The Delicate Derby/Work Balance (or Why I Missed Part of D2 Playoffs)

If there's one thing that I've learned so far in my derby career (and I've learned many things), it's that balance is hard.

August has been a crazy month for me. Squeezing in as much practice time as possible before traveling to Duluth for D2 divisionals, after having just recovered from playing B.A.D. and Denver at RollerCon. Tracking down skaters for next season as part of my HR duties. Fundraising so our A team can cover costs to go to Nashville for D2 champs (yay!). Celebrating the triumphs of the past intra-league season with chill social gatherings and copious amounts of alcohol (soda for me). And that’s just my derby life. In between all of this, I had my academic career to attend to: studying for my preliminary exams in my doctoral program (what I need to pass in order to even start writing my dissertation) and co-presenting a paper at the largest annual conference of sociologists in the U.S., if not the world. Think RollerCon for bookworms, except without a Pants Off Dance Off and everyone is in line for Starbucks instead of Suzy Hotrod's jammer class.

Fitting in both an academic and derby lifestyle has consistently been a struggle for me ever since I simultaneously entered both realms. I thought it would never be worse than the time we played Naptown and I had to present a paper in Indianapolis in the same weekend. But of course, it can always be worse. In July, we learned that Detroit was seeded for the Duluth tournament, which was the same weekend as the conference in San Francisco. I am only a Muggle, which rules out Apparition and Time Turners, and cloning is banned in my home state, so I’m unable to be at two places at once.

So what do I do? I do both. I book my flight to Duluth, followed by a red-eye on Sunday morning so I can show up just in time in San Fran to co-present my paper. I may be a good teammate, but I am also effing crazy.

The Duluth experience was unlike any other tournament I’d been to in my three years of travel experience. Well, the crazy slippery floor on the first day reminded me a lot of Salem’s divisionals last year, except my go-to sticky wheels were bald and I skated the first day on a pair of extra firm Boom wheels, making me feel quite like Bambi on ice. (Fortunately, I was able to switch them for firms the next day and I was much happier with them.) But the team mood going in was a little different from the usual intensity and knowing you must win to even catch a whiff of making it to the final three. There is such a dramatic difference between going into a divisional where you are ranked as the 5th or 6th seed and going into a divisional where you are labeled by DNN as “the 800 lb gorilla in the room.” As our coach put it, when we played at RollerCon, the strategy was to “keep chopping away at the big trees”—now we were the trees, in an exciting weekend of games that often came down to the very last jam by a handful of points and whoever went to the penalty box first. Exciting for the fans and exciting for the sport overall. Regardless of the result, we played our game, and I’m sure the teams that we played came away from that weekend having learned a lot. We’ve been on the opposite side before, plenty of times (like this season, for example). We can relate.

Being in San Fran on Sunday, I did miss the opportunity to be awarded a medal for the first time in my derby career, and have my picture taken with the trophy, as the other skaters on my team quickly posted selfies with their medals and the trophy as their Facebook profile photos. So proud that after a difficult season schedule, we’d won something. So there is that sense of loss, even after having played what others consider a phenomenal two games (I’m way too modest to make the claim for myself), because I missed that moment of team camaraderie and celebration. I was able to watch the stream and cheer on my teammates after having rushed back to my hotel following my presentation, and I got my medal at our fundraiser upon my return (and I got to hold the trophy), but it wasn't the same not having played in the game. But sometimes life must come before derby. Especially when you're trying to build your CV.

The work is not yet done here. We still have three more games this travel season to prepare for, most importantly the championship game in Nashville. I’m getting better at prioritizing and balancing work with derby, though the monumental task of studying for prelims was the final kick in the butt to get me to that state. But I’m relieved that this time, if we end up in the winner’s circle once more in Nashville, I will actually be present—not a conference, a seminar, a meeting, or a class in sight on Halloween weekend. Just the best derby the world has to offer.

But I’ll still be working my dissertation proposal (which is on derby, FYI). An academic’s work never ends.

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