.

Paisley's first day of New Skater Camp

Paisley (then 8yo) on her first day of New Skater Camp (Summer 2011).

Then, off to The Rat’s Nest (the industrial-style warehouse where the Rat City Rollergirls and their Junior Division, the Seattle Derby Brats, practice) we went. Gear on, and off she skated… falling, literally, every five feet. I’m not kidding. I cringed and winced every time her little body slammed into the ground. But even when her head bounced off the track (really – thank goodness for helmets!), she just kept popping up like popcorn. Falls meant nothing to her. Which is good. Because there’s LOTS of falling in roller derby. Lots. Especially for someone who was on skates for only the THIRD TIME EVER.

We were back at Fast Girl Skates the next day buying her “butt pads.” Butt pads cushion the falls. Who knew??

She couldn’t wait until her second practice, but did request one wardrobe change: instead of the leggings she was wearing, could she “maybe skate in some tights?” And, because “it was so hot” (there’s no A/C in the Rat’s Nest, and it does get rather warm in the summer months; not that the skaters ever notice such trivialities as personal comfort), her “coaches had said” (yeah, right!) that she “should probably have some of those tights with the holes in them, to help keep cool.”

Uh-huh. It turns out, my eyebrows actually can touch my hairline.

Somehow, in the moments between picking herself up from all the falls, my then-8yo daughter had (of course) observed that some of the older (read: teenaged) girls who were helping the coaches run the camp, wore FISHNET STOCKINGS under their butt pads (recall the pin-up style of roller derby).

(Deep breath.) I was quite impressed by how calm I was when I let her know that, actually, the coaches had emailed me (and all the parents) suggesting new skaters wear comfortable LEGGINGS. Leggings were fine. And I stopped there, not feeling obliged to tell her that I’d buy her “fishnet stockings” roughly NEVER.

I didn’t see her skate again until her fifth practice, and in spite of being hindered by leggings, I was totally BLOWN AWAY by the progress she’d made in such a short time. She was still falling, but less often. And she was getting fast! But mostly, she had this… this… this incredible ENERGY, this DRIVE. She was just so determined, so focused, so absolutely thrilled to be there. Bill and I have never seen her so taken with ANYTHING, not with ballet or soccer or Aikido or Jiu-Jitsu or swimming or piano or art or zoo camp or theater camp or any other activity she’s asked to do. Her passion for roller derby was RADIATING from her little body. She skated up to me during a water break, a huge, beaming smile on her face, and told me (no, she didn’t ask, there was no debate here) that she couldn’t WAIT to try out for the roller derby team!

Oooh boy. She was such a new skater, and her skills so under-developed, we worried that she’d be devastated by not making the team… But we showed up for tryouts a few weeks later anyway, and to everyone’s surprise (except Paisley’s), her enthusiasm and dedication-to-improving earned her a spot on the youngest division, the Tootsy Rollers (ages 8 through 11 or 12). After the initial shock of realizing we were now locked into Friday night practices for the entire school year, we were immediately faced with the next big challenge: coming up with her derby name. This was WAY more difficult than the fishnet stocking conversation…

You see, each skater in the entire world has their very own, unique roller derby name, most of which incorporate puns or plays on words (and most of which are completely inappropriate for an 8yo child). After weeks of agonizing over names and checking them against the international database of roller derby names (yes, it exists!*), feeling like we were naming our “unborn baby” all over again, our little ball of energy came to be known as LYKA LIVEWIRE (Ha! Don’t you LOVE that??). Her derby number: 100 Amps (contrary to popular opinion, it’s not the volts that’ll kill you; it’s the amps – and 100 amps is more than enough to do the job.). Can you tell we had fun with this?!

After several weeks of training together, the Tootsy Rollers were broken up into two teams in order to hold scrimmages and bouts (the youngest skaters don’t travel or compete with visiting derby leagues). The team divisions are completely arbitrary and all the girls skate and practice together as “one team,” but Paisley was quite thrilled to be assigned to the Orange Crush (as opposed to the Turquoise Terrors), and has slowly adapted her entire wardrobe – and even mine – into shades of black and orange in solidarity with her new team (Me: Paisley, you need a new rain coat. What color do you want? Her: Orange. Me: They don’t have orange. Her: Then black. Me: I’m getting a pedicure today! What color should I paint my toes?? Her: Neon orange. Me: Really?! Her: Duh! Please note: Yes, I painted my toes orange.).

Lyka Livewire

Lyka Livewire leads her team, the Orange Crush, on their victory lap at her first big roller derby bout! (December 2011)

And even though orange is perhaps not my favorite color of the rainbow (I’m a Spring, not an Autumn), I must admit, I, too, have an “Orange Crush.” I’ve grown to love roller derby and Paisley’s all-encompassing fervor for all things orange. I never expected roller derby, of all things, to become such a positive influence on my daughter. When she falls, she gets right back up and keeps going. That, in itself, would be enough of a life lesson for me: if she can just adapt that same attitude when confronting any challenge that life throws at her, then mission accomplished! When any skater gets hurt on the track, everyone takes a knee, and waits with baited breath until their teammate gets back up again; at which point they all applaud and cheer. Even the older, teenaged girls, in all their fishnet stocking glory (though, to be fair, those stockings are usually worn over a fun-colored pair of opaque tights – they flash very little skin), are also incredibly polite. I know, crazy, right?? But, really: they look the grown-ups around them in the eyes with confidence, not cockiness; they call each other out when they hear name calling or disparaging remarks about other girls; and they actually say sorry and move when they notice they’re in your way or blocking your view (!!). These are the kinds of role models I want for my daughter, even if pink- or red-dyed hair come with the bargain.

Yes, before I know it, Paisley will be old enough to transition from the Orange Crush to either the pink-themed Poison Skid’les or the red-themed Evil Angels. And our orange-tinted world will go the way of her Princess Phase…

Oh…

Know what? If she wants to wear her neon-orange hoodie sweatshirt to her next piano recital? So be it…

But fishnet stockings?? It ain’t gonna happen.

*After perusing the International Rollergirls’ Master Roster, I’d love to hear what your roller derby name would be!