I’m Oxytoxin and I’ve been with Undead Roller Derby for five years. I came to derby without any prior skating knowledge and even less information about the sport itself. My obsession with the sport came long before I ever considered joining, but now I can’t imagine my life without it or the people I’ve come to know through derby.
Everyone that has met me knows that I’m someone that wants to go all in when I’m passionate about something (even at the risk of running myself thin over it.) Giving your all for something that you care about has never been difficult for me, so when I found myself as part of my local roller derby league, it was no surprise that I became immersed in so many aspects of the sport.
In the words of Ron Swanson,
And ass plays a big part in roller derby!
For some that means showing up to all the practices and joining all the pickup teams and doing all the tournaments possible. And while, yes, I’ve been known to join a pickup team here and there and toss my helmet in the ring of local tournaments; for me, roller derby didn’t stop on the track.
There are so many other ways to make roller derby happen that with my proclivity for going all in, I quickly found myself doing so much more than just skating.
In the four years after I joined; I’m not only a bout level skater but I’m also a proficient off skates official and occasional referee, I’ve been on the Board of Directors for about 90% of my derby career with no end in sight, and I’ve recently been volunteering as an additional coach for our Infected skaters. Of course all those extra activities, while important, are supplemental to actually playing roller derby.
But roller derby is a full contact sport and injuries are bound to happen; so what happens when you find yourself unable to whole-ass the thing you love?
Injury is commonplace in any sport and roller derby is no different. However, it is more likely to hear from people how easily you’ll get hurt doing roller derby than any other sport. When I tell people I play roller derby, if they aren’t at first dazzled by my badassery, they’re immediately worried about my safety.
“Oh, that sounds dangerous!”
“Aren’t you afraid of getting hurt?”
It would be unrealistic of myself to think I could never get hurt doing roller derby, but it’s even more unrealistic to think that I can only get hurt doing roller derby. In my personal experience, only two of my injuries were specifically derby related (a couple were skating related, but more due to my own clumsiness rather than the sport itself so we won’t go into those.)
But let’s talk about my current injury: a meniscus sprain in my knee.
Wait, real quick… Let’s back up for a second. Little backstory here…
Growing up, I didn’t do any type of sport other than cross country. It didn’t require that I hit anyone, throw any balls, or get any points and I liked that. It had far less pressure than a full contact, team sport and that was fine with me. Injuries can happen here as well. More commonly, these injuries were either shin splints, knee injuries, ligament tears, etc.
During Cross Country I had actually injured the same knee with a meniscus tear. I had stepped awkwardly running downhill about halfway through a race and despite the searing pain in my kneecap, I continued and finished my race.
Adrenaline is a nutty thing.
I wouldn’t be able to run for the rest of the season and I would spend the next 3 months recovering.
I sustained my current knee injury in a pickup game. While, I skated with many of the people on both teams before, skating on a pickup team is completely different from your home team. When you play a sport, you develop a feel for how your teammates play and often you get a sense of ability from them.
In derby, pick up teams are usually people that play derby occasionally but not so often that they are part of their own league with consistent, regular practices. This may not always be the case, but more often it is. So, you can have people who have had years on their skates or tons of derby experience but without consistent practice they can become rusty which is not just dangerous for themselves but for others skating with them.
During the second half, I had been jamming for my team and one of the opposing blockers turned to face me head on as I was coming through the pack. She had thrown a shoulder out towards me but had overcompensated and fallen on top of me.
I noticed between jams that extending my left leg hurt and it was stiff, but we only had 15 minutes left. So once again, I continued with the game until it was done and wouldn’t address my injury until the after party.
Again, adrenaline is a nutty thing.
And here I am recovering from yet another injury. Currently, I’m unable to participate in scrimmage or hitting drills at practice but I’m finally able to be on skates for the entirety of a practice – given that I’ve done my PT stretches and have compression on my knee.
So what is the difference between my past injury and my current one?
Honestly, it’s very little. They are both considered “sprains” because they are located in the ligaments and can either be torn (my past injury) or stretched (my current injury.) Both of which can take up to 3 months of recovery, give or take a few weeks due to other circumstances (i.e. sitting vs standing at work.)
On top of the 3 month recovery and rehab, the emotional and mental battle becomes the more difficult thing to go through than one would think. People always say that motivation and determination are important for physical recovery, but sometimes you’re going to have really terrible thoughts on your journey back to the track.
I find myself, more often than not, feeling guilty that I’m not able to skate with my team. Being injured is a lot like being in the penalty box during a bout; you’re no good to your team there. And we are currently in a rebuilding process where we have few bout level skaters and my being injured does nothing to help those numbers either. I try to be there for what I can like coaching, off skates officiating, administrative things, etc., but like I said earlier, all those things are supplemental to actually playing roller derby.
But then I also find myself questioning being in derby at all. I have known many people who are so much better at derby than I am and for them to have never been injured (specifically in roller derby) makes me reconsider my place in the sport itself. Maybe I’m not cut out to be a skater?
There are people I work with that constantly guilt me for being injured in a sport that is so “dangerous” and keep asking why I go back. I try to keep the same mentality with recovery as I do when I answer them: I love this sport and I’m not afraid of getting hurt. It will happen regardless. But the benefits of this sport have outweighed the bad parts and I’m passionate about it. It’s worth the risk.
What makes my recovery easier is my team. Even if they don’t know it explicitly, they have been the biggest part of my recovery. I have plenty of supportive people that understand I need time before I can get back on the track, but being there for them regardless of my injury shows my dedication. And the fact that they’ve been here for me shows me that I’m not going through my injury alone.
Being at practices, even off skates and unable to participate, I love seeing my friends doing badass things and learning new skills. I love to cheer them on when endurance practices are hard and when those walls are tough. I love watching the Infected skaters learn from the ground up and being able to teach them. I’ve even found that seeing the Infected at practices has infected me with the same bright eyed, newly found love of the sport like Baby Oxy once had. Everything about these people keep my motivation to get better going. Not once have I felt like I’m less part of this team and I couldn’t be more grateful.
I can’t wait to take the track with them again.
Injuries are frustrating and it can feel hopeless at times when you’re trying to get back to your regular activity. And even moving forward, you might have a fear of hurting yourself again which can keep you from fully experiencing your ability, at least for me, on the track. Admittedly, this was a piece I wanted to write because it’s affecting me now as I write but I hadn’t realized how emotional it would make me feel as well. I know it’s silly to get on yourself about healing, but it can take so much out of you to not be at 100% anymore.
It’s a double edged sword because while you want to whole ass the thing, there is a small part of you that holds back and gets in your head to stop you. Even if you’re physically capable, once you’re in your head about that injury it becomes another battle to get 100% all over again. I also find that if you’re too busy overthinking about how you skate, you won’t actually skate and you’re more likely to hurt yourself because you’re not allowing that small amount of risk it takes to do badass things.
So what can you do?
In my experience, it’s just to take each day as it comes. There will be better days and worse days, but listen to your body and work on strengthening both your weak muscles and mental game. Be there for your team regardless of being able to participate. Being there with them shows you want to be part of the team and it’ll be easier once you get back. Practice off skates exercises when you can and stretch often.
Be safe, but don’t be so safe you limit yourself.