how determination, community and a well-timed t-shirt helped a strong, athletic woman on the road to recovery
Imagine: You’ve finally made it to D1 and are a starting jammer for playoffs. You feel like you’ve accomplished so much and come so far. The tournament games are going really well, you’re proud of your team and your own performance. Being proud of yourself can be so difficult, we are our biggest critics and at a major climax in your roller derby career.
Like most jammers, you’ve created a pattern, but for this tournament the play has been a major success for you so you’re holding onto it tightly. It’s the second period, there is 10:30 left on the clock, and we are down by 10. You take the line again, assess the position of the opponents and your teammates, planning your every movement. You quickly run that inside line for the double whistle blow as lead jammer. Mid stride, it happens. An extremely loud pop that sends an unfamiliar sensation down your leg, but you’re lead and you plant your skates to start your crossover for pick up speed. The leg has no power and the next feeling is pain. Why does my leg hurt and why can’t I gain any speed? Looking at your third base coach, you try to communicate the pain. He doesn’t understand and instructs me to keep going, the other jammer is still being held by defense. I tell myself it’s a sprain, push through and sit down for the rest of the game, but first get points.
The opposing jammer has bridged by teammates out, so I prepare for them to run back to play offense, making my scoring pass successful. I’m watching as the last line of defense hit’s the jammer out and runs back to form a wall with friends. In that moment, jammer mind kicks in, along with adrenaline, I’m sure of it. I attempt to juke the outside blocker to the out to hit the center of their tripod, but my juke is hardly executed, only my upper body could respond. I push my body into the wall and immediately feel my leg crumble underneath me and now I’m under another player, my leg is numb, and panic sets in.
My first reaction is to get off the track but I cannot move anything but my arms. The shock quickly takes over and I have nothing left. I laid on the track for over 30 minutes with teammates and medics, unable to move, freezing cold, and really scared. I’m a fighter and I’m a great negotiator so after the shock subsides the medic agrees to let me roll over then finally to move me off the track while we wait for paramedics. I knew there was something wrong and I wasn’t going to get up, but the show must go on…the game had to finish and I really want my team to win it. As paramedics arrived I was preparing my pitch to gain their approval to let me watch the rest of the game.
“It took you more than 30 minutes to get here, what is 10 minutes more?”. That’s all I had, I was tired. Reluctantly, they agreed to stay while they placed me on a stretcher, secured my leg, checked my vitals, and tried hard to gain my attention for standard questioning. I watched the rest of the game and had the chance to hug my teammates and friends in victory. We did, we won! We didn’t place top three to advance, but to come this far that year was rewarding.
I was immediately taken to a local emergency room and committed to waiting 30 minutes to be seen. The environment was intimidating, the pain was fading, and I’m very stubborn. After 30 minutes, we packed up in the car to head to a local pharmacy for a brace; I’ll get checked back home in the states. It’s a sprain, R.I.C.E. and a few beers will help. We head to the venue because there is still more amazing roller derby to be seen. I was unable to attend the fun and remained in my hotel room for the night, exhausted and concerned. It was a ruptured ACL, torn meniscus, sprained MCL and PCL, and six cysts had ruptured. It was my worst fear, my work thus far is gone and I will be set back another year. I was devastated. I didn’t want to start over and I didn’t want to miss out on derby. My spot on the roster, my fitness, my ability to skate at that level was in jeopardy now. I had played on Team CO and was preparing for that year on the roster again. It all came to an abrupt stop.
Then came the determination, I was not going to let it stop me. I WILL be skating next season, I WILL be on the roster, and I WILL get through this and fast. It was an adjustment of the mind and I was ready to put in the work to make it happen. There were times I pushed too far and too soon; I tried to walk the day after surgery and I did 80 box jumps less than three months after surgery. At this point my physical therapist was used to me pushing the bar so he just said “be careful”. I set the expectation very early on to him that we were going to hit the ground running, literally; I wanted to be pushed with little forgiveness. I never gave up, I cried every day at home while I did my stretching but I continued to pull the band tighter and further. I went to the gym regularly, got my diet back on track, attended every practice to stay in touch with my team and the training all while putting my mind and heart into it first. I could have taken the easy route, I could have taken more time to come back, and I could have given up all together, but I am a fighter and I have the drive; I am a strong athletic woman and skater.
During my recovery, Smarty Pants released her Strong Athletic line and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect and motivating. I immediately bought a shirt and wore it to the gym every leg day during my rehabilitation time. Four months post operation I was back on skates, no contact, but able to work on any drill I considered “safe”, so of course I did every stop, every turn, and pushed myself to gain my known speed back. I was doing it, I was back, and I felt stronger than ever.
Two months later I was released to skate full contact with one condition, with the aid of a DonJoy knee brace for one full year. I hated that brace, but I tried to make it part of my uniform. I wore it to every practice, scrimmage, RollerCon, and added it to leg day at the gym so I could push more weight. It was helpful, I’m sure, but mostly mentally. It hindered me from a lot of movement I knew I was capable of doing, so 12 months later I was on the phone with my physical therapist and surgeon requesting permission to skate without it. The first tournament without it was less than a week later, Golden Bowl, and it was with my new league/team so I had a lot of reservations and nervousness about skating with one less piece of equipment.
My dip game was on point! That brace came with me to California but was quickly put in away when home and I haven’t looked at it since. I put my mind and heart into something more than I ever have. While I had moments of failure and surrender, I managed to refocus every time and move forward to now find myself learning and doing more with my skill than ever before. Roller derby is hard and when you are faced with an injury of any kind, it’s really easy to question why we do this sport. It’s mentally and physically demanding and as you make travel team it becomes expensive and time consuming. I no longer question why I play, I question what would I do without this community and training. My network is worldwide and my book of friends is large with good and caring people. With every challenge in life or feeling of being set back, remember you can not only come back from it but you can come back stronger, better, smarter. The reward is far worth the work it took to get there.
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