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Let’s Get Season 9 Started!

24 Feb

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Back in 2009, this Windy City Rollers fan got an e-mail saying that the league needed volunteer officials, offering free admission in exchange for helping out. At the time I was a very, very poor freelancer who couldn’t afford the ticket prices, but I was in love with roller derby and wanted a way to go to the games.

I’ve never really seen a game since then.

Just like many random choices one makes during one’s lifetime, the choice to become a roller derby official has been life-changing. To say that I’ve made a lot of interesting friends and been to places I never dreamed of going would be an understatement. I could joke and say Marion, IL, but my weekend in Marion was actually really fun–great officiating clinic, great hospitality, a pressed penny machine, and the opportunity to ride in the cockpit of a small plane.

Over the last season, I’ve had conversations with some officials about how to keep going and avoid burnout. It’s really easy to get sucked into a big derby vortex where your life is all derby, all the time. It can be a lot of travel and a lot of weekends in a warehouse/hangar/skating rink/arena/convention center. The time and money spent on that comes from your own personal account.

For years I’d thought about being involved with derby for the long haul. Decades. This past year was the first time I thought about quitting. I’d been spending way too many hours doing committee work to the detriment of my job. I’d had to deal with a lot of family things, which meant dropping out of tournaments and missing game opportunities. I was trying to balance being a high-level Non-Skating Official with trying to be more than a beginning Referee (I recently realized I’ve been skating for four years and have reffed a mere 17 games, compared to over 150 or so off-skates).

In short, I was tired. After Champs last year, I really wondered how I would come back for another season. A lot of great fellow officials retired from officiating. Maybe that would be the best option for me too.

Instead, I took time off.

A lot of time off.

Sure, I handled a couple of small obligations, but otherwise, I didn’t do any roller derby. I didn’t write the 13 evaluations I owed from Champs (to the extent that I missed a deadline and won’t be allowed to Crew Head or Tournament Head at Playoffs/Champs this year); didn’t read the new rules and casebook; didn’t go to any off-season scrimmages; didn’t go to any neighboring league events; didn’t apply to officiate at events/tournaments–even ones that have been on my list to do for a few years.

It went on like this for about three months.

When Boston’s season started up again, I reluctantly packed my bag and went to scrimmage. I wasn’t thrilled about going, but I wanted to see if I still enjoyed the activity itself…and guess what? I had a blast! Roller derby officiating is so much fun! Every week, I’ve enjoyed strapping on skates to work on my positioning and impact assessment. I’ve liked remembering the rituals I have for NSO positions. New rules? Bring ’em! It’s been really excited to see the league’s new skaters improve and learn strategy, and I’ve loved the challenges that officiating a highly-ranked travel team bring. It’s been really difficult for me to not blurt out, “This is so much fun!” in the middle of scrimmage (though I might have done that too). And I finally submitted those Champs evals.

This weekend is the home-opener, and I couldn’t be more excited about being an Inside Pack Ref for one game and managing the penalty box for another. I hope it’s a fun start to a season that’s likely going to be different than how I’ve managed my officiating in more recent years.

In a way, that might also be a good antidote to personal burnout. If there’s anything roller derby’s taught me, it’s that things don’t have to be status quo, so I’m looking forward to a ninth season that’s hopefully got some surprises in store and can help me set some new goals for this year and beyond.

 

Super Sunday? Scary Sunday!

3 Feb


It’s Super Bowl weekend in Boston. Let me say that again. It’s Super Bowl weekend. In Boston.

I’m going to admit this publicly–wait, let me pull the shades first so no one can see me typing this: I am not a Patriots fan.

I’m not a fan of most Boston teams, to be honest. Bruins excepted. I don’t really care about basketball, so I am neither here nor there on the Celtics. I’m not a Red Sox fan because I don’t believe in the American League, and I don’t like the Patriots, because–and let me completely date myself here–Super Bowl XX, da Bears 46, the Patriots 10. Never mind that the Bears today are playing more like the Chicago Chipmunks and that the Pats are clearly one of the best teams in the game.

But I just can’t like them. Much like my philosophy on baseball, I am not a fan of the AFC, although, unlike baseball, there’s no good reason except the fact that I grew up near an NFC team. Still, loyalty runs deep, and I’m not prone to root for

The other big reason I don’t like the Pats is because Boston fans can get violent really quickly, no matter what the sport. Last year, the Boy and I took his Pistons-loving mom to the Celtics-Pistons game and happened to be sitting in front of a bunch of Pistons fans (good deal for us). A couple of Celtics fans about seven rows down started getting into it with these Detroit fans, yelling back at us throughout the game. When the Pistons won, one of them actually wanted to fight these guys. Are you kidding me?! Fighting someone because “your” team lost?!

The Pats fans are even scarier because of the cult of personality surrounding Tom Brady, quarterback, ball deflator, Mr. Giselle Bundchen, nightshade avoider, or GOAT, depending on what you think. To fans, he’s “Tommy.”

The Boy and I went to our favorite bar for dinner one Sunday last year, and we stumbled into the end of the Pats-Giants game. The Patriots were still undefeated at this point, and New York was ahead. The bar was packed, and people were going crazy yelling for Brady. Think your classic blue-collar Boston accent begging, “C’mon Tommy!” One man in his twenties was close to tears at the concept of a loss. The Pats pulled it out at the end, and we avoided being stuck in a crowd of disappointed Pats fans. That experience was eye-opening to us, and one reason we don’t like being out when the Pats are playing.

It’s not just the guys though. Pats fans are equal-opportunity scary. I recently joined a curling club, and one of the other new members is a big Pats fan. When I wore a Pitt sweatshirt the week before the playoff game against the Steelers, she warily asked if I was a fan. I quickly realized my mistake in wardrobe choices.

As the Pats secured their place in the Super Bowl, we got to see her Pats designer purse, her special Patriots manicure–and the shirts that she wouldn’t wear when they were actually playing (no one in her family does) because if she did, they would lose.

Oh, I get it. Every team has crazy fans–I mean, even Chicago has funky super fans, and fans of every team have odd superstitions that they follow to a T so their team will win–but I’ve never felt the dangerous edge to that fandom that I feel here.

I finally realized my fear yesterday when I was on the phone with a client in Atlanta. When we started talking about the football game, I found myself hunching over my phone so no one would hear me talk. I work alone. In a home office. There’s likely no chance that even anyone walking by would hear me (notice how I say “likely no chance”).

But I can’t live my life in fear, so I’m speaking out now. I won’t cheer for the home team on Sunday. Instead, I’ll lock myself inside on Sunday with some good football snacks and silently root for Atlanta, because even if da Bears can’t be there, the NFC should win.

A Little Buble Goes a Long Way

1 Apr

Over the last couple of weeks my laptop’s power cord has been on the fritz. Getting the connection between the wall socket and the computer to flip on took a lot of bending, finessing and cajoling the wires inside to please do their thing. They were compliant for a little while, but yesterday, it had had enough. No matter where I plugged in, no matter how I bent the cord, it wasn’t going to charge my laptop. And then like any person who has to get some work done right away, I drained the battery.

This meant I had to go to the Apple store to get a new cord. I live outside of Boston, just on the edge of convenient public transportation, so getting to an Apple store, my options of which were Cambridge or downtown Boston–and more importantly, home again–involves planning around train and bus schedules.

So I took the train downtown and got my errand done in all of a half hour. Since I had time to kill before my train home and I rarely have a weekday afternoon where I can hang around the city, I thought it was as good a time as any to play hooky and do something fun. Like see the ladies short program at the World Figure Skating Championships.

One balcony ticket later and I was sitting pretty, catching the last couple of skaters in Group 2. The afternoon session consisted of seven groups of five to six skaters each. Each skater has up to 2:50 to complete her short program, and it has to contain certain technical elements. Go over that time limit, and you get a deduction for up to every five seconds you’re over. Figure skating don’t play–it’s got a schedule to keep!

In Group 3, Aleksandra Golovkina from Lithuania kicked things off with a short program set to Michael Buble’s version of “Feeling Good.” Aleksandra didn’t have a great outing–she ended up in 33rd place, which put her well out of qualifying for the long program (the top 24 skaters get to skate in the finals, which, for the rest of the group, makes it an awfully long journey for two minutes and 50 seconds of competition).

Three skaters later, Germany’s Nathalie Weinzierl took the ice. The music started, and I heard an oddly familiar “Sun in the skyyyyy.” I’d been focused on keeping track of score (like you do) and was starting to track season best times as well, so I was kind of engrossed in my paperwork. Still, I thought, Didn’t I just hear this?

Then I heard someone groan behind me, “This is the third time we’ve heard this song.”

I instantly thought, Man, am I glad I missed the first group. Turns out that not only did France’s Mae Berenice Meite use it, but Great Britain’s Kristen Spours kicked off the competition with a different singer’s version of the same song. [Note: None of these skaters qualified for the long program. Guess the judges weren’t feeling good about their performances–Ba dump bump – ching!]

Luckily for us and the judges (as a fellow sports official, I generally have some sympathy for what officials in any sport have to go through, and repeatedly listening to the skating hit of the moment has to be one of the tougher aspects of judging ice skating), no one else Bubled it up the rest of the afternoon. I kept track of that too.

The rest of the afternoon was hits and misses when it came to music. When you’re watching about three dozen skaters, music becomes an important element–at least for the skater to differentiate and endear herself to the crowd. All the classical music I heard was lovely, but I don’t necessarily remember it. In looking at skaters who qualified, there were many who I thought did very well at the time, but I don’t remember them. Zijun Li from China smashed her season best score by five points and is sitting in 11th place, but I can’t place her and perhaps that’s because her music, while fitting, was some classical music that sounded a lot like some of the other classical music that other skaters used.

Who stood out to me? Those who used something different, preferably upbeat, that wasn’t the same style that we heard all afternoon long. Hearing Michael Buble-esque stuff gets old. I also don’t mean making you remember it because you’ve tied it in to who you are. How many Anastasias get conned into skating to music from the cartoon “Anastasia” (much like poor Anastasia Galustyan)?

No. The skaters I got jazzed about had interesting, generally uptempo music–or partway through, their music changed and picked up (I kind of love good music shifts in ice skating music. When you’re around fans who really know a skater’s routine and start to cheer when they get to a particular music, it’s exciting). Amy Lin‘s “Slumdog Millionaire” routine was one of my favorites because it picked up tempo at the right spot. Elizabet Tursynbaeva’s “I Got Rhythm” routine used a fun version of the song, and she interpreted it fantastically (I’d say watch for these two to get even better in the coming years–they killed it yesterday).

The most memorable performance for me though wasn’t Gracie Gold’s winning short program. Maybe my endurance was flagging by the time she came on. She was great, yes, but I don’t really remember how well she did. Instead, I’m stuck on Ashley Wagner’s performance, set to “Hip Hip Chin Chin.” Not only did she nail it, topping her season best by nearly three points, she had such great choreography and had so much fun skating and interpreting that music, and that was completely infectious–even up in the balcony. It’s a song that I currently have on repeat–and for the introduction to that song and group, I’m feeling good right now.

It’s certainly better than feeling Bubled.

 

Warning: A New Fever May Be on the Loose

13 Feb

Last week I came across a rather subtle announcement: Birmingham, Alabama, will be hosting the World Games in 2021.

Stop the presses! World Games? Is this an international spectacle of sports that could be fever-inducing?

From what I’ve been able to tell, the World Games seems to be the cast-offs of the Olympics. They’re held every four years, in the year after the Olympics, so summer sports and no competition from the granddaddy of international sports showcases, although the two organizations do cooperate. From what it seems, most of the sports on the World Games programs are being tested for their viability to be included in the Olympic program, so it seems like not just an elite global competition for a more obscure sport, but also an Olympic training ground.

The other big difference from the Olympics is that at the time a city bids, its plan may not call for any new structures to be built solely for these games. They have to either currently exist or be in the works for a non-World Games purpose. That’s particularly interesting, since there are so many issues surrounding construction for the purpose of the Olympics. Even temporary structures cost a fortune. This “use what you’ve got” scenario appeals to the DIYer in me.

But let’s get back to the sports, because this is the key. Let’s look at the sport program for Wroclaw 2017. If you’re sad that tug of war was removed from the Olympic program, you can find it here, along with:

  • billiards
  • bowling
  • fin swimming
  • fistball
  • floorball
  • korfball
  • orienteering
  • sport climbing
  • air sports (parachuting, glider aerobatics, etc.)
  • beach handball
  • canoe polo
  • ultimate frisbee (or “flying disc”)
  • squash
  • water skiing
  • sumo
  • and more!

A few Olympic sports do find their way in–archery, gymnastics, powerlifting–but for the most part, the program consists of obscure sports that need some attention. As someone who’s involved in the obscure sport of roller derby, I know just how much a global stage can help bring much needed exposure, which leads to more participation, which leads to more sponsorship dollars, etc. Obscure sports show just how many interests people have and how much they’re willing to participate in an activity.

ESPN would have you believe that the only sports that really should be shown on TV are football, baseball, hockey, and golf–with about a million hours of recaps and commentary (because that’s likely much cheaper to produce. Sometimes soccer. And CrossFit Games (though it probably helps that a major sporting goods manufacturer is the money behind it). And the X Games, to show some edginess. NBC’s cable network does show some different stuff–they’ve had skiing and biathlon, cycling, etc. But there are so many more sports that deserve to be discussed regularly. We shouldn’t dust them off every four years. Give them a shot and see how they can change ordinary people’s lives.

The Boy and I have discussed going to Rio for the 2016 Games, but honestly, I kind of want to go to Poland in 2017 to catch this fever instead.

A Strong Detachment

21 Apr

Last year at Easter dinner–which is also known as Ham Day in my circle of friends–we were talking about September 11. It turned out that one of my friends was in Spain during the attacks, which was interesting to me. Being so far away, did September 11 have the same impact on her that it did on those of us who were in the country during that time? Not really, she said. She felt a little detached from all of that.

I wondered what it would be like to have that sense of detachment around a major event. Oh, I’ve lived out of the country before and have experienced that odd sensation you get when you missed out on community-wide experiences, but I hadn’t missed something that momentous.

Just a couple of weeks after that conversation, I was in Australia, and the Boston Marathon bombing happened. I forced my roommate to watch CNN ad nauseum and read the coverage in the local papers left in the hotel lobby. A few days later, the Boy was on lockdown while police tracked down the bombers. I was in Melbourne on a commuter train when my buddy got a CNN alert about the capture. It was all surreal.

The past year for me has been a mixture of feelings–I’m sad that the events happened, of course, but I don’t have that same connection to the disruption and the shift in thinking that everyone else experienced. I feel pride in the way the police handled the shoot-out, but I don’t have the same gratitude that others do. I recently saw video of the shoot-out and was shocked that that happened not that far away from where I live. And I also feel some guilt–not because I wasn’t here, but because I don’t have the same amount of patience for all of the stories–I’m not sure there’s been a day in last year where there wasn’t a Marathon bombing-related story in the Boston media, and the last week has been wall-to-wall coverage that’s been understandable, but exceptionally trying–and for all of the effects this has had on people.

While I write this, I’ve got the Marathon television coverage on. I thought about going to the course to watch some of it, but I can’t spare the time today. I also don’t know if I could handle it. I usually get a little emotional watching regular people run marathons because I’m seeing people achieve a really hard goal and it chokes me up a little. Adding the weight that this year’s marathon has may have been too much for me to balance.

Time will help though, and I hope that next year the events of 2013 will be further enough away to better enjoy the race for what it is.

Olympics? How About Oldlympics?

14 Feb

Who says you have to be young to be a competitive Olympian? The Sochi Games have produced at least three medalists who are in their 40s, which says to me that your peak athletic years don’t have to be behind you if you’re over 25. As I get older, this thread of hope becomes even more important to me.

I haven’t looked at all of the medallists to gauge their ages, but let’s look at the men’s luge: The silver medallist is 42 and the bronze medallist is 40. Wow!

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: All these guys have to do is lie on their back and slide down a mountain. Any old person can do that. OK. I present Exhibit B: Ole Einar Bjorndalen, Norwegian biathlete, who won gold in the Men’s 10km sprint at age 40. This gold medal was his twelfth overall, tying the record for most medals in the Winter Olympics. Let me remind you that the guy is 40. Biathlon’s not easy either–you cross-country ski as fast as you can, then you have to get your blood pressure down as quickly as possible to be able to hold a rifle straight and hit a small target that’s about 50 meters away. It’s tough. I know. I do summer biathlon (running and shooting). I am no Bjorndalen…..unless he ever decides to start sponsoring the penalty loop, since I tend to spend a lot of time running around that, making up for missed shots.

The fact that these guys in their 40s can still be competitive gives me hope that if I work hard, I too can achieve a better level of fitness, lose those last 10 lbs, still achieve personal best times.

I just saw a piece on American snowboarder Kelly Clark, who at 30, is kind of surprised she’s competitive. She talked about having to work much harder to keep up with the 13-year-olds. If she’s not in the gym six days a week, she can’t hang.

Interesting, and when I hear a woman several years younger than me say that, it’s a little depressing. Then again, I’m not trying to twist and spin my body into a million directions and then stick a landing in a halfpipe. I’m just trying to be the fittest Jill I can be so I can do things like jump rope, run 5Ks and referee roller derby for a long time. It’s nice to have role models who show me it can be done.

Dueling Fevers

24 Jan

Every four years, a horrible thing happens: The Winter Olympics collide with Oscar Season.

This used to be a more dire situation for me. I used to be a movie junkie, and I’d have a huge Oscar party every year. Attendees dress up like nominated movie characters, and I’d have themed food, games, and champagne. When I had it at my apartment, I’d rent a big screen TV. Then I started having it in a private room of a bar, which allowed for more people and fun.

Martin Scorsese changed all of that. I don’t know how I sat through all of “Gangs of New York.” Perhaps it was trying to see if Cameron Diaz’ accent ever got better. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but after that dreadful experience–luckily at a cheap movie theatre–I stopped going to the movies so much. Every time I wanted to go, it had to be something I really wanted to see because not much was worth the $10 price of admission.

That hasn’t really changed today, and ticket prices have gotten a little bit higher, lessening my desire to see many movies. I’ve only seen a few this year; however, that general malaise I have about the movie industry goes out the window when the Academy Award nominations are announced. I’m excited for the nominees, and these are the movies that have been deemed to be good. This is my short list of what to bother with.

Of course, if that short list is pretty long, I have a bit of movie viewing to cram in during the nomination season. This year is no exception. I’d like to see at least eight of the nominated pictures, and on paper, that’s not such a daunting task….until you realize that the Olympics are on as well.

We’re in the run up to Sochi, and I’m so excited to watch–and become an instant expert on–obscure winter sports. I want to see how Sochi does as a host, how it deals with security threats, and how all the money it’s put toward these Games is actually spent. I want to spend hours watching television, looking for obscure glimpses of judges and officials, wondering how they get to that level. It’s been a while since I threw a big party, so a few friends are helping put together an epic one for the Opening Ceremonies. I’ve got Olympic Fever to the max.

When Olympic Fever collides with Oscar Fever, it’s tough. Real tough. While I still love the movies, they may continue to sit on the back burner. Double the Fever can be double the fun, but we’ll see if I test that theory.

The Sports “Fan” at Post-Season Time

10 Oct

Although my husband will attest to being an American male, he does not enjoy the traditional American male hobby of watching sports. “I prefer participating,” he says. I have to give him credit for that, although I’m sure if “Monday Night Fencing” was popular in this country, he’d be the first to grab a big bowl of chips and plant himself on the couch to watch it.

I, on the other hand, do enjoy watching baseball, football, and hockey. Even though I now live in Massachusetts, I’m a Chicago fan at heart. The Patriots? Please. Do I have to remind you of the 46-10 routing my Chicago Bears gave them at Super Bowl XX? [note: the next Super Bowl will be number XLVII. The Bears have won precisely zero Super Bowls since then, while the Patriots have won three. It doesn’t matter though – the Patriots will never have as great a team as the 1985 Bears. Even ESPN says so!]

The Bruins? Well, my love of friendly wagers taught me never to bet against the Blackhawks again. Not that I minded the Blackhawks winning, but I learned a valuable lesson during this year’s Stanley Cup.

The Red Sox? I don’t believe in the American League. Period. Oh, Fenway’s cool, sure, but it’s still home to an inferior team. Yep, you’ve guessed it — I’m a Cubs fan. I do accept pity and condolences.

The Boy hails from Michigan, so by default he’s a Lions, Tigers, and (sadly) a Red Wings fan. He probably would take offense to me calling it “default,” and spit out a bunch of statistics that prove his loyalty. I know better.

Even though I am a sports fan, because the Boy isn’t into sports watching (and I have no office pool to bet in), I don’t pay as much attention to sports as I used to. I do watch when we’re at a bar, and if I’m working out on the elliptical or treadmill, I’ll put on ESPN or NESN, but I don’t pay as close attention to results, standings and playoffs as I used to. This year though, we kind of have to since the Red Sox are doing well in the playoffs (note: We also can’t call them the “Sox,” because the Sox are the Sox. We actually saw a Red Sox vs. Sox game this summer. Red Sox won. This North Sider thought that was OK). That news is pretty much everywhere. I’ve tried to engage the Boy in some kind of baseball talk–his team is in it too, and it’s all on the line for them tonight–but because of his fair-weatherness, I get to toy with him and have conversations like this.

Me: So if it’s the Red Sox vs. the Tigers in the playoffs, who are you routing for?

The Boy: The Tigers!

Me: You know who I’m routing for? <beat> The Cubs. Just wait ’till next year, baby!

The Boy: <shakes head> Indeed.

Hey, at least I don’t force him to become a sports widower.

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