Thanks to guest blogger Amanda HugNKill for this profile of Mel Mangles! /snark
“You know it’s bad when Mel texts you to bring a protein bar to practice.”
This comment brings a collective groan from the handful of GnRs strapping on their gear before Monday’s practice. “Yeah,” someone adds, “she says it’s gonna be a hard one.”
With Mel Mangles, there’s no other way but hard. She lives hard, she skates hard, and she coaches hard.
Mel is one of the many skaters who elected to go travel-team only this season. Now she skates exclusively for Wheels of Justice but chooses to stick around to coach GnR along with Smack Ya Sideways, another former-GNR-turned-travel-team-only. And if anything speaks to the intensity that Mel brings to GNR as a coach, it’s that warning to her team: “bring a protein bar.”
Case in point: it’s 30 minutes into practice, and I’ve heard the sound of skates on the track cease only once for a water break and to go over the next drill. Maybe 60 seconds later, break-time is over, and skaters are partnered up, pushing each other around the track. Mangles keeps up a constant stream of chatter, sometimes shouting out critique, sometimes screaming encouragement. All the while, she skates deftly around the middle of the track, whistle in hand, keeping her expert eyes peeled for teaching opportunities. When she finally allows her team to take another breather, she grabs a couple of skaters for a quick demonstration of her latest pearl of wisdom.
As if the hangar wasn’t freezing cold already, the draft created by 13 skaters racing around the track chills me to the bone. “12 minutes!” Beki the timer calls out. A few hoots and hollers come from the line. The rest are too focused on breathing “in through the nose, out through the mouth” to respond. Mel explains how the commitment keeps the team accountable for themselves and their teammates: If someone is tired, they let their team know they need some help, which is quickly provided. “Let’s go, almost done!” By the end, skaters are pushing and pulling each other to keep in the line, yelling out if they need encouragement or a hand to grab onto. The whistle finally blows, 20 minutes is over. Several GnRs skate to the middle and promptly collapse; others skate a few laps to cool down. Eventually they all find their way to the middle of the track where they lay sprawled out and exhausted. Mangles lords over the recumbent skaters and tells them how awesome they are. They didn’t beat their record tonight, but she’s still proud of them.
After a few measly minutes of rest and positive reinforcement, Mangles grabs four skaters to demonstrate the next drill. She gives a quick visual explanation of a rotating wall (she explains it so well, even I can understand it), hands out jammer caps, and sends her team back onto the track. They start a partner drill with two blockers and a jammer, each starting from their respective lines. One whistle, off go the blockers—two whistles, the jammer. Four whistles ends the drill, and the skaters slowly make their way off the track. The next group lines up too slowly for Mel’s taste: “Four whistles means you get your ass off the track,” she barks, “That’s not just for this drill, that’s for the game. Clear? Clear?” Her team nods and steps up the pace. Not only do her skaters want to make Mel proud, they really don’t want to piss her off.
She preaches awareness of your blocking partner, knowing when to back up when your partner knocks the jammer out of bounds to force a cutting penalty. Staying together may force the jammer to cut two skaters instead of just one. “You can easily turn that minor into a major,” she explains, “Like turning a frown upside-down!” The wealth of knowledge that spews from Mel’s mouth is daunting to a mere mortal like myself. She (and Smack, who wasn’t there last night, or I’d be singing her praises as well) have so much to teach their team. And let me tell you, their skaters are hearing it. And they are doing it. And they are looking awesome!
It’s 10:00pm and GNR is still going hard. Mel is still coaching in full force, yelling out to her skaters as they show signs of fatigue. “She’s fucking bad-ass,” says Dirty Ann Rotten after practice, “I wanna be just like her when I grow up.”
“She is really tough,” Juvie Hall says, “but she finds positive ways to look at things, even if it’s criticism. She’s really good at shifting things from negative to positive to create a learning moment.”
I try to imagine skating a practice under Mel Mangles until 10:00pm then waking up at 6:00am to go to work. I cannot fathom it. But these ladies do it. And thanks to Mel, they do it hard. Because for her, there is no other way.