My name is Trisha Smackanawa and you probably haven’t heard of me. I started freshmeat with Dublin Roller Derby in 2012 . We are the underdogs of Europe according to derbydataeurope and often people haven’t heard of us but we have been steadily climbing up the rankings to be within the top 15.
This is my personal experience of making the England training squad for the Blood and Thunder World Cup 2014 and how it has changed my derby life.
It started with a google form.
A couple of clicks and some words entered and before I knew it I had been assigned a Manchester tryout date. A two hour on skates session to try and display a formidable list of skills listed on the UKRDA website such as 'understands the best place to be on track at all times and is cognisant of other activity on the track, even while engaged in physically distracting tasks' hmmm yeah... I can totally do that, sometimes… I think.
My predominant memory from the first round of trials was that it was actually quite a lot of fun. I knew nobody and nobody knew me so there were no expectations. We were told to work with different people as much as possible and not just our league mates - this was easy for me since I was there all on my own! So although it was nerve wracking after while I honestly think I forgot about it as the drills were so physically demanding that it wasn’t worth the extra brain effort to worry about what others were thinking. I worked with some really lovely skaters and had a lot of fun in the scrimmage. The two hours passed in a blur and next thing I knew I was flying back to Dublin (I showered first). As the London tryouts had yet to take place I knew it would be a while before the results were sent out. When the email came through I was delighted that I had made it through to the second round, but I also felt something else. Pressure. It had all just become a little bit more real and I felt I had a whole lot of work to do.
In preparation for the second round I booked flights to Birmingham in January and did what I know best: I lifted really heavy stuff up and put it down. I stepped up my weight training in the hopes that if even if I couldn’t out skate my opposition then maybe I’d be able to just hit them really hard and run away. I attended my derby practices and asked my team mates to help me work on certain things that I knew to be my weaknesses while also helping them prepare for Team Ireland tryouts. I watched all the footage I could find on the players I was likely to meet in the second round. I went to every bootcamp nearby. I also got a lucky (dip) break - my name was pulled of a hat to play on Kitty Decapitate’s mixed English team versus Kid Block’s mixed Welsh team as an opener for the men’s Wales versus England bout the day before trials in the same venue. Not only did I get a chance to become more comfortable with the floor (sportcourt and I have a mutual disdain for each other), but I was awarded best jammer which pretty much made my (early) night and helped boost my confidence going in to the second round.
However, on the morning of the second round our photos were taken beforehand and in mine I look like I am about to throw up or cry. That pretty much sums up how I was feeling. So much for confidence! The atmosphere for the the second round was different, the standard was higher and pressure and expectation that I was feeling seemed to be shared by others. I still had my anonymity though and feel that it helped in a way. There was the looming possibility of the cut being made halfway through the day. The drills were once again gruelling, designed to tire us out before scrimmage.
The cut was made at the start of the lunch break, and after my initial relief that I had made it through came the realisation that I now had to do it all over again. It was much harder in the afternoon, the packs were tighter, the hits were harder and there were jams when I thought I was never going to get out of the pack in one piece. Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, we were done. We were told we would find out the next day if we had made the squad, but no emails this time - the training squad was to be announced on the Team England Facebook page. I boarded the plane back to Dublin rueing all the errors I had made and wondering if I had done anything noteworthy at all.
I couldn’t actually look at the announcement myself either. At 6pm I handed the phone to my boyfriend and demanded he check for me while I hid under the couch cushions. All I could hear through said cushions was the sound of him laughing. It turned out that the members of the training squad had been listed alphabetically by league - making Dublin Roller Derby and myself first on the list, so he didn’t even need to fully open the post to tell I had made it. I may have cried a little bit, but only after I beat him with cushions because laughing at people who are freaking out is mean!
From there it has been a whirlwind of flying over to England for training sessions, balancing my own league responsibilities, weight training, full time job and trying to be a good girlfriend. The training sessions have been the hardest adjustment so far, I thought I was made to work hard at tryouts but it was nothing compared to training. There is an awful realisation and pure fear that creeps over you as jammer when you attack the back of a wall and realise that there is no gap, no weak spot, no movement even. I have been hit so hard I think I would have peed my pants had I not already sweated everything out. I have been thrown so far off the track that I had plenty of time while airborne to tell myself off and come up with several options I should have taken instead. I have had two minute jams where I never made it out of the pack and it took all the strength I had to stay on track and not go to the penalty box. But I have also become better, stronger and smarter. I have learnt so much these past months, about both myself and my team mates. Including that my weird hybrid accent plus mouthguard can make me quite difficult to understand on track and that the Irish slang words I use require translation!
The highlight of my Team England experience so far is without a doubt being rostered to play in the games versus Sweden. I got to block and jam even scored points against a formidable opponent while wearing the England jersey as well as being part of a team that pulled off a comprehensive win. . Even though I will be going to Texas to support the team regardless of whether I make the final squad, it was the first time I started think of myself as more than an underdog. So far I have been in awe of all the talented skaters around me and feeling lucky just to be here and have the opportunity to train and get better. Playing the Sweden game was the first time I felt like I had improved enough to be in contention.
I have also made some huge life altering decisions- I have quit my full time job of the previous six years in order to go back to university and study sports science in London. Saying goodbye to Dublin and my amazing league mates who have been nothing but supportive has been one of the hardest things and I am determined to make them proud.
The next challenge will be one of the toughest- Team England will be playing a Red vs White bout on August 23rd in Birmingham. Playing an opposition team is one thing, but playing your own team that has trained with you and know all about you is another entirely. It is also likely to be the last game before the final roster is decided for Texas. So there is a bit of pressure there, but it's ok because I am better equipped to deal with it now. Or as we would say in Dublin - I'm grand.