Team Injured for the win!

It’s all so familiar: the canned music and multi-colored lights of open skate, the sound of velcro straps being tightened, the chatter of derby girls anxious for practice to being. But one thing’s different. This time, I’m among the derby girls strapping on knee and elbow pads, lacing up skates. It’s been five months since I last rolled across this floor. Five months since I felt my fibula snap during a drill I knew I shouldn’t have been doing. My surgeon has released me from his care, told me I don’t need any more physical therapy, and sent me out of his office with a reminder to “be careful on the roller derby circuit.” I’m cleared to skate.

But I sat in the corner with my skates and a silly grin for a long time before I stood up. And I stood in the corner adjusting my wrist guards and shuffling my skates back and forth before I skated my first lap. I remembered sitting in the middle of the rink, staring at the odd angle of my foot. Crab walking up the stairs to my third floor apartment, splinted right leg held precariously in front of me. Crying in the middle of the night when my nerve block wore off. I remembered the infection I got when my stitches were removed. The day I fell getting out of the shower. The helplessness I felt when my brand-new derby friends, Rouge and Barbara Butch, came over to clean my apartment and do my laundry. I don’t want to experience those things again…but God, I love to skate.

So I got up and I skated a lap. The last song of open skate—couple’s skate, actually—with Apostrofiend and Dianasaurus Ross holding my hands. I tried a crossover. I tried a T-Stop. When the local kids cleared out and practice began, I skated warm-ups with my team. High knees and butt kicks came back to me as if I’d always been doing them, but eight months ago when I attended my first practice, they seemed impossible. As the team lined up to prepare for their first drill, I took to the speed track and tested my will. I. was. terrified. But one lap after another I realized something strange: skating was easy! Easier than ever before. I felt stronger, more agile. I sunk into derby stance and my quads didn’t burn. My center of balance was, well, centered. My crossovers were powerful. What happened to me?

When I was still on crutches I did seated cardio. Thousands of crunches. When they took my cast off and put me in a walking boot, I started working on my range of motion. When the surgeon told me I could walk without crutches, I hiked across campus immediately. Squats, lunges, heel raises. I practiced standing on my bad leg (I’m sorry, my healing leg) and at first could only balance for 3 or 4 seconds. I did my PT homework (almost) every day. I went to practice once a week to work with the Outfit’s athletic trainer, Roe. I rode a stationary bike for cardio before I was allowed to walk without the boot. I refused to let my injury set me back any more than it had to. And somehow along the way, I lost 20 pounds and gained some kick-ass quads and hamstrings. Somehow, skating got a whole lot easier.

I think it’ll be a while before I’m really playing roller derby (I can’t stop, I’m afraid to fall, and I’m a long, long way from being cleared for contact), but I’m back on skates and better than ever. Maybe breaking my ankle wasn’t such a bad thing?