Skating with purpose
PORTLAND — Roller derby has been a central focus of Loren Mutch's life for more than a decade, so not having that competitive outlet has been a challenge.
"It's been a lot of ups and downs. Some good days. Some bad days," she said.
A star for Portland's world champion roller derby team, Wheels of Justice, and a member of the U.S. national team, Mutch stayed consistent with her physical training and added a mental element to her routine during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order. While she expects it will be a significant amount of time before international competition resumes, she is optimistic her sport will thrive after the pandemic.
"Roller skating has been super popular during the quarantine. I hope that all of these people who are skating come try roller derby," Mutch said.
Mutch has been running a bit more than usual to maintain cardiovascular fitness. She works out regularly at home, and is looking forward to getting back to the Rose City Rollers facility at Oaks Park.
The facility, known as The Hangar, is not yet open for skating because of restrictions imposed by roller derby's international organization, the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. Under the WFTDA rules, Rose City Rollers can not reopen for even individual skating until COVID-19 case numbers within Multnomah County drop over a 14-day period.
In recent weeks, the name of the Rose City Rollers' all-star team — Wheels of Justice — has taken on new meaning for Mutch. She has participated in some of the Portland protests. She said she also is taking time to learn about racism and ideas for addressing racial injustice.
"It's important to me to participate in these protests because, first of all, I'm able to. I believe that Black lives matter, and I believe in equality, and there's nothing more urgent or pressing in our country right now than this. We want justice for George Floyd and every Black person before him who was killed or affected by police violence. I believe we can make change."
Mutch's experience has been that protesters were peaceful and wearing masks to protect from spreading the virus.
"Seeing the community and people from our neighborhoods come together, led by people of color, and listening to their stories is so powerful," she said.
As a Red Bull-sponsored athlete, Mutch gets regular fitness feedback from a professional trainer, Tyler Jewell. That connection has continued throughout quarantine.
A former snowboarder who represented the United States at the Olympics in 2006 and 2010, Jewell regularly works with about 40 Red Bull-sponsored athletes from a wide range of sports. He worked remotely with athletes spread around the country long before the pandemic made such interaction the norm, but said the lockdown has presented new challenges.
From his home in southern California, Jewell has a 90-inch television, which during virtual meetings, gives him a good view of how Mutch is executing assigned exercises.
Though far from ideal, Jewell said he has become adept at reading the body language during workouts to figure out what Mutch and other athletes need to focus on most.
Jewell said a point of emphasis throughout the quarantine period is remaining consistent with training.
In addition to regular one-on-one check-ins with athletes, Jewell holds a weekly group training session over video, which he said helps build a sense of community among athletes during this period of isolation.
While the exercises focus on core and hip strength and mobility, it's also an opportunity for the athletes to tell a joke or share a story.
Jewell noted that Mutch is an avid weightlifter in addition to her roller derby prowess. As such, she is in tune with her body and knows what strength, flexibility and fitness work she needs. Mutch usually visits Jewell in Santa Monica, California, two or three times a year. While that hasn't happened yet in 2020, Jewell said his understanding of Mutch's personality and training habits makes her easy to work with.
"We just fill in the gaps for her," Jewell said. "Loren is very good at asking questions" about her workout plan.
While not able to train at a gym, Mutch has found creative ways to exercise. She has purchased some dumbbells for home, but while waiting for them to arrive has used items including her skates and a box of Red Bull as weights. She has a collection of agility-based equipment at home, a kettle bell, resistance bands and a fitness ball to help with balance.
She misses visiting the gym to lift weights, but is trying to keep on top of strength workouts at home.
She has skated outside in her neighborhood.
"It's not the same as roller derby, but it's better than nothing," Mutch said.
While quarantined with her fiancee, Sophie Kaplan, Mutch has made meditation part of her routine.
"The mental aspect is very important" to surviving lockdown, she said, noting that she has been meditating 10 minutes daily.
Jewell said working with a roller derby athlete is really no different than any other high-level competitor. They all know their bodies well, and are willing to push themselves.
"I view Loren a lot like an alpine skier or a running back in the NFL," Jewell said. In other words, she needs to develop strength to withstand the physical contact of competition while maintaining speed, quickness and flexibility.
"Core and hip work is the glue," Jewell said.
When the Rose City Rollers program reopens, Mutch said it will take time even for members of the all-star team to get back to a high performance level.
"We're going to be back to square one," she said. "We'll try to go easy on everyone at first and have to build things back up."
In addition to participating in calls for change, Mutch has tried to take advantage of the free time.
"I can take this time to focus on other aspects of my life. We're more than just athletes," she said. "I've used the time to dive into other hobbies and interests."
Among them: singing ("For fun. I'm not a singer.") and cooking meals. She started putting together a webinar that focuses on mental toughness in sports, but has postponed that project to focus on social justice.
"I've learned how so many things in our country are centered around white comfort," Mutch said. "I've learned that racism is everyone's problem but it's up to white people to fix it. And we'll need to get uncomfortable to fix it."
NOTE — This story was updated on June 24 to clarify that the Rose City Rollers facility at Oaks Park will remain closed to skaters until Multnomah County sees a two-week stretch of decreasing COVID-19 cases.
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