Fresh Meat Blog: Zebra Edition

Until I met Goldie Gloves
By Tyson Smitherman

photo by Underworld Photography

I.M. Fallen reffing a MARD game! Photo by Underworld Photography

Howdy everyone, I am known to the derby community as I.M. Fallen, and have been asked to share with you my experience of finding derby and a little about my journey as a skater in various capacities. So hold onto you helmets, check your safety gear, and let’s go!

Like many, I had a somewhat circuitous route to derby and likewise that route included the movie Whip It. This was not my first exposure to roller derby; I had watched banked track on network television when I was kid, and later watched many iterations of roller derby-like sports as well. Rolling has always been in my blood and many of my happiest moments have been with wheels beneath my feet.  I have been skating since I was about 4 years old, so (needless to say that is a pretty long time ago) about 35 years and change. In that time I have been a rink rat, an aggressive inline and quad skater, and an inline speed skater. I love to skate. I have made my living skating at times, having served as floor guard and resident teacher at several rinks. I am sure many of you have benefited from this love of skating and teaching others how to skate better. This certainly makes me happy.

I remember finding Mass Attack Roller Derby, and thinking those women look mean. Actually I found them several times on the Internet, and then one day I was driving to Skater’s Edge to skate with some blader friends and remembered that MARD practices at Silver City Sports Center. So, I looked them up again, and this time I contacted Sixx Tatt and asked about checking it out. She emailed me back and told me where to come and when. That fateful October evening I arrived at SCSC with a pair of blades and my figure skates. My life was about to change. I have social anxiety and am quite introverted, which is probably why I love skating so much; it gives me something to connect with another without having to make an actual connection. When I got there all these new people around me, and I had no idea who Leesa Webber/ Sixx Tatt might be and that made me very, very nervous. So I just stood there until someone talked to me; while I honestly don’t remember who approached me (I think it may have been Bootiful Banshee) I do remember two things about that encounter. First, whoever it was, was very welcoming and second, Sixx hadn’t arrived yet, but would be there soon. I was a little relieved that I had not come out for nothing and these people all had roller skates.

Soon Sixx arrived and we were introduced. We talked for a few minutes about what I wanted to do. At the time Sixx was the Head Non-Skating Official and suggested that since I was so new to roller derby that it might be best to learn the game as a NSO while I trained to be a skating official. By then practice was beginning and I really wanted to skate. I told Sixx that I really wanted to be a skating official, and the question was posed “when was the last time you skated?” I looked at my watch, and replied, “I was on blades yesterday, but quads it’s been a while.” Sixx smiled and said something to the effect of “let’s see what you’ve got then.”

Then, I met Goldie Gloves. In much the same way that one does not simply enter the mythical Mordor; one does not simply meet Goldie Gloves, one sits at the feet of a roller derby paragon and learns a different way of life. My meeting with Goldie was, and has been, life changing and affirming. There were a few other fresh meat who were working on skills to level up, I was quickly relearning what quads felt like again. I felt like I was back towards square one, although I didn’t stay there for long. I was working on my skills for the greater part independently with Goldie checking one me from time to time; within a week or two I was asked if I wanted to take an assessment and see where I was at, with little to lose, I said I would certainly like to do so. I remember my first try at the 25 laps in 5 minutes and how I was pretty sure that I was going to die, even though I came pretty close to making it. The rest of the assessment I recall as being pretty easy, although transitions and I did not completely get along yet. I could only confidently transition counterclockwise front to back and then clockwise back to front, I was not yet the tornado I would become.

I.M. Fallen in his zebra stripes! Photo by Luna Sea

I.M. Fallen in his zebra stripes! Photo by Luna Sea

I found transitions frustrating, and by then I had met MARD’s in house skating official, Saturday Night Beaver. Both Beev and Goldie encouraged me to work on the things that were difficult, what Beev called the “squirrely” parts, and to know that I was going to fall. I hate falling! I still hate falling. Did I mention I don’t like to fall? Alas, time passed and I worked diligently at every practice to do the things I could not do. These things I had never been able to do. For every time I did a comfortable direction, I practiced the “squirrely” ones 3-4 times. I think the proof is in the skating, and you can judge for yourself if I was successful.

There are only a few things I can say with surety. When I found derby, it was ready and waiting and accepted me for who I am. There was no judgment, perhaps a little protection of one’s sisters when a strange bear like man shows up that no one knows. But, I cannot blame anyone for that, and I am just as protective of my derby sisters. I can say I needed Derby, and I am pretty certain I always will. I can also say that I would not have as a firm a grasp of the rules as I do without Sixx, Beev, Evilyn Tent, and Goldie; constantly pushing me to learn them and usually making it fun.  The last thing I can say for certain is without Goldie Gloves there would never have been I.M. Fallen or Smitherman #777 with Team USA aspirations. All of my earliest derby memories contain Goldie; every milestone of skills or rules was and has been shared with her. When my wife, Atl Ignite, joined derby; the first person she met was my friend Goldie Gloves. My oldest daughter, Lisha, wants to grow up to be like Goldie; and I think that is a pretty great goal.

My journey will probably not be yours, but I will be there with you if you want. I will give you a hand up when you fall and show you how to do the skill better. I will tell you falling sucks, but if you are not falling you are not learning. I now fall often, but for me it is usually trying to do what I thought was impossible last week. Now I have a fairly successful referee career, and I am rostered member of Mass Maelstrom. I have come a long way in the last two years, and I have further left to go. This journey started because of roller-skating, but it has become so much more than the skills I have developed. I have gained so much, friends from all over the globe that I can’t imagine being without; a team of crazy Vikings that has afforded me brothers and sisters to do battle with.

Two parting things: first “be your own hero,” derby idols come and go, but you are stuck with you, so work hard and be amazing. Second, find a derby mentor and work with them, then be a derby mentor. I am so glad at the end of my sparkly derby rainbow was Goldie. I hope all of you are so lucky.

 

Interested in officiating? We are always recruiting skating and non-skating officials! Please contact us for more information!

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