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.