Beast of the East 2016 has ended, and the ringing in my ears is starting to subside. My voice is gradually returning, and I’m hopeful that the pain in my neck will go away after a few more days spent sleeping in my own bed.
I love Beast. It’s a fantastic opportunity for house league teams to experience some exciting and hard hitting competition. It’s a chance for new skaters to really feel the heartbeat of the sport as they get to watch (and play against) some of their heroes. It’s a chance for a league to pack up 15 or 20 (or more) of its skaters and go away on an adventure.
As a coach, Beast provides me with a vehicle to challenge my skaters and to see who rises to that challenge. As an announcer, I’m given the chance to call fast paced, hard hitting games, played by teams I may not be familiar with, in an incredibly exciting environment, with even more incredibly talented co-announcers. I get to work with derby announcing legends, prolific derby writers, style icons, and all around great people.
Most importantly, Beast give me an opportunity to connect with some of my league mates. Quiet moments to talk, open up, and share our feelings with one another don’t often happen in the hectic world of derby. Some weeks it feels like we’re lucky to say hi to one another between the whistles, after games, side by side in toilet stalls, or crowded around free food. Tournaments offer down time, in between time,, all sorts of time to make eye contact, to ask how someone is doing, and to really hear the answer. I find out more about my friends in these in between moments than I ever would at a practice or a game.
Moments spent in shared terror when the 2 star (?) hotel you’re staying in becomes an impromptu fight club, or in laughter when a quiet pub becomes a bumpin’ dance hall for 18 year olds (and a few 38 year olds, but whatever), or in reflection during emotionally vulnerable moments on a park bench in the shade. Learning that someone can’t cook, or just left a relationship, or is afraid of the dark is not stuff that normally comes up at practice.
I used to laugh at the thought of not knowing the intimate details of my teammates lives, but as our league grows, and since I retired from playing, it’s not so preposterous to think that I may not know someone’s real name, even if I can recognize them from 40 feet away, half obscured, just by the way they move their skates. It doesn’t make the friendships less real.
But when we find the time to look one another in the eye, to open up and share something, maybe those moments matter more than a win or a loss. There will be other games, but there may not be other moments.