Broken Bones and Derby Love: Confessions from Team Injured

Everyone knows derby is a dangerous sport—that’s why you have to spend a ton of money on protective gear before you set foot on the track—but when I decided to attend the Outfit’s Open Recruitment period in January, I never imagined I’d acquire more than a few well placed bruises and maybe a bad case of rink rash. What a silly thing to think. By the end of February, I was one of the only new recruits who hadn’t passed minimum skills. The Outfit does “fresh meat” a little different than most other leagues from what I can tell (for starters, I’ve never heard anyone on the Outfit use the phrase “fresh meat”). Instead of separate practices for newbies, we skate alongside experienced skaters from day one, participating in everything except scrimmage. The reward for passing minimum skills is getting pummeled and knocked around by the vets in regulation scrimmage.

As the group of new recruits got smaller and smaller on scrimmage nights, my commitment to derby started to waiver. What am I doing here? I’d wonder as I practiced my crossovers in a quiet corner. On skill-and-drill nights, things weren’t much better. I was slower than everyone else (the dreaded 25-in-5 was keeping me from derby glory) and not steady enough on my skates to do any damage when I practiced hip and shoulder checks. And everyone else had formed this bond—this crazy, bloodsweatandtears bond from skating in jams together—that I felt like I’d never be on the inside.

I was skating along with stubborn determination (I will not quit. I will not quit. I will not quit.) one night in early March when I was overwhelmed by…I don’t know what to call it…a really bad feeling. When Sweet Mary Pain described our next drill, I knew I wasn’t ready for it. I just wasn’t a good enough skater. But I was being stubborn, remember? And I wanted to prove (to myself more than anyone) that I was a good sport.

A few minutes later, I’m lying on the floor, my ankle swelling and feeling oddly separate from my leg. I’ll spare you the details (I wrote about it here, if you like that kind of thing), but I knew it was broken even though I was in serious denial. Around 2am, an x-ray technician confirmed my fears.

Before that night, I’d always bragged about how I’d never broken a bone. And because I’d never broken a bone, I had no idea—no way to even imagine—the unique kind of hell that it is. There’s the obvious: the pain (it’s awful). But there’s so much more that the average healthy and in-tact person would never think of: muscle atrophy; skin infections; the complete impossibility of sleeping comfortably, showering normally, doing your own laundry, opening doors…the list goes on. I suppose it might be different if I’d broken a wrist or elbow, but I can’t imagine it’s much better. For the first few weeks, there was a new trauma nearly every day.

But I’m not writing this to bum you out, or scare future new recruits from lacing up their skates. I’m writing this because today, I took my first steps in seven weeks (hooray!). And I’m writing this because somehow, despite the pain, despite being pissed off at the universe, despite being embarrassed and dismayed that I broke my fibula before I passed minimum skills, despite all of this, my roller derby injury kind of turned out to be a good thing.

You see, breaking my ankle made me realize that I was the only one wondering if I belonged at practice. The Outfit is a family, and like all good families, they take care of their own. My new teammates drove me to the doctor, did my laundry, sent me sweet little gifts and notes, called and texted to make sure I was okay. Women I’d never talked to at practice, some who I thought didn’t know my name (real or derby) were checking in on me every single day.

Derby girls talk a lot about family, about sisterhood. They choose derby wives (mine drove me to the ER that night) and from what I hear, derby marriages really do last for life. They claim that their teammates are the people they like and trust the most. I was skeptical at first. I’ve got four sisters, so I know just what sisterhood is all about..and it isn’t always pretty. Being sisters means I’ll love you even when you’re being evil, and there aren’t a lot of people that I feel that way about. But the Outfit, well, I’ll love the Outfit forever.

Even if I never pass minimum skills.