Up Close And Personal Photo: Val Weiss

Published on September 17th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor

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Photo: Val Weiss

Getting My Head Back in the Game

By Betty Beretta

   Over a year ago,  I nervously shared my experience with the derby world. In May 2012, I was diagnosed with epilepsy after a major concussion. I took a beautifully accurate and legal hit to the chest, sending me backwards on my head. It was by a newer skater on my team that made me proud and regardless of the consequences, I  will never tell who she is. She still makes me proud.

    I shared my story in Five on Five because I wanted to bring awareness to concussions, helmet safety, and self-care. I hoped it helped anyone out there. A lot has happened since then. As of late,  I am returning to play roller derby in early 2014. Insane? Maybe a bit. It’s just right.

   A bit of history, I have been involved in flat track roller derby since 2005. Starting with the rough, new beginnings of Mississippi Roller Girls. I moved there from Michigan to stay with my parents after Hurricane Katrina.  I broke my ankle in that era,and that required multiple surgeries. I moved back to Michigan in 2007 and tried out for the Detroit Derby Girls. I failed my skills test 3 times due to the nerve damage in my ankle. I stayed involved by being an NSO until I passed that next test in 2008. With the diagnosis in 2012, I had to retire from skating, remaining active alumni and WFTDA Rep with Detroit. I then had the opportunity to bench coach for the Ann Arbor Brawlstars, the all star and hardest working team I have come to love. That is where I remain today and until 2014.

   I have had to become healthy, active, and aware of my body signals at all times to prevent seizure activity. I am lucky, the people I have met in the epilepsy community suffer  grand mal seizures all day. I was able to be stabilized in a short period of time. However, still conscious all day to prevent triggers.

   I felt this whole time like something was missing. I figured it was just adjusting to my new life. I am a biology major, intending to follow a career path as a pathology assistant. College had to slow down like everything else. I was frustrated, depressed, and full of anxiety. It has taken a full year to even feel comfortable being  in public alone, holding on to my medical bracelet like a pacifier. I spectate every bout I can, I bench coach for a team I love, I get full love and support from every derby skater who are old teammates, and those who know my story. It has been humbling and I feel that love. However, it has not filled that part of me that felt like something was missing. It’s the play. I am a skater. I have been a skater and it’s what I do. Simple and to the point. I have overcome a lot through roller derby, rather it being physical, mental, and emotional. Rather it being derby related or not.

    I did my own medical research, reading study after study, talked to my neurologist, and my epileptologist who say if I take care of myself, returning should not be an issue. However, the real opinion would come from the two people who have given me my strength since day one, my parents. My stomach was in knots when I went for it. I spoke with my dad first. He asked if I was insane first, but then laughed and said if he sat in the room with these doctors and they told him they give the green light, he would support it. We were much more concerned about my mother’s reaction. I sat in the chair for our weekly mother/daughter time when she braids my hair. I took a deep breath and said , “I want to play derby again.” To my surprise, she gave a big sigh and said, “Don’t sit around waiting to die. Do what makes you happy.” I cried.

    I am taking this return slowly. My remaining commitment until the new year is bench management for the Brawlstars. I have never stopped skating, but I have fears.

-”What if I have a seizure and someone gets hurt?”

-” What if other skaters don’t feel comfortable with me on the track?”

-”What do I do adjusting to derby training, cross training, and bout play?”

    Just a whirlwind of thoughts and questions. These are questions that can only be answered by other derby skaters who may share my experience. To ease my mind.The doctor and research say I have a much higher chance of having a fatal seizure in my sleep than returning to play. This info is based on other contact and collision sports. They say this will actually lower my seizure activity by being more active, less anxious, and improve general quality of life. The research and medical degrees are there. I am calling on my derby community, my home, to be willing to share their experiences with me. To know I am not going back into this unreasonably and with rose-colored glasses on. To know the full truth.

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  • val weiss

    Betty, as a teammate and fellow skater I’ve watched you grow immensely throughout your career in Detroit. This story rocks and I back you 100%. You are an incredible asset to any league you are involved with …you have entirely too much integrity, passion, opinion and fire to stay in the comfort, scripted zone. I agree with your mama! Once you are back on the track, let me know, I will bring the Candy tribe and we will cheer, cheer, cheer for you!.
    XO
    Rock Candy

  • clawed

    You can do it! You are so inspirational to me. All leagues are so lucky to have such dedication on their squad. – Clawed Monet (Mitten Mavens)

    • Betty Beretta

      Thanks so much darling! That means alot!

  • Anna Phylaxis

    Betty, you are one of my derbspirations. I’m so happy that you’re coming back to it, and maybe one day, we’ll play together. I had a feeling that the day would come when you returned! Damn proud to know you.

    • Betty Beretta

      <3 Thanks babe!

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  • H 2 Whoa

    Betty, I do not know you personally but I do know your struggle. I currently skate for the Flint City Derby Girls. In 2005, age 25 I had my first grand mal seizure. No apparent reason. To make a very long story short I was ultimately diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy.I was a very athletic independant person. I was a competitive athlete. I has just competed int the ironman triathlon the year before. Suddenly I was unable to drive and I was scared to go anywhere by myself. I eventually got up the nerve to go for a run in the neighborhood but would have someone follow me in a car. I managed to keep my job but tried to hide my condition for as long as I could because I am embarrased. I was lucky, so far after starting a certain anti-seizure medication I have never had a another grand-mal seizure. The fear is still there and I am still embarrassed even though it is nothing that I can control. It is exhasting to live in fear. I decided to join a Derby team last year. I do question myself sometimes if it is the best idea to be in a contact sport when I apparently already have brain damage. But I am not one to sit on the sideline. I love being active and in the action. So the answer for me is I cannot let the fear paralize me. Sounds like you are the same way. You are more brave then I was at your stage, but I just wanted you to know you were not alone. I hope this helps. H 2 Whoa

    • Betty Beretta

      Wow! Thanks lady for sharing publically about this. Not only having you understand the fear of being in public alone, but getting through it. To know there are derby folks out there that don’t let this disorder stop them is inspiring. Email me at bberetta40@gmail.com if you want to chat. We also aren’t that far apart and sure I’ll see you soon!!

    • Betty Beretta

      A Facebook group has JUST started and would for you and others you know to join. We can collectively share experience and oh the medication issues ! I hope you are well!

      Rolling With Epilepsy
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/rollingwithepilepsy/

  • Kayla Bell

    I have juvenile onset epilepsy (10 years) and joined derby in February of 2013. A lot of ppl had their concerns, but I just tell them ” I’m safer on the track in my gear than I am in a pool, a bath tub, or a car.” I’ve had worse injuries just standing in a room while I had a seizure than I have in derby. As long as you make everyone aware of your condition and tell them what to do and what may happen, then everything should be fine. I told my coach about my condition, and one day while going to see my first Houston Roller Derby game I started acting strange (walking in circles) and my coach immediately knew and my derby sisters caught me before I even fell! No one has ever handled it so well. Go for it, and know you’re not alone.
    -Koo-Laid

    • Betty Beretta

      Thank you so much for sharing this. It seriously helps gives me a plan to prepare for a return. Email me at bberetta40@gmail.com if you ever want to chat

    • Betty Beretta

      Happy Thanksgiving ! A Facebook group has JUST started and would for you and others you know to join. We can collectively share experience and oh the medication issues ! I hope you are well!

      Rolling With Epilepsy
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/rollingwithepilepsy/

  • Betty Beretta

    Thanks for the love guys <3 This is why I won't leave the damn derby. SO many messages and emails gave me so much confidence to go forth! Anyone else want to chat email me at bberetta40@gmail.com. I am also interested in players who may not think its a good idea and why. There is always validity on both sides!

  • Lil’ Misfit

    I’m had chronic epilepsy for 16 years, and skate under the name Lil’ Misfit. My parents thought I was crazy in 09 when I decided to play roller derby, but my neurologist happily backed me up, saying physical exercise can be good for it.
    A few months after I started, I had a massive seizure at training, and while everyone was cool with it/knew what to do and called my Dad to take me home, I quit out of embarrassment.
    2 years later, starting missing it, and joined a different league, because I was still not a confident person, and too paranoid about facing those people again.
    This league has seen me have mild seizures several times, and been total sweethearts about it.
    My only negative moment was having to step back into freshmeat after I’d been doing advanced training, and redo tests I’d already passed, a year later, because I suddenly had tons of seizures in 3 months, and missed way too much training.After lots of sulking I knew this was tough but fair, because I had to face the facts when I’d returned to doing scrimmage after coming back from being sick that I’d lost many many skills, and wasn’t the skater I had been earlier. It’s taken me a lot longer then lots of other freshmeat to pass tests again/memorise things, and it sucks sometimes watching people who couldn’t skate, move on faster than me, and I just have to be cool with the fact that my brain and memory, isn’t at perfect as some other people, but it doesn’t make me any less of a derby girl, just because things might take me longer to perfect.
    I also maintain that I’m safer than normal when seizuring in derby gear, cause I’m in full safety gear. Not normally wearing a helmet and mouth guard when strutting down the street! (Most common seizure injury for me in non derby life, is chipped teeth.)
    Thanks for sharing your story, I believe in you!
    I’ve had several seizures at training, but have never hurt anyone, more so just confused/worried people. Was lining up at jammer line, and had a complex partial seizure before the whistle blew, so everyone took off skating, and I was just standing there frozen in space and pulling weird faces, which confused the hell out of everyone, but I’m lucky, several girls in my league are nurses, and were able to explain what was going on straight away!

    • Betty Beretta

      You just covered every realistic factor I could imagine. This gives me so much comfort and being honest with myself about everything. Thanks you so much for sharing this.

    • Betty Beretta

      Happy Thanksgiving and hope you are well !A Facebook group has JUST started and would for you and others you know to join. We can collectively share experience and oh the medication issues ! I hope you are well!

      Rolling With Epilepsy
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/rollingwithepilepsy/

  • Jennifer OrPenga

    This story is amazingly inspiring. I have epilepsy as well and used to skate as a kid of course before roller derby was around. When the roller derby did make it’s way here to Detroit I wished and dreamed I could be a part of it, but at this point I know that it will be a dream. Maybe one day I will be able to put a pair of skates on and try out and go to derby U. For now I am happy cheering for all our local teams from the stands though where it might be a little safer. Your story is very inspiring. thank you for telling it.

    • Betty Beretta

      Happy Turkey Day ! Hope you are well !cA Facebook group has JUST started and would for you and others you know to join. We can collectively share experience and oh the medication issues ! I hope you are well!

      Rolling With Epilepsy
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/rollingwithepilepsy/

  • Betty Beretta

    Thanks derbylife and all of you who still continue to contact me, because of this article . I hope everyone is well. A Facebook group has JUST started and would love for those to join in support of living with a seizure disorder in the derby community . We can collectively share experience.

    Rolling With Epilepsy
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/rollingwithepilepsy/

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