Published on April 17th, 2014 | by Hot Quad6
Photo: Danny Ngan Photography
Break a leg! No, Really…
To some extent, time spent playing roller derby is defined in shades of pain. It hurts to learn to skate. Your back aches, your shins turn to fire. Scrimmage and practice turns to bruising, bursitis, sprains and tears not to mention the general feeling of overall soreness that comes from any active lifestyle. Yet somehow through all of that I’ve managed over the past several years to keep the possibility of a truly major injury as a distant imagination rather than an ever present danger. It makes sense. I could hardly be an effective player if constantly concerned about falling so hard that I bend my skate back far enough to splinter my fibula and dislocate my ankle. Yet here I am, unable to walk for three months with a long zippered scar covering 8 inches of stainless steel and pieces of bone that have been cobbled together like a human erector set. It’s the thing about the game that always scared me the most and now I’m stuck in the middle of it.
The response from the civilian world has ranged from the somewhat blase to the wildly inaccurate. On my first day back at work a co-worker approached me with doleful eyes to say, “I’m so sorry you won’t be able to play roller derby anymore,” which is perhaps a more extreme example of the perfectly valid, “are you going to go back?” If the decision were to rest on some strict version of rationality then it’s probable that I would find something else to do with my life; and it’s true that I don’t have any particular desire to relive this experience. But it’s also true that quitting hasn’t really crossed my mind and maybe that’s slightly insane. Maybe not.
My mom came out that first week to help me get settled in my new, temporarily less mobile lifestyle. After a long and painful ride home from the hospital she left to grab some essentials and as if by magic several of my teammates and leaguemates appeared. They cheerfully whisked away my sofa and replaced it with a hospital bed that one of them just so happened to have lying around so that I wouldn’t have to crawl up the stairs to my lofted bedroom in order to go to sleep. I was then presented with a variety of newly purchased and washed Goodwill sweatpants that could be cut as necessary to accommodate my heavily splinted leg. A variety of pieces of orthopedic equipment followed. Food began to fill my freezer as friendly faces dropped by to offer the company and help I couldn’t pretend not to need. In short my family – biological and otherwise – have made what might have been an unbearable experience livable and I simply don’t have enough words to adequately say thank you.
This week during a phone call with my coach she mentioned that she was on her way to our new skater practice and thought to ask whether I wanted to come. After so many weeks sitting in my apartment I could hardly turn her down and so we trekked back to the rink for the first time in what had seemed like an eternity. I was welcomed as always by the smell of varnish, old carpet, and stale gum which has become somewhat comforting over the years. Home. We sat for a while to catch up and watch the practice but before long another skater approached and said, “whatcha icing there? A little sprain?” As I rolled down my sock to show her what was left of my now zombie-like calf muscle I was suddenly surrounded by a row of curious faces. Apparently the universal truth of surgery is that everyone wants to see the scar. Everyone.
So while my other friends and co-workers silently (and not so silently) wonder how I could possibly go back after so much pain the truth is that leaving now seems like a more remote possibility than it did before. How could I leave the people fed me when I couldn’t do for myself? Or my friends who understand just what it means to have to learn to walk again? Why would I want to abandon the best reason I have to not just recover, but really become strong and agile again? After all the road may be long, but I have yet to try to walk on it alone.