By Kayla Gaska (aka Missile America)
Kayla Gaska, also known as Missile America for Seattle’s Rat City Rollergirls, writes about her struggle to overcome both physical and mental hurdles. You can follow Missile on Instagram and Facebook. Seattle’s Rat City Rollergirls All-Star Team rolls into world championships this weekend in Milwaukee through Sunday. Rat City is one of 12 teams competing in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) Division 1 International Championships. Seattle faces the Ohio Roller Girls on Friday at 4 p.m. PST. Check out a tournament bracket and watch live coverage of the bouts this weekend at wftda.tv.
If you’ve ever watched me skate at KeyArena, you may know me for my jumps and spin moves. I’ve skated for four years as a jammer for the Rat City Rollergirls, and I’m known for celebrating all of my victories, small and big, with a fist in the air as the crowd roars at KeyArena.
You’d think by now I’d have this sport figured out, but I don’t. Roller derby is as much a mental game as a physical one, and I had to figure out the hard way how to keep my head straight this season.
From my first all-star game against the Oly Rollers from Olympia in 2011, I found myself caught up in the emotion of the sport. When one of the Oly blockers laid a big hit on me, I responded by getting pissed, flipping off my opponents and using an illegal hit. That’s not the way to beat a team as skilled and strategic as the Oly Rollers.
At the time, the Oly Rollers were No. 1 in the world, a team composed of speed skaters who were as cool and calm as they were tough and hard-hitting. My coaches sat me for the rest of the game because of my poor attitude, but the label I earned as a hot head lasted far longer.
Fast forward to February 2013. I was skating with my Rat City home team, the Throttle Rockets, against Grave Danger at KeyArena. I took a fast whip off a teammate and was knocked flat on my back. I couldn’t move or feel a thing while I laid on the track in front of thousands of fans. It felt like it took 10 hours for the ambulance to arrive to carry me off to the emergency room.
Luckily, what was feared to be a broken back was just a vertebra out of alignment.
Now I’m facing another set back, though this one is mental instead of physical. When I get frustrated, coaches call the resulting meltdown “The Missile Show.” In Portland, I found myself nose-to-nose with an opponent, ready to fight. That doesn’t fly in today’s roller derby, where so much depends on staying calm. You have to trust your training and be a good teammate.
My inability to control my emotions cost me my spot on the roster for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) playoffs in September. That weekend Seattle’s Rat City All-Stars placed third in the Division I playoffs, landing a spot in WFTDA Championships for the first time since 2008. I was so proud of my team, but it killed me to have to sit from the bench and watch.
That’s when I decided to do whatever it takes to keep my game clean and my head straight. Instead of losing my cool and racking up penalties, I was determined to change, to own my choices and work hard on my mental focus. I pledged to figure out how to change the way I skate and react to tough blocking plays. I started by asking officials and referees for feedback. And this change of focus worked. I haven’t had a single penalty in a game or scrimmage since that bout against Portland.
The Rat City All-Star Team heads into the championships this weekend to represent Seattle and make our fans proud. We are pumped and ready for this moment. I already know I’m not on the roster for Game 1, but no matter what, I’ll stay positive, rooting for my team. I want my coaches to know I am ready to play this weekend. I have to remain calm and stay focused.
Bring on the world! Let’s do this – the right way!
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