The Road to Nashville: Last Minute Thoughts

Meryl Slaughterburgh - Detroit Derby Girls

Photo credit: Elissa Patterson

What a roller coaster of a season it’s been for Detroit. Globe-trotting, to say the least. London. Fort Lauderdale. Vegas. Duluth. A hop over to Kalamazoo to play two sanctioned games against other Michigan leagues, a show of derby love for the mitten*. Nashville will be the last stop for this season. If our league considers this an intense travel season in terms of travel (and cost) alone, I can’t imagine what teams like London, Victoria, and Bear City must face in order to even get their sanctioned games to be eligible for playoffs. Such is the struggle for non-U.S. teams to stay competitive—and alternatively, the relative privilege of U.S. teams.


It’s been chutes and ladders regarding rankings as well, with our drops and subsequent attempts to climb back up. Having had the opportunity witness spectacular upsets from this WFTDA tournament season, no team should be discounted. Complacency is often the source of one’s downfall. When your team becomes one of the top seeds in a tournament, you can sense the hunger from these rising stars trying to break into high-ranked D2 levels or even D1. You appreciate their hustle. I seem to take for granted the hustle and hard work of big-name, top-tier D1 teams—“it’s just always been that way” for them. However, it is refreshing when I hear interviews from players that give the sense that even the top teams don’t take any game for granted. There is always work to be done. There is always something to improve. There is always a new skill to learn. Even when you’re Gotham. Consequently, the mantra of “always reaching” does enable my perfectionism, but then again, there are probably a lot of other perfectionists in derby that view performance from a similar vantage point.


That’s what Detroit has tried to do in our preparations for Championships. Reviewing footage, improving our weaknesses, and honing in on our strengths so that when we step onto the track that Sunday in Nashville, we will put forth the best game (and the best team) we have played yet this season. Going out with a bang, go big or go home, insert your favorite pump-up mantra here.


The “dog days” are often the hardest stretch of the season to get through—when you are practicing and working hard but with no immediate game or tournament for which to train, roughly about mid-season (refer to London's "Brawlgust" video for an illustrative example)—but the final stretch is no less difficult. You can see the end point, the end of the tunnel. You can count the number of practices you have left on your hand. You just have one more big game to play, and then the season is over and you can rest until January (well, those who also aren’t playing on a home team can, at least). No worries about rankings. Some semblance of your life outside of derby (wait, what is that? is there such a thing?) may return. But until then, we must keep pressing forward like it’s the beginning of the season. Practicing until Championships is a new thing for me, as the last time Detroit went to Champs was a couple years before my time (I began in 2011). We’ll be returning for the first time in years—as D2, yes, but we still get to see the best derby in the world.


When I struggle to get myself motivated (wha?! you mean Meryl is human after all?!), I try and remember what gets me through grueling endurance exercises, whether it’s sprint mills or repeats (but both of which I would much rather do than take my doctoral preliminary exams over again!): “It’s all downhill from here. You can do it. You have more in you. You leave it on the track. It’s only a few more minutes. Just get through this last one, and then you can have chocolate milk.”


I’ll just think of myself having played an excellent game, sitting in the bleachers in Nashville with my team, watching the final four D1 teams duke it out for the Hydra. Sipping a well-deserved bottle of chocolate milk.


*For non-Michigan residents, the state is often referred to as “the mitten” because its shape on a geographical map resembles a hand, which gives its residents the unique ability to point to their hands in order to show where they live.

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