Up Close And Personal Photo: Danny Ngan Photography

Published on April 17th, 2014 | by Hot Quad

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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.

Hot Quad's busted leg, repaired

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.

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  • Red Haute

    there was zero question about me returning after breaking mine. it was non-negotiable. so glad i did.

  • Rachel Bowlin

    Loved reading this! The possibility of an injury is something I usually ignore, but it’s heartening to read accounts of awesome derby players who don’t think twice about coming back to the sport after a serious injury.

  • Jennifer

    I’ve broken a collarbone, foot, and ankle. Two surgeries in summers back to back unable to walk. Yet, here I am too, playing derby for the 5th year in a row. I wish that experience on no one, but after such an experience you realize that your body is an amazing machine that can be pushed past unimaginable limits!

  • Ornery Cuss

    Broken tib/fib,stage IV cancer and now Graves disease. I am still rolling with my girls. I felt guilty when my mom came to help me with the family, knowing I was going back to derby. My mom was thrilled to know I was going back after the Cancer. Do what you love, until you love something more!

  • Shannibal

    Thank you for this… I started derby two seasons ago, and immediately fell in love. Having already had surgery a few years prior for a severely herniated lumbar disc, people thought I was crazy to go into derby to begin with- but frankly, it felt great. Due to life getting in the way, I repeated Fresh Meat this past season – and then just when I was finally getting ready to break into bouting – insane work committments, and then my back acting up again left me sitting on the sidelines. Three herniated discs, and I’m in the middle of chiropractic, physical therapy, and steroid injections to get my daily life on track… and I’m trying to put off the decision whether or not to return until the last possible second. I know I can serve my league just as well (if not more!) off the track… but I just can’t reconcile myself into giving up my wheels just yet.

  • Lindsay

    So I know this was published months ago and I hope that you’re back on your skates. I broke my leg at a tournament this past summer and experienced everything you described. I did initially think I was done with derby… I had 4 closed compound fractures in my leg plus significant ligament damage. I just didn’t see any way that my body could possibly ever be strong again. But after the surgery to put my ankle back together the surgeon assured me that I would absolutely be able to skate the following season. From that moment I put every effort into making sure I healed well and strong… As soon as I was clear to get the leg wet, I started doing deep-water aerobics, which led to me healing and being cleared to skate about a month earlier than they’d anticipated. I started going to the gym and doing short intervals of lateral work on the treadmill (side steps ad crossovers) to rebuild strength and stability in the ankle. I was able to earn back my spot on our charter team right away and less than a year later I feel as strong as ever.
    I got plenty of opinions from people about whether or not I should go back, including a very passive-aggressive Get Well card from my husband’s grandmother suggesting that I was a bad mother for going back to derby. There were plenty of people who didn’t understand it, but those closest to me were unbelievably supportive and my teammates were incredible in the way they rallied to help me in those first weeks when I was practically bed-ridden. Even the derby community at large was great; I received a get well card from the team we were playing when my injury happened, and this past weekend, while playing at another tournament, one of the refs who had been at the tournament (not even reffing my game) sought me out to say he was happy to see me playing again. With an injury like this, everything feels impossible right away, but it also gives you a lot of time to think about what derby really means to you and all the ways that getting back on the horse, so to speak, might be the best thing you ever do for yourself.

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