Archive for the ‘WindyMan’s Roller Derby Stories’ Category

Kola Loka: A Skater’s Story

Now that Gotham Girls Roller Derby have claimed their third Hydra as champions of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the 2012 WFTDA season is, for all intents and purposes, done and dusted.

The offseason gives most players time to take a well-deserved break at the end of a hard year of roller derby. However, for some it also can signal the end of a chapter in their derby careers.

There have been a few high-profile skaters signalling their retirement from the WFTDA this year. To name but a few: Heather Juska, White Flight, Soulfearic Acid, Joy Collision, Hockey Honey, Psycho Babble…and that’s just from the west region.

Another player ending her time in the WFTDA is Kola Loka.

Before Kola Loka discovered roller derby and joined Windy City in 2006, she was no stranger to the bouting world. “I was boxing at the time, preparing for the Golden Gloves and I preferred the team aspect of it, but loved the physicality and the training,” she said of her derby pre-history.

Like most derby players, she got sucked into the game and found it was right up her alley. According to Kola, what kept her drive for derby alive was “never ending learning curve and the satisfaction of being part of a team that had a goal to win together.”

That goal was met year after year, with Windy City going 62-23-1 in WFTDA play from 2007 and staying undefeated in the North Central since the beginning of the WFTDA four-region format in 2008, winning the North Central regional playoff tournament every year since.

Along the way, Kola had some amazing highlights that she’ll never forget.

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The Win Button

Good news, bad news time.

First, the good news: The WFTDA has announced that its next roller derby rules update will be released this fall, to go into mandatory effect on January 1, 2013. So far, it is confirmed that the new rules will have no minor penalties as well as other changes to be revealed later.

The bad news: The delay in the update has created a lame duck period for the current ruleset—flaws, loopholes, and all—which will continue to be used through to the end of the 2012 WFTDA Big 5 season.

We remember what happened when this same set of rules were put through the pressures of tournament level competition. It wasn’t pretty. Non-jams, booing crowds, a record high for penalties, and what turned out to be a false hope that it would all be fixed for 2012.

It’s a huge unknown what we’re going to see during the playoffs this year. We’re likely going to see some fantastic derby, sure. But one would be a fool to not think horrible derby were not as equally likely. It’s just a matter of how much of it we’re going to see.

As fate would have it, there’s a precedent for the current situation the WFTDA finds itself in. Ten years ago, another popular competitive game found itself faced with a game-altering flaw. When this flaw was used to help players win at the tournament level, it led the game down a path of a slow and quiet death.

The flaw in this game was very similar to the one found in the rules of roller derby. Spooky similar, in fact.

But you wouldn’t think that initially, considering the kind of game it is.

This isn’t just any old fighting game: It’s roller derby, ten years ago. (Really.)

The defining characteristic of this particular fighting game was the thing that eventually destroyed it. Having played it competitively for five years myself, I know first hand what happens when people abandon the original design and spirit a game in the single-minded quest to do whatever they can to win.

Modern roller derby has reached a critical stage. The choice that players and teams make during the playoffs could potentially determine what course derby will set for itself moving forward over the next five years. If they make the right choice, the WFTDA will head into 2013 and beyond stronger than ever. If they make the wrong choice…

Well, you won’t want to make the wrong choice. I know what happens when the wrong choice is made. I’ve seen an entire game—one of my all-time favorites—crumble before my eyes. I don’t want to see it happen again, especially not to roller derby and those that made the game what it is today.

The choice is such: Do roller derby teams want to win by playing roller derby, or do they want to win by doing something that’s as easy to pull off as pressing a button?

For the consequences of this decision to be best understood, let’s go back to the mark of the millennium and learn the story of a fighting game that, unbeknownst to its creators, landed in arcades with a flaw that would decide its ultimate fate.

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Me and My Bump

Injuries. Anyone who plays roller derby understands that they’re a part of skating.

They can be as minor as a cramp, scrape, or cut. They can be as severe as a dislocation, a broken bone, or even a concussion. No doubt, you have at least one story to tell when it comes to unintentional and/or self-inflected bodily harm.

Inevitably, comparisons are made and bragging rights are fought for. “You call that a bruise? That’s a bruise!” Derby skaters take their injuries in stride, like badges of honor. As a skater myself, I can say that it comes with the territory. Big or small, we’ve all had to deal with our fair share of bumps and bruises.

But I dare anyone to say that they have had to cope with a bump bigger than mine.

An X-ray of my pelvis. No, that's not cauliflower. That's my bump!

This “injury” of mine didn’t happen because of a broken bone gone haywire or soft tissue swelling out of control. It’s actually a chronic medical condition called osteochondroma, and is something I’ve lived with my entire life.

Normally, bones get longer as they grow with a person. But sometimes they “spring a leak” and grow outwards in a mish-mash of boney material and hard cartilage, balling up into a benign tumor. These tumors can develop anywhere bones join together and are usually harmless things, no larger than the size of a golf ball.

Mine is the size of a cantaloupe.

The easiest way to describe my bump is to imagine that a bowling ball has been fused to your left hip. Picture what that might feel like and you may start to get a pretty good idea of what I’ve had to deal with on a daily basis for almost 30 years.

It’s not as bad as it sounds, though. A nice property of my bump is the fact that should anyone ever attempt to punch me in the left kidney, they’ll wind up with a broken hand. It’s also a great conversation starter at parties, and is guaranteed to freak out those who are brave enough to take me up on my offer of “hey, hit me right here!”

There are downsides, of course. The biggest one is that the extra inches of mass jutting out from my hip causes me to bump into things a lot. It’s worse when the thing I hit doesn’t move, because then the entire force of the impact gets concentrated onto a single point on my body, which hurts like a motherfucker.

(If you want to play the osteochondroma home game, tape a golf ball to your bare kneecap and slam it straight down into the ground. Hurts just thinking about it, yeah? Well, you can easily remove the golf ball; if the doctors tried to take out my bump, I’d have a limp for the rest of my life.)

Even with my bump inside of me, I never had any lasting pain or discomfort. It was just kind of there, like any other bone in my body. Really, I mostly forget I even have it…only to be reminded as I round a corner a bit too closely to the wall.

However, recent circumstances have changed my condition from minor to serious…and wouldn’t you know, it has everything to do with roller derby.

So if you’ll allow me, I’m going share with you the story of me, my bump, and how skating and roller derby has affected me on a personal level. I figure, if I’m going to be running my mouth off about wanting to help derby get an outside perspective on itself, it’s only fair that roller derby gets an inside perspective on me.

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