Published on May 8th, 2013 | by DerbyLife0
PapaDoc by Gil Leora
Papa Doc, Roller Derby’s Team Doctor
By Andy Frye, aka LeBron Shames, Chicago Bruise Brothers
March Madness ended just a few weeks ago with the University of Louisville and their legendary coach, Rick Pitino, handily taking the NCAA title. Before their championship win over Michigan, one major story alongside the team’s successful campaign was the injury of Louisville sophomore Kevin Ware. Ware endured a nasty compound fracture during the Elite Eight game against Duke. Photos of Ware’s leg break flooded the internet, and for days sports media couldn’t stop talking about it.
Part of the reason for all the media fury over this one injury was its severity. It isn’t a regular occurrence for a player in either NCAA or NBA basketball to sustain a potential career-ending injury during a game, much less one as grotesque as a compound fracture.
But in roller derby, a hard-contact sport that competes at the same high level of athleticism, the daily risk of major injury comes as a given. One difference that exists is that the players of collegiate and pro sports get usually get top-flight medical care included as part of the overall package, whether it is the advice of a team doctor coupled with a full-time trainer, or –as in the case of the professional clubs and bigger schools—an entire medical staff. Meanwhile, many of the hundreds of roller derby leagues around the world are left to their own devices and common sense when dealing with injuries.
Jim Ramsay, also known as “Papa Doc,” has been the volunteer medic and team doctor for the Windy City Rollers since shortly after the league strapped on its skates back in 2005. Since taking up life in roller derby, Ramsay became not only a sort of pioneer in his role, but also a well-respected and beloved leader and mentor to the league on skater health issues. Papa Doc has also authored a first aid manual for roller derby and serves on committees that tackle health-related issues in sports. In addition to that, Ramsay also contributes articles to Derbylife.com and the print flat track derby magazine, Fiveonfive.
“It is something you’re seeing more of,” Ramsay said of the existence of the so-called team doctor in derby. “Still, few leagues have their own doctor that comes to bouts, much less one that travels with the team.”
Ramsay, 73, retired a few years ago after a decades-long practice as a pediatrician in suburban Chicago. With his wife, the team nurse who goes by “Mama Vendetta,” the two make up the medical staff along with an athletic trainer provided by ATI Physical Therapy.
“Mama is sort of a mother to the girls,” Papa Doc says of his wife, “but she also shadows me and can advise on symptom treatment.”
Together, the couple often accompanies Windy City’s traveling teams, the nationally-ranked Windy City All-Stars as well as the Second Wind to out-of-town bouts. Most recently, in late April, the Ramsays accompanied the All-Stars to Great Britain, where the team participated in Anarchy III, a tournament hosted by the London Roller Girls.
While much of it is applying bandages and attending to abrasions and simple sprains, many of the medical issues in roller derby are the same as in tackle football, rugby, or ice hockey. As a regular practice, the Ramsays provide trackside first aid for the skaters, while advising if there is a need for additional medical advice or an emergency room visit.
Certainly for roller derby athletes as with any athlete, amateur or professional, much of the onus is on the player herself. Simple things like stretching, warming up appropriately, and eating enough in the hours before practice goes a long way, as does hydration and maintain the proper equipment. Furthermore, closely monitoring existing one’s injuries is imperative, as is getting adequate medical attention when such injuries arise.
Also, Ramsay points out, the increased pace and physicality of the game, combined with the rise of concussion-awareness in sports, has led many who join roller derby to invest in an NHL-grade hockey helmet to protect the head.
“Concussions are a fairly frequent concern, as are recurrent joint problems,” says Ramsay. “A lot of the time too, the girls may hide their symptoms. Especially if they know they’ll be off the track for a few weeks, they try to muscle in and skate through it.”
Papa Doc and Mama V attend just about every single Windy City bout at UIC Pavilion, next to downtown Chicago. Plus, every Thursday night –with the exception of bout weeks– WCR holds an all-league scrimmage, which Papa Doc also attends.
He says that much of the role consists of screening the girls for acute injuries. Ramsay can also write prescriptions if needed but does so sparingly.
For roller derby leagues on the rise, Papa Doc said that a key ingredient to success and to better wellness of a league’s members is to try to establish a relationship with a doctor, best of all one with a sports medicine focus.
“There’s probably some comfort the skaters have knowing that they can enjoy the sport and that someone is on their side,” says Papa Doc. “I get a lot of reward from it, and it’s been a delightful experience to be associated with the bright, assertive women and men of this league.”
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