When I last wrote a daylog here, I was just about to join a twelve-week Fresh Meat program for my wife's new Roller Derby league The Barbed Wire Betties of DeKalb, Illinois. I had been involved in the bout production for a different league the year before, yet I was not expecting to rediscover the gifts of participating in a team sport. There is something about the structure and support of team sports that I find to be inspirational and motivational. I took some time to reflect back on the progress of half a year and found myself back half a lifetime ago, back to another beginning which was a pivotal point in my life.
I never expected the reception of my final eighth grade report card to be the birth of my most enduring athletic endeavor to date. I was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good student and my stay at the deepest pit of hell was a particularly painful one. How bad a student? How wretched an inferno? Well, I would have to admit that it was the worst four consecutive years of my life. But, I am digressing here. The arrival of my poor marks in the mail came to no surprise to myself nor my parents. Nor was the intensity of the anger of my Father any surprise to me. Yet instead of the marathon of an exhausting and interrogating tirade that I usually endured from my Father under these circumstances, he delivered a tense and relatively brief ultimatum. To paraphrase, he said,
"You are not going to spend the next four years in front of the computer, or the television. You are going to have some sort of after-school activity, you are going to join some sort of a sports team, I don't care which, but I am not going to have you slacking-off every day right after school."
This was new! Yet it wasn't. My good parents had, throughout my childhood, signed me up with swim teams, baseball leagues and soccer leagues among other endeavors. Yet the severity and finality of my Father's ultimatum had such a sobering weight that I sought out to join the cross-country team that August. I ended up staying with the cross-country team and the track team for the entirety of my four years at Glenbard West high school, an accomplishment that earned me double letters upon the completion of my senior year.
Now, I was not an outstanding athlete. I cannot say that I gave one-hundred-and-ten percent one-hundred percent of the time. I was a slightly less than dependable, last-half of the pack fixture of the team. I remember what my coach had to say about me, and he saved me for last, during the teams Seniors' Dinner. With my Father in attendance, fresh off the train in his business-suit, Coach Hank Haake turned to me and he smiled widely and affectionately and he said,
"...and then there is Stuart. (pausing and smiling in quasi-paternal affection) What can I say about Stuart. (a statement) Stuart runs. Stuart runs until he gets red in the face. Then Stuart falls down. Then...Stuart gets up again. And.......then Stuart runs some more."
My Father, perhaps himself reflecting on the ultimatum that he gave four years before, also beamed and smiled, shaking his head a bit, I think. Not only did I succeed in not becoming some sort of slacker drop-out or whatever, but I actually went the distance throughout the entirety of high school and was going off to college that fall.
I was eighteen, soon to turn nineteen. Fast-forward to twice that age. Despite a stint here and a fad there, I have failed to exhibit anything akin to maintaining any sort of fitness regimen since those years on the cross-country team. I may have joined gyms, gone on diets and rocked out vigorously playing heavy metal on stage in a cover band. I even joined weight-watchers and lost fifty pounds at one point in 2009, before gaining nearly every pound back. But, I have never belonged to an athletic team since high school, until this year.
When we started skating together, I could scarcely stand on one skate and push myself about with the other. So much time has passed, some seven months. Our group of skaters has graduated and most have become part of the team. I can now cross-over, skating forwards and backwards, make transitions skating forwards to backwards and backwards to forwards, leading with either shoulder. I still have a lot of work: my form is still hunched forewords and I am not nearly flexible enough to tomahawk (skating with ones feet 180 degrees from each other, one rolling forward one backward). Obviously, I am no Bonnie Thunders but I feel...comfortable. No, I feel goddamn magical when I skate.
Last night, my Betties skated their second bout against a the McLean County Missfit's league's C-squad, the "pTerrordactyls." They were in the lead most of the bout but faded at the end to loose 128-153. I jam reffed in the bout. Each team's jammer has a dedicated referee who skates with her jammer from the inside of the track, awarding lead jammer status, points and calling penalties. It is a fast job, requiring the ability to transition from speed to a dead-stop at times. I did fuck up twice, but I recovered each time and the game-play was not affected.
I stayed to skate as an outside pack referee for the bout between the Missfit's two home teams. I made a few good calls and BARELY avoided making a bad call on the last jam, which would have definitely affected the outcome of the bout. At the end of the night, I was fairly beat. I saw the EMTs toss their ice outside by the side of the building and it felt so good to stick my feet in the pile!
It is hard to think when one is physically spent, any refereeing definitely is a physical and mental challenge. I have started working on my endurance so that in the future I can last for two four 30-minute halves of refereeing in the future. The WFTDA referee skating certification specifies that I must be able to skate ten laps in 1:35. It is pretty fast. I have whittled my time down to 1:46. My laps start out at around the 9.5 second mark, but I quickly become exhausted. In order to improve, I have begun cross-training.
And so, in my back yard, I have begun to run cross-country again doing interval training. 1:30 running hard followed by 2:00 trudging, ten reps an evening on non-skating days. It is hard, yet familiar work. When running intervals, I find that after the fourth or fifth repetition, the mind settles in to the endorphin-dopamine soup I start to enjoy ensuing zen-like runner's high. All sorts of profound revelations occur while running. I am inspired and desire to write about it all, but after cooling down and stretching out, all of my profundity disappears like the horizon behind a steadily advancing line of snow.
One thing is clear however: I have rediscovered one of life's delights where I laid it down half-a-lifetime ago, all red-faced and sweaty and gasping for breath, just like it was back then.