The reality of returning to roller derby after injury

They always tell you that coming back from injury is hard. They always tell you to ‘ease in’, ‘listen to your body’, and that ‘it takes time’.

No matter how many times you hear those words, it never truly sinks in until you’re three weeks back into a full derby schedule competing for a travel team position with a D1 league.

August 31, 2015 was my last practice of the season pre-injury. 7 months later I had surgery.

12494867_10156715946020494_7524896798380786576_n-copy
8 days post ACL reconstruction with hamstring graft. “Gotta be weak before you can be strong”

4 months later I was back on my skates. In another 2 months, I could hit people! But the thing we all dread happened: I incurred a different injury a month after contact clearance.

Luckily, it was a medium sprain and not a major tear. Once I returned home from Europe (it happened on day 3 of a 5 week trip) I was able to secure the blessing from my ortho (as long as I wore my SECOND KNEE & DonJoy when skating), and made my way back into training.

I was lucky. We all say that we’re going to come back quickly, but I actually did. I worked hard, set goals, and was lucky enough not to go through any major set backs.

On January 4, 2017 (with a desire to throw up all over the place), I went back to Tampa Roller Derby for the first practice of the New Year.

The thing about returning from injury [that the non-injured don’t realize] is that you relive your injury over and over again in those first practices. All you think about is “What happens if I feel ______?” and “Oh gosh, that person is coming at me fast”. At some point, you contemplate the injury, and the possibility of re-injuring (especially if you have already experienced a re-injury).

No matter how many people you ask about “How do I conquer the mental hurdle of attacking practice after injury?” you will never find a true answer. You may get those answers in the first paragraph. Maybe someone will talk about how they visualized success (this was something I did), or how they tried to distract themselves through the first practice. There is no trick that I have found to click your mind into being confident returning back to practice.

12799290_1111777882180416_1482625922181567117_n
I spent my time during injury reffing to keep my skating skills, reflexes, mind, and eyes sharp. Plus, being a Zebra is kind of fun. Photo by Phantom Photographics

Step one to coming back: Don’t beat yourself up for being scared or tentative. That said, if you are SKATING scared, you need to knock it off. Skating scared is how you hurt yourself or someone else. So if you’re on the floor and you can tell that you’re stiff or tentative, remove yourself. Go to the side of the rink, and get your legs under you a bit. There is no shame in nervousness; there is no shame in taking a step back.

The caveat is this: Eventually you have to trust yourself and try. Just like how we all have to be able to define the difference between “injury” and “effort” when it comes to pain; we have to be able to discern trepidation from actual physical inability. Yes, it’s scary. The mind is a powerful place.

I was so scared on my first night of real hitting. I kept thinking about what it felt like for my left leg to be “plucked” when I would hit someone to the outside. My ortho told me to stop being scared and play my sport. I pulled aside a skater who I trusted and asked them if I could hit them a bit at a standstill. It gave me confidence that it wasn’t going to pop at first contact. From there, I moved into the drills. I primarily made hits to the inside, gaining back my confidence.

A team mate told me that I can’t play derby if I’m afraid of hitting. So the next time I was up, breathing steadily, I took my old inside position, and just played roller derby. Did I hit as hard as I used to? No. But with each repetition I gained confidence. With each scenario, I focused more on derby, less on my leg. Trust your PT, trust your training.

step-down-collage-2
Don’t trust your quad strength? Add in this exercise! Increase the height continuously. I love using treadmills, they’re tall, they have tread on the sides, and you can increase the incline for more challenge

The thing they don’t tell you is how much it’s going to hurt to come back.

Not your injury (well maybe your injury depending on circumstances), but everything else. You see, I spent 6 years getting beat up by my friends 3-5x a week. I started with lower impacts at the beginning, and worked my way into D1 leagues. The hits are heavy and precise [mostly]. Coming back from injury, I hopped right back into the level I left, there was not a gradual ramp up. I went from 0 impact to 100% impact.

Yes, you get bruises. We’ve all seen the grape-shaped prints of our friends blushing into a nice purple shade on our arms and shoulders. We all get pad burns from our team mate’s Velcro. We get bumped in the nose by a stray helmet. These are typical and expected.

What I didn’t expect was how sore my chest and shoulders were from being braced. I have spent my off time doing push-ups, pull-ups, bench press, and every other shoulder/back/chest exercise possible. It didn’t matter. Also, the debilitating stiffness brought on from absorbing impact as a blocker seeped its way into my back, core, hips, and legs. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve run, deadlifted, squatted, sprinted, or jumped. There is no way to train on your own for being run into incessantly by world class blockers and jammers.

I actually just recommended to a team mate who is 12 weeks post op, that she should get a foam bat and she and her girlfriend could take turns hitting each other with to prepare them to come back to derby! Could be a fun destresser, and no foam bat is going to hit anywhere as hard as Tazmaniac coming in full steam.

What else I didn’t expect is the continued feeling of dehydration, mental exhaustion, and hunger. I’ve been on Team Always Hungry for a long time now, but my body is craving more food than ever. Even when I drink a gallon of water a day, it doesn’t seem to be enough. My body can’t seem to get enough protein and good fats! I crave them always.

I knew my body was going to experience some bumps, but after 2 weeks of 3-4 practices of 2-3 hours each, I feel like I have been run over by a truck. I may have been. Her name may have been Dakota Dynamite actually….

bc
Tampa always relies heavily on bracing and positional blocking. It’s up to one or two blockers to absorb the impact of full steam jammers. Photo by Phantom Photographics

They also don’t mention that you ARE going to injure something else. At least, you’re very likely to. Will it be as serious as your first injury? Probably not. Even ‘easing’ into full game play, there is an element of ‘jumping ahead that happens’. I was not going to spend 6 years getting back to D1 level play, but those 6 years had prepped my body, joints, and muscles for it.

If you had a knee or ankle injury, prepare for a hip flexor, hamstring, or groin muscle to be in pain. If you had a shoulder injury, chances are your other shoulder is going to ache more than usual. It’s the nature of imbalance. Subconsciously, we favor. Even when we’re diligent, it’s common to pull something else. Your whole body tightens unless you are forever diligent. If your calf and feet are tight, your hip flexor may pull. If your hips are tight, your hamstring may suffer.

15542424_10157933308580494_844628776821893456_n
A scene all too familiar to many of us. At least I had SKIN WARS to keep me company.

The social side of returning to derby can be odd.

Some people will come back to cheering crowds of friends, and open arms. They will have felt missed, and like their team was with them through the whole recovery process. Most of us, somewhere along the way, lose touch with people and leagues a little bit. Sometimes we do on purpose.

I know many people that have said to me, “Wow! I can’t believe how involved you’ve been while injured” (I jam coached Molly Rogers RG, reffed, and announced) “I couldn’t do it when I was injured, I was too sad.”  Pulling away was their defense mechanism. For me, being involved was my way to keep sane.

roller derby announcing ref
I went to Sting of the Hill to ref, but when I had free time, I got to work with the golden voice of Sweet Willy T. Staying involved kept me happy.

Most of us actually come back to leagues that are happy to have us, and excited we’re back but they’re not throwing parties for us. You should not anticipate a great homecoming or outpouring of affection. Know that people want you there, but they are not going to fall all over you upon your return. For me, it felt like I was transferring in again. I had been gone for almost a year and a half, living on the other side of the state. Many people were still there, but many were new. I have had to re-earn trust, demonstrate commitment, and show that I am healthy and able-bodied.

Just because you had to earn respect among your peers once, don’t think you don’t have to do it again. Just because you were on the A team before, don’t expect them to just save you a space; always expect to work for it.

Be hungry to work for it.

acl
From the moment I found out I was going to have surgery, I focused on the end goal of returning to play. Stay hungry.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from coming back it’s that you’ve gotta have a plan of recovery for after each practice day. Incorporate yoga before you come back. If you’re tight when you show up, it’s just going to get worse for you. Keep doing your PT every day. Incorporate new PT as your back, hips, and legs tighten and react to the new world of pain. Drink all the water now, so that you’re already hydrated when you get to practice down the road. If you haven’t flipped or rotated your mattress in a while – DO IT. It can make a world of difference. If your pillow is too small or flat, go to Marshall’s and nab a new one. It’s worth the $15.

Get a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, and make a foam roller out of PVC pipe. Use them liberally.

Use this time to get new gear. What hasn’t been replaced in a year? Get a new one. Just do it. Also, pick up some compression gear and impact gear; obviously I’m a big fan of Steaks Roller Derby Accessories. If you have been contemplating shin guards, go check out the soccer goodness of ArmourFlex Sport.

Cross train. Pick up a sport other than derby. Be smart about your choices, but doing something more than just skating will help your body be strong in many ways. Weights. Plyo. Sprints. Other sport. (I am fond of rock climbing personally)

Eat after practice (your body needs the supplies to rebuild your muscles), and eat in the morning (your body needs to be fed after the 7-9 hours of rest). Meal supplements, post-workout shakes, electrolyte support, multivitamins, other vitamins … you may think it’s hogwash, but I can promise you it helps. Your body needs calories, protein, fats, fiber, and carbs to keep up your energy and performance. Drop me a line at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com if you want to talk nutrition and supplement support.

14055115_10157317457075494_6299933838257533843_n

Most importantly:

EMBRACE THE FUN OF THE GAME.

I really feel that those of us who have come back from long injuries have a really great appreciation for the sport that we get to play, and we should cherish each moment that we get to execute on roller skates. I know that once my nerves about my leg subsided, I settled into really loving and executing. Yes, I still get frustrated with myself, but I am also way quicker to laugh and smile when my team mate levels me or pushes me out of bounds.

13902701_10157220895670494_4940577068614876627_n
The game and the people in it are way too much fun to be a seriouz face all the time! Laugh and love your sport!

 

I love this game. You have to love it to suffer an injury and spend the next year and a half obsessing to jump back in. Good luck, Fellow Gimps! If you have anything you’ve learned along the way, or tips on how you came back to sport from injury, please share in the comments!!

Do you love Khaos Theory? I need your help to keep it running! I pay for it out of pocket and the domain name is coming up for renewal! Want to help keep it going?
Donate Now Button
 (KTD only needs $65 to keep going!! This year I want to expand into video recipes and more HOW TO’s!)

Thank you, Phantom Photographics, for the pictures used in this blog. (Go buy photos or a shirt from him)

Phantom Photograhics

 

 

Advertisements

Khaos Theory is out there

Maybe you had never heard of me, until someone posted a blog on your wall, or maybe we’ve played in a mash-up scrimmage together in Morristown, NJ. Perhaps we danced at a H.A.R.D. after party, or you were near me and the Wreckingballs as we did push-ups for Maelstrom at ECDX. Maybe you took one of my classes at RollerCon, or Beat Me Halfway. Maybe you’ve been one of my wellness clients.

Or maybe you’re just hearing of me now.

Mr McWheely Spring Roll
Photo by Mr McWheely

I coach, write, ref, announce, and skate (when I’m not off-skates for this ACL injury). I am a health coach, crazy cat lady (currently lacking cats), and super passionate about derby, rock climbing, and lifting. I like writing about derby a lot. And a lot of you have enjoyed my blogs over the years!

 

And now I need some help with keeping Khaos Theory alive. There are two ways that you could help. One is by going to my PATREON campaign! You can support the blog directly by donating every time I post something. The second is by visiting http://www.gofundme.com/khaosACL and picking out a great reward for you or your team, and also sharing the link.

 

But let’s remember why you would want to:

Perspective Shift challenged the way you thought about weight lifting in your off skates programs. The Four Corners of Derby gave your league some ideas on how to deal with different skill levels of training. You learned some training moves for both blockers and jammers. There was that time that you found a piece about alcohol and its effect on athletes it made you think twice about binge drinking on the weekends. And when your league was going through another meltdown, you read about League Rebuilding, and realized you weren’t alone. And remember when I did all those “HIT & QUIT” features of our MRDA athletes? You were so excited to see someone who doesn’t always get attention, get a little bit of love!

Menace TC

 

Remember when you went on my YouTube and found that Tricks for the Tool Box video that helped you with transitions?

I need to get an ACL brace so that I can progress in my PT and get back on skates in June, before RollerCon. I need a vehicle so I can coach, and also so I can get back to my own training so I’m always bringing the best content to my readers and students.

 

HELP ME HELP DERBY!!! 

Http://www.gofundme.com/KhaosACL

Twitter: @KhaosTheoryDerb
Facebook: /MerryKhaos1918

coaching
Coaching at Shoreline in CT!

Crutchin’ it up: Some advice for the leg-disabled for happy tourney times

Things that are awesome: tournaments. Things that are not awesome: being injured at tournaments.

I am lucky enough to have a circle of friends that would not allow me to skip the recent International WFTDA D1 Playoffs in Jacksonville, Florida. The tournament is in my backyard, but due to my recent knee injury, I had planned on staying home with a tub of chocolate protein shake. I was planning a weekend of crying into my recovery dessert as I watched the stream and recognized my friends from afar, and cheered my team mates on through gurbled self-indulgent sobs.

d1 playoffs jacksonville
Tazmaniac of the Tampa Tantrums makes another lap during playoffs in Jacksonville. Not getting to see her destroy walls in person would have made me so sad. Photo courtesy of Phantom Photographics

Luckily, my tissue boxes were spared. WFDTA House Announcer Al B. Damm picked me up, and the now legendary DJ Ito offered up his place to crash in. I was in the building from open until close since both Al and Ito had to be there that long.

In 2012, I played Philly Roller Derby’s Block Party with the Dutchland Blitz. My knee popped in the 3rd jam, and I was put in a leg stabilizer. The next week, I piled into a tiny car with Lionheart, Toxic, and Kitty and we went to Atlanta to watch Champs. A leg stabilizer. At champs. The WORST. I forgot how bad that was until this weekend.

Convention centers don’t have wheelchairs you can use, are usually all concrete, and everything is spread out so that the space looks well used.  Here are some tips if you’re planning on attending a tournament and you’re newly injured:

d1 playoffs jacksonville
Concrete is an unforgiving surface for all people, but especially those of us with injuries. (Photo by Scott Lamb)


Borrow a camping backpack

I had a normal backpack, but I couldn’t fit as much in as I needed, which are things that are included in the other tips. A camping backpack has more room, and ways to strap things onto the outside.


Bring multiple pillows

Many tournaments have bleachers, but you can’t get close to the action. If you plan on doing ANY trackside sitting, bring a pillow to sit on, and then one to prop your leg on. Use your crutches as a barrier on either side so that people don’t get to close to the leg. Even if you plan on being in the stands, pillows are great for leg elevation and general comfort. Having a blanket or other device to sit on doesn’t hurt either.

flamingo tampa d1
In a pinch, an inflatable flamingo worked as a pillow for my knee. I was lucky that Tampa brought so many to the tournament


Bring a gallon of water

Yes, it means you’ll have to use the bathroom more often, but it means you won’t have to be refilling a water bottle all day (ie carrying a bottle to the water fountain, carrying it back. Carrying anything on crutches is awful). Besides, your body needs a lot of water normally, when you’re in healing mode, water is SUPER important


Pre-make food and bring snacks

OK, OK, I know. You’re not “supposed” to bring in food and drink to these tournaments. It really makes the venue mad, and if everyone did this on a broad scale, it could cause trouble down the line. That being said, the less I had to move, the better. Also, the concession food at this tournament was not anything that a human body should attempt sustainability on. A HEALING human body definitely should not have tried to live off of $8 frozen pizza or $7 ‘nachos’ (chips and whiz).

If concessions would increase the quality of the food they serve, it would be better but until then, I’m going to save money and give my body the nutrition it needs for healing. I had a shake a day, 2 hard-boiled eggs, a small sweet potato, a serving of pre-cooked shrimp, a ham and cheese sandwich, and dried snap peas while at the event. Before leaving for the event, I had a Healthy Choice breakfast each morning since I knew I would be half asleep and unable to cook a big breakfast. I still wanted to be sure I had hot food to start my day. If you can pre-make some protein powder pancakes and heat those up – do it! (Those are also great to pack in a baggie and snack on) Herbalife has some other awesome snacks, immune boosters, and energy drinks that I love having on hand at events with recycled air and lots of people too.


Occasionally stretch and do PT exercises

Do not do your stretches on cold concrete, make sure you have at least a blanket underneath you, and make sure you do your stretches gradually throughout the day. I skipped them on Saturday and was hurting on Sunday big time. Protip: If you’re crutching around and you’re not used to doing miles on your crutches, skip doing lots of push-ups. I did one-foot incline push-ups (to make it easier) and my pecks and back are still angry at me from overworking.

wftda d1 playoffs
Legs R Us works to get Lexi Lightspeed out of bounds in the championship bout. Photo courtesy of Phantom Photographics


When crutching, tighten your core and activate your posterior chain as part of your motion

What I really mean is “don’t crutch with just your arms”. Even at the right height, I found myself slouching when I use my crutches. When I made an effort to keep the core tight, and my spine aligned, my speed and mobility and comfort increased dramatically. Also, my abs hurt like WOAH the next day, so woooo for exercise!


Wear sneakers

Look, I’m sure you’re really used to wearing flip flops, but concrete is a cruel mistress when all you’re doing is walking on it, much less crutching and only using one foot. Your feet need the arch support and cushion of sneakers to absorb impact. This is a lesson I learned in Atlanta, since it was hard for me to put on a shoe in my stabilizer. You are going to have to go a far distance, wear sneakers. It hurts a lot worse when the edge of your flip flop catches a curb or crack in the sidewalk and twists. If you’re bend your knee to crutch, you’re going to have to keep your foot flexed to keep the shoe from falling off, which will fatigue the ligaments and muscles more, and cause more inflammation and pressure. Plus, when the shoe falls off, you’re just going to get increasingly more frustrated. (At least I did.)


Pack layers

Convention centers are cold. This weekend it was arctic level cold. I found myself unprepared. No blanket, one ¾ length shirt, one hoodie, a slew of tank tops and capri yoga pants. You’re going to be doing a lot of physically-demanding movement walking from the car to your spot, or your spot to the bathroom (that feels like it’s a half mile away), and then you’ll sit and the sweat will make you colder. Just, come prepared.

Don’t drink to intoxication

Alcohol is bad for recovery, even if it’s good for killing the pain. I’m not going to tell you to not enjoy a beverage while getting stoked out of your mind as the two seed upsets the three seed, I’m saying be smart about the drinking. Easing the pain is great, but don’t then act like your injury is fine. Also, crutching while intoxicated is a thing I never want to attempt again. I was off balance, my rhythm was off, and I kept catching the rubber stoppers on the cement, sending me forward. Learn from my mistake, Kids.


Don’t feel ashamed asking for help

I was a bad Khaos this weekend and would often leave my crutches somewhere, and complete tasks without them. What I should have done was call on those who had offered their help. You are injured and it sucks. Most of us have been there, had a close friend be there, or have thought about how we would feel if it had happened to us. While you shouldn’t treat your friends like pack animals to be used to your delight and amusement, if you need help carrying something, or really just want a pretzel or drink from the concession stand – don’t be afraid to your buddy to walk with you, or for you.

d1 playoffs wftds
Friends are one of the best part of derby. Enjoy your time with them, and don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Right Kilt Trip and Pyslocke?


Don’t let being injured stop you from enjoying your sport

You may not be able to strap on skates right now, but you can still celebrate and be involved with the sport. Tournaments will have volunteer positions that you can do while seated, so lend a hand! When you’re not volunteering, actually WATCH derby. You can learn so much by just watching how teams deal with one another. Even the blowout games have lessons to be learned in handling your cool in hard situations, how certain movement may (or may not) be effective, and how to adjust strategy when your current plan isn’t working. While you’re injured, you get to be a fan and volunteer for derby, and you can better your game through observation, internalization, and visualization.

d1 playoffs jacksonville
Pike’s Peak and Glasglow fought hard for the 9th place spot. If you watched both teams throughout the weekend, you would have seen a growth in team trust and advanced game play from Friday to Sunday. Photo courtesy of Phantom Photographics

I’ll be posting more injury related blogs in the next months, and hope to be doing some writing on analysis. Also, with the Men’s Roller Derby Association Championships coming up next month, I’m going to start my articles previewing the 10 teams going to Champs. Very exciting!

If you’re interested in sponsoring a blog, team preview or a topic, contact me at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com. I am raising money since I currently cannot work. On September 2nd I jumped off of a bouldering wall after a great day of successful climbing and my knee displaced to the right. I have a chip of the tibia, a strain in my calf, a partial tear of the MCL and PCL, a hook tear in my meniscus, and my ACL is completely gone. This will be a long recovery, but I’ll be reporting along the way!

Thank you to all my supporters around the world, and as always, if you have a topic you are interested in hearing me talk about and research, drop me a message. And thank you to Phantom Photographics for providing rad photos yet again. Go on his Facebook and like his page, buy a print, get a koozie, buy a shirt.

Phantom Photograhics
Thank you Phantom for the photos used in this blog! Visit http://phantomphotographics.tumblr.com/ to buy prints and support derby