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La Lucha ups mental game to push Sac City Rollers higher

If you arrive early at the rink Saturday for the Sac City Rollers latest roller derby bout, you might catch the team’s MVP and general manager Trinity Gleckler walking around the track, staring at it, in a kind of silent meditation. 

Gleckler, better known by her derby name, "La Lucha ," doesn’t study the flat track, but plays out, in her mind’s eye, the contest that is about to happen.

"I’m using that as a palette to look at different scenarios and play them out in my head – like, if I get stopped here, this is what’s going to happen," she said. "That positive visualization is proven to build confidence. You visualize and set yourself up for success even before you put all eight wheels on the track."

This pre-bout visualization is just one of many mental tricks-of-the-trade that La Lucha has learned since she joined Sac City’s all-star team, the Capitol Punishers. (Each franchise in roller derby is called a league, which is made up of different levels of teams, with the best team being the “all star” team. Sac City also has the Folsom Prison Bruisers, a lower level team made up of up-and-coming skaters.) 

She started roller derby in 2006. Since then, what started as a hobby has become a serious pursuit. She’s gone from team captain, to coach, to general manager, while picking up MVP honors for the last four consecutive years.

La Lucha is a jammer, or the person on the five member team who is the designated scorer and wears two stars on her helmet. A jammer scores by lapping members of the opposing team. The other players, called blockers, have no stars on their helmets and try to stop the opposing jammer while protecting their own. One player, the "pivot," wears a striped helmet and is a blocker who can become jammer during a bout if the jammer passes her a star.

La Lucha’s rise through the ranks at Sac City Rollers happened at a time when roller derby itself was growing quickly. She joined after seeing a 2006 A&E reality show about a team in Austin (where the roller derby revival began in the 2000s) and initially, didn’t fare well.

"I didn’t know what I was doing when I got out there," she said. "I didn’t even know how to cross over. I was smaller… I got beat up. It’s been a long journey."

But La Lucha is a natural athlete who played soccer in high school and was on her college’s downhill skiing and mountain bike teams. It wasn’t long before her competitive instincts kicked in.

"In 2006, I picked this up as a hobby and I wasn’t as dedicated, but then I got this taste of ‘Hey, if you cross train and you work on your mental game and you get that taste of competition, not only on the track, but off it, it’s so addictive."

As a jammer, you have to be fast, and La Luncha is, but she is also agile, able to "roll off" blockers intent on stopping her (a trick she picked up from soccer). She is also obsessive about the finer details of her technique and plays close attention to her body shape. She races around the track, low to the ground, coming in tight to the curves and then shooting out wide again, with feet apart and weight evenly distributed across her skates to help her keep balance. 

You get a sense of her ability to cut through and around blockers in this highlght video. She wears number five: 

The mental side of her game evolved as she began to read more about the psychology of sport. When she began, she would run errands before games, listen to loud music to get "hyped up" and would get anxious or stressed before bouts.

No longer – now, she prefers quiet concentration. Adele has replaced hip-hop in La Lucha ’s earphones.

"If you are listening to crazy loud music and your are getting hyped up until the point of competition, you are adding unnecessary stress on your body," she said.

As coach and then GM, La Lucha shared those lessons with her team, and The Sac City Rollers have made strides with La Lucha at the helm. This year is their first season as part of the The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the sports official governing body – meaning they are now ranked nationally. Sacramento’s other team, The Sacred City Derby Girls, is also ranked and a member of WFTDA.

The Sac City Rollers have moved up the ranks quickly – they started the year at 64th, are now at 56th, and are expected to rise again when the rankings are released again.

The Punishers had played exhibition bout Saturday against the Richmond Wrecking Belles, a team from the number four league in the country, The B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls.

It was a physical and fast-paced game. At one point a Wrecking Ball blocker fell flat on her back after a tough hit, and the crowd went silent while the medical staff rushed to her side. There was applause when she got up again after a few minutes, and, with a little help, gingery made her way to the sidelines.

The Wrecking Bells jumped out to a big lead but the Punishers made a few adjustments and started to get traction in the second half. It wasn’t enough though and they lost, 258-111. (Read the play by play here).

For La Luncha, the team’s slow start was the problem.

"It took a little to get warmed up and into our flow, once we did, we started to come back," she said. "You win some, you loose some, the biggest thing for me is learning from a loss. We need to get in the mind set a little earlier and not react. We need to be proactive instead of reactive."

The Pikes Peak Derby Dames are eight places above Sac City (57th vs 65th) in the WFTDA rankings, and the bout is likely to be a tough one, but that’s way La Lucha like it. The challenge of keeping at the top of her game is what drives her to keep training and pushing herself. At 35, with more than six years of skating under her belt, she’s a veteran – but has no plans to stop anytime soon.

"It’s accountability to be a better person for my team, and to be a better player for my team, and selflessly, I want to play a lot, and I’ve got to be good to play a lot. I’m an ultra-competitive person in general. I’m pretty intense. Between me and a couple of other girls in the league, we are some of the most competitive people. I thrive on that. I love it."

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