The Quiet Ones: How fear hushes our injury

Taking care of ourselves needs to be priority number one in Roller Derby. We believe we cannot be a good teammate if we are falling apart at the seams: physically, emotionally, or mentally. We must achieve perfection. We must not falter.

But injury happens, and there is hesitation to talk about it openly. There is a reluctance to admit it.

More openness has been happening in the social media world about what we struggle with in our daily lives; we are becoming brave enough to own our illnesses in a public forum, and discuss our injuries with our friends miles away. You’ll find more blogs, IGs, and threads happening now around how to deal with depression in the face of practice, or anxiety because of expectations placed on them, or how badly someone’s knee swelled up after a particularly hard hit. I have seen postings about imposter syndrome, dysmorphia, misophonia (me), and bipolarism most commonly.

There are several groups online dedicated to those who have gone through injury, and how they are recovering and processing the ordeal. In these groups, we can be honest about how we reinjured ourselves, or are going to the ortho for a DIFFERENT limb, or can empathize about when a recovery is not going as we had hoped in our minds. They allow us to vent our frustration and document our journey of reintegration into our sport.

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But when we walk through the door of practice, the conversation and understanding stops. Sometimes, when we are feeling things online and want to talk about them we pause.

We don’t want that THR to see that we had a panic attack. We don’t want our captain to hear that our ankle swelled up after practice. It’s not perfect, it’s not pretty. It’s not the model athletic stone statue that we have been told to be.

When we come to practice, there is a feeling that we are under a microscope. We cannot look sad. We cannot be in pain. We cannot have an off day. We cannot let the wet wool blanket weigh us down. We cannot injure anything else. We fear showing weakness …

“Unless you are the right person.”

I hate that I have had discussions with people across the world, in every level of play, who have said that members of their league are held to different standards. If they look mean, it’s ok. If they pull a muscle in their back in the gym, it’s no problem. If they de-gear early because of personal issues, no sweat. Meanwhile, other skaters fear they will be removed from charters, blacklisted from teams, or generally forgotten among the crowd if they show ‘signs of weakness’ within our world.

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Finding out something is wrong is no one’s favorite day.

[And I’m going to venture to say this stems from the “Perfect Life” that we are expected to upkeep on our SnapChats, Facebooks, and Instagrams.]

You’re not allowed to be disappointed in yourself. You’re not allowed to show that disappointment. You’re certainly not allowed to leave the track so that others aren’t affected by your disappointment. All this, unless you are one of the few granted human status because they are that good or popular.

I have seen people in leadership roles belittle others who decide not to push through injury. For years, I have thought twice about sharing my journeys and experiences because “Why would someone put you on a team if you have bad knees?” or “Maybe you wouldn’t get benched if you weren’t always talking about your injuries on Facebook” or “Well, we can’t give you feedback. You look like you’re always about to cry.”

So what happens? People hide the injuries. They don’t admit the have a high ankle sprain because there is a game coming up. They avoid bracing “to get better at a different position” but really it’s because their shoulder is searing with pain. They play off how hard they hit their head when they fell at home, because they don’t want to be concussion tested.

And how do you think this all plays out later when the weakness is tested. I know I tore my ACL because I refused to admit I was playing on a high ankle sprain. Friends have torn rotator cuffs, cracked the bones in their feet, or get Second-Impact Syndrome from falling.

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Injury has been part of my whole derby life, and even when smiling I often have Resting Sad Face™. Photo by Christopher W Weeks

 

I am tired, folks. I am writing this and I’m just mentally exhausted with trying to understand all of the rights and wrongs going on in our world right now beyond derby. There is so much hate and anger in humans, and tackling this issue seems so daunting. Usually in my blogs, I would go forth with “here are some ways we can deal with it”, but honestly …. I do not know how. This is a culture thing inside of roller derby.

How do you we make it ok for us to be human? Especially in a world where some people cannot even exist without fighting for their space. We say we’re inclusive and we say we’re forward thinking but our community is a product of the society we live in. There is so much to overcome, and to add to the classism, sexism, racism, transphobia, etc that we contend with, now there is the fear of honesty.

I bonded with a teammate when we admitted to each other last year that we downplay our pain. We don’t want “to be that player that is always hurt, or made of glass.”

As a coach, I keep telling my team members that if they’re sick, injured, or mentally unwell it is OK. It does not make them a disappointment. They are not letting anyone down, and that derby will still be here when they are healthy. As a player I fight against it daily.

Captains and coaches have to understand that we are not deities formed from clay. Our teammates have to have empathy and understand that we all suffer through different issues. Prehab programs to keep skaters physically healthy could help, and rehab options in house are great for skaters coming back or with small injuries. Sometimes, just letting folks who feel alone know that they are not can be a catalyst for mental recovery.

I just had a huge panic attack simply through the effort of trying to make a point. I deleted everything that I said. Tried to erase it, and felt like erasing myself. All I can think was, “I should stop officiating. If I cannot even make it understood that I was not on the offensive, and that I am saying the same thing as everyone else… why should I be allowed to officiate? If no one is listening to me here, why should they anywhere?” And for those of you with anxiety disorders, you can imagine the downward spiral from there.

[No, I am not lost on the irony of a writer having a panic attack as a result of stating an observation of the life surrounding.]

Stigmas are everywhere and they pervade our culture. We need to stop judging each other and start listening. We need to start understanding. We need to stop being afraid of admitting pain. We need to stop being afraid to admit trepidation. We should be allowed to be disappointed. We should be allowed to be injured, to be broken, and to need a moment to recover without guilt.

We are a family. We need to start treating each other more as such, and less as simply stepping stones to get to the next goal on the list. So hey, Roller Derby? Let’s love each other a little more and break away from expectations of perfection, shall we?

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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