At the beginning of August the Bruising Banditas travelled up to Scotland for the weekend to bout the Dundee Roller Girls. It was a big deal on a bunch of levels; this was the furthest we've travelled for any bout, it was our first bout outside of England, it was going to be our toughest bout yet with a very highly ranked team and a short roster and (on a personal level) it was my one year derby-versary!
Before I get to the point of this post I'm going to divert the train for a moment and talk about my first year in Roller Derby. We've all read posts about women who came to derby looking for something fun, friendly and, above all, different. I was the same, my story isn't anything special. I'm just like a thousand other women who saw a newspaper article or a flyer or a web post and thought, 'ooo that looks fun'. But for me the process took a while. I first discovered Roller Derby in an article about the exciting new sport jumping the pond from America to the UK all the way back in 2009. I read the whole thing twice and pounced on my laptop to find my nearest league. Unfortunately I lived too far away from any existing teams and was too poor to seriously consider training. So far, so disappointed. But I never forgot and every so often I'd look around to see if there were any new leagues, even signing up for a Leeds Roller Dolls intake before realising I couldn't pay the rent let alone train fare and session fees.
But things got better and one day walking past the local sports hall at lunch I saw a banner cable tied to it's wire fence emblazoned with a purple heart and white fist. 'Halifax Bruising Banditas Roller Derby'. I stood staring at it for a full minute (which is a long time in a busy Sainsbury's car park), before figuratively skipping back to work and spending the rest of the afternoon reading about them on the internet. Next thing I knew I was strapping on some rather funky blue and yellow disco skates and being led through my first warm up holding desperately onto the wall. That was last August. I was an intake of one for a while and for the first few months I was led by our head ref through the basic skills, always looking towards the team drilling away with a mixture of awe, fear and hunger.
Since then I have skated out as a Bandita on four occasions and the last bout was the first time I'd experienced a loss with my team. We've had an incredible year of bouting so far and have shot up the rankings like a rocket. Things are great when you're riding high and the Banditas have never been higher than we were before Dundee. It’s easy to be a good team mate when things are going well, when strategy works and bouts are being won. It’s so easy to smile and high five your teamy for her great work on track when morale is high. And so we went into the bout cautiously confident and excited.
We went behind from the first jam and so it stayed for the rest of the period. I felt like I was having a terrible game and came away at the half annoyed, disappointed, guilty and generally miffed at my performance. I felt like I was letting the team down, I was the reason we were losing, I was making it all about me. Needless to say I wasn't coping very well. Just as it is easy to be positive when you're up it is incredibly easy/second nature for some to spiral downwards if things aren't going their way. You can dissect your performance and focus only on the negative, forgetting the rest of the jam because you can't get over the fact you fell after a hit or got called on a silly penalty. You start to draw away from the group. As a team the danger is to become 14 (well, 11 this time) individuals and not a cohesive unit who know each others' play. Even worse, you can turn on each other and pick apart the people you need to rely on. It's when you're losing that you find out what a team is made of.
The Banditas were amazing. Our bench coach turned to us after giving us our team talk and said with a massive grin and fully of energy “I still think we can win this”. Our latest fresh meat graduate was super stoked she'd played her first jam and gave her partner a huge hug. Our captain and vice were so encouraging and joked about all the things that had occurred in the first period. Instead of bemoaning the first period we looked to the second and discussed what we could try in the next 30 minutes and nothing was shouted down. Surrounded by all of this positivity I mentally slapped myself, pulled myself together and became a proper team-mate.
The second period was a lot of fun. Sure it was hard and Dundee were all over the track but we it didn't stop us enjoying ourselves. We had a little bench celebration when we broke the century mark and gave our not-a-freshie-any-more all the high-fives when she came off track. We kept on coming up with things to try before each new jam and would you know it, some of them worked!
We lost but in the end it didn't feel like it. In the changing room afterwards our captain told us all how well she thought we all did and tasked us to think of three personal positives to take away from the bout. I don't think I've come away from a bout with more admiration or feeling of camaraderie with my team than I did after that Dundee game.
And then there was the afterparty...which all resulted in a very happy one-year-old derby skater making her bleary way down the M6 come Sunday morning.
So, after 4 years of searching and saving and one year after I first pulled on skates and tried to plough stop I can say waited more than most to find the right roller derby team.
PHOTOGRAPHS PROVIDED BY KYLE THOMSON PHOTOGRAPHY
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