“I don’t want to watch this sport. I have to play it.”
That was my reaction to seeing my first derby bout. It was the first derby bout in the Kootenays , the first annual Mountain Mayhem bout between Rossland’s Gnarlie’s Angels and Salmo’s Babes of Brutality in the summer of 2010.
When I first heard about derby earlier that year, I was already covered in bruises from mountain biking, so I didn’t get too excited. I thought, “It sounds fun but I don’t need another sport that’ll give me bruises.”
I was so wrong.
Barely two weeks after my first glimpse of the sport I began my derby adventure at a freshmeat practice with the Angels, and what an adventure it has been.
Joining a derby team not only challenged me physically to wake up muscles that hadn’t been used in years and improve my balance and endurance, but it put my brain to work learning rules and strategy. I was also stoked to be part of a team again. I played lots of sports as a kid and continued to be sporty as I grew up.
But as is the story for many, I drifted away from team sports and into individual sports like snowboarding and mountain biking as I got older. I thought team sports were a thing of the past for me, so one of the most satisfying and surprising outcomes of joining derby was how great it felt to be on a team again.
Through derby I met a group of amazing women. They come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life. Many of them I now count among my closest friends.
So, I joined the Angels in October 2010. I played my first exhilarating bout against Lethbridge in January 2011. What a feeling! I loved my team! I loved this sport! I was made to play this sport!
Two weeks later disaster struck.
In an unlucky, awkward fall at training I heard a pop, saw my leg bent the wrong way and fell in a heap repeating, “it’s broken, it’s broken, it’s broken, it’s broken.”
After the laughing gas fueled hilarity of the ambulance ride to Trail hospital and the pain (unfortunately the laughing gas wore off) of being manipulated for x-rays and trussed up in a temporary splint, it turned out I had shattered my fibula, broken a large chunk off the bottom of my tibia, dislocated my ankle and torn some ligaments. In simple terms, I had broken my leg. Badly.
Before the season had even started, it seemed like my derby career might be over and done with. I was out for the season at the very least. I had surgery the next day and woke up with a 6 inch plate and 6 screws on the outside of my leg holding my fibula together and two more screws on the inside of my ankle holding my chunk of tibia back on. I also had the makings of some pretty gnarly scars.
If someone had told me at that point that I would be back to play in the championship game that year, play every bout for the Angels and the Kannibelles in 2012, be voted both skaters’ MVP and coach’s MVP for the Angels in 2012, be voted Kannibelles Assistant Captain for the first quarter of 2013, skate with the Kannibelles in the first RDAC Roller Derby Nationals in Edmonton and be in the winning line up at the 2013 Sporkanage tournament, I’m not sure I would have believed them.
Still, as my team and league mates sent flowers, care packages, cards and well wishes, I knew I didn’t want to lose everything I had so recently gained through derby. Derby is a contact sport, and injuries do happen. But no more than in any other contact or extreme sport, and you can break your leg tripping off an icy curb.
For me, all the great things about derby more than outweighed any fear of injury. I knew I wanted to get back on my skates and wasn’t going to be deterred by this minor setback of having to be non weight bearing for 6 weeks and who knows how long of physio after that.
I decided to focus on the positives of my injury, and keep a positive frame of mind. I am sure happy bones heal faster.
So, I hear you ask, what exactly were the positives of breaking my leg?
Well, I had a nice long break from work, which was overwhelmingly crazy at the time. Thanks to my very supportive and lovely boyfriend (Coach Phil Yer Pants) and family, I was exempt from all household duties and responsibilities like cooking, cleaning, and walking the dog. I had lots of time to watch movies and read, which I love, and I rediscovered my interest in crochet and created all sorts of wonderful things for myself and for my friends.
Sure there was discomfort, pain and frustration at not being able to move around and missing out on snowboarding for pretty much a whole winter, not being able to roller skate and watching all my teammates progress and get better and better without me. But as I said, I decided to keep the focus on the positives.
I also decided to keep my head in the game. I still attended Angels practices, first sitting on a chair, then on crutches, then with a walking stick, taking in all the drills and strategies. Storing the knowledge away for the day I would be able to put it into practice. I volunteered as announcer, bench coach and NSO for bouts. I coached the new intake of freshmeat in Trail, limping around and pointing my walking stick at them for emphasis (I was compared to Yoda for this!). I talked strategy with Phil Yer Pants and cheered on my teammates as they went from strength to strength, some of them making the Kannibelles and representing at the Westerns tournament in Kelowna.
In May 2011, three and a half short months after my injury, I put my skates on and skated around for 15 minutes at a practice. It was a tentative start, but I was back and the only way was up. I worked really hard at physio and I had a lot of support from Phil, friends, teammates and work, but I really believe that the key to getting back into derby so quickly was staying positive and keeping my head in the game. All I had to do once my leg was healed and ready for action was build my fitness back up. In my head, I already knew the moves and the strategies, all I had to do was apply them.
Now, nearly three years after breaking my leg at derby I have over 40 bouts and scrimmages under my belt, I have made some amazing friends and travelled to places for derby I would never otherwise have gone (Edmonton in winter, twice !?!). I am still training with the Kannibelles and have now added reffing to my derby repertoire.
I am Terror Australis and this is my derby adventure so far.
For more information about how to join visit www.kootenayrollerderby.com