I wasn’t planning to skate the night I broke my leg. I had skated in a bout with my Roller Derby
league, the Barbed Wire Betties
, on a Saturday. I had a killer workout practice the following Sunday and was suffering from hamstring pain (that I still have). I had told myself I was not going to skate, to give the hamstring a chance to heal.
Still, I geared up, warmed up, and started practice, but I was only kind of into practice that day. We were practicing a drill for blocking an opponent out-of-bounds and then quickly transition to skate in the opposite direction. I figured we had done the move plenty of times and I was first to perform the drill. I performed the block and when I stopped, I realized I was facing the wrong direction. “How did that happen,” I thought, and I stepped to turn around. As I stepped, it felt like my skate hit a slick spot on the floor and I went down. As I pulled my leg out from under myself, I saw my skate dangling and the end of my tibia sticking up in a way it was just not suppose to stick out. The referee about 15 feet in front of me saw the whole spectacle and had some priceless facial expressions throughout the experience. I remember I looked from my broken ankle to his face and I confirmed my suspicion that indeed this was bad.
That moment was when my emotional roller coaster started. We had just had a lecture about not getting injured because we needed all our skaters healthy for the bout coming up. I dropped the F bomb many times in a row because I knew I wasn’t going to be skating in that bout. I knew I wasn’t going to be skating at all for a while. I had probably just traumatized some of my teammates. Oh, and it hurt. The trained personnel that were also my teammates at that practice kept reminding me to breathe. I kept saying, "It’s broken!" and they said, "Maybe it’s just sprained." (Clearly they hadn’t seen the angle that my skate was at).
A VERY short ambulance ride later, I was in my room at the ER. One of my teammates was on duty as the Head ER nurse that night. My Derby Wife had ridden over with me and she did a great job of keeping me calm and laughing (at least that is how I remember it). It was a long night in the hospital. When my Derby Wife and her referee husband left for the night, I burst into tears. My girlfriend and I were in the room alone, and it was the first time I let go of trying to be tough. I lost it. All of the doubt and pain and concern and just the gravity of the situation came down all at once.
"What if I never skate again?" "What if I never walk again?" "What if the pain never stops?" Every of these questions would continue to haunt me over the next several months of recovery.
I had surgery and went back to work four days later. Once I was off my pain medication I began to return to practice. My second practice back after surgery was the next major blow to my emotional recovery. One of my teammates, going through her Fresh Meat training, went down in a scrimmage and broke her ankle. My heart broke and my stomach turned. I made myself useful and cleared the way for the paramedics, and then I hid in the corner and tried not to cry.
After that, practice was harder to watch. The weekend after the break, I watched the WFTDA playoff games on the internet. For the first few jams, when someone would fall, I’d get a little twinge of concern, but quickly got over that. Over the next few weeks, there was usually a threshold for what I could watch at practice. After witnessing a bunch of my teammates falling, I would go sit on the bench and try not to watch. It was both frustrating and irritating. I wanted to be as useful to the team as I could. Some people got it, some didn’t.
The other two main things that had been frustrating and irritating were that several of my teammates expressed their concern about if this were to happen to them. I understood this. Breaking an ankle is in the back of the mind for many of Derby girls. People said to me, “That would be devastating,” or “I wouldn’t be able to keep coming to practice,” and the all too common, “I’m so freaked out, what if that was me?”
I knew at any moment, it could be any one of these teammates saying these things. But at that time, they were skating and it was MY leg that was broken.
I became very emotionally taxed and started lashing out at other girls on my team. I took things very personally. I lashed out at a few girls for not understanding that I wasn’t ready to joke about my injury. It wasn’t funny to me (it’s still not). I wanted to quit. I felt like I was wasting my time going to practice. The team was in turmoil and I didn’t even get the benefit of skating. My stress was through the roof. I was getting the statements from my insurance and that was just adding to the overall feeling that I was never going to get over this. Even if I could skate again, I’d never be able to afford skates with these medical expenses.
Finally, the day came when I my orthopedic doctor said he didn’t need to see me any more and that if I wanted to skate, I could. It was an amazing feeling. From the beginning he had said 5 months, and others were saying 6. However, after only 3 months, he cleared me. I was giddy, but I was also terrified. Throughout my recovery, I had been hooked up with a Facebook group of other Derby people who had broken bones or had serious injuries. I had been telling my girlfriend that I should just quit now, and then I wouldn’t have to worry about getting back on skates. I had a lot of doubts. "What if I couldn’t do it?" "What if I don’t pick up the skills again?" And the biggest question was, "What if I get hurt again?"
Could I really go through all of this again? The Facebook group had gotten me through a lot of my doubt, a lot of the stress, and normalized almost all of my experiences; it also scared the crap out of me. Several girls in the group had re-broken shortly after returning to Derby. What if that was me?
Ultimately, the girlfriend said we are going skating. We went and I rented some sketchy skates from a nearby rink and I skated. I got comfortable and it still brings tears to my eyes, I felt good. I didn’t have to give up on this sport that I loved. It was by no means easy. I could feel my plate rubbing. I was still in pain. At one point, I slid a little and I thought I was going to puke on the rink. I kept my wheels under me and I kept skating.
A week later, my PT told me, that under no circumstances would she suggest that I skate in my current condition. This was another psychological blow. I thought I was getting better, my orthopedic doctor said that I was good to go, but my therapist said that I could seriously hurt myself.
The next few weeks were hard, knowing that I had this piece of paper saying that I can skate, yet listening to professionals and to my body and not putting skates on my feet. The only thing that kept me from skating more was the fact that the skates that I had been wearing were two-and-a-half sizes too big. This may or may not have had anything to do with the break, but my brain wouldn’t let me put them back on. So, I didn’t have skates anyway.
Then it felt like, out of no-where, my physical therapist told me, “You should go skating this week” The panic and excitement was overwhelming. I went. I rented some less sketchy skates and it was amazing how much better it felt. I could skate! I was still afraid to stop, so the wall and I became friends. It was really good to know that I was allowed to skate and that I was doing OK.
I borrowed a set of skates from a teammate and started skating again during Derby practice. The first time I walked into our practice space with my gear in tow, my stomach did a summersault. Again, I was frustrated. I’d been walking into that space for a year, so why couldn’t this just be easy? My Derby Wife was there for me again, and talked to me while I skated at practice for the first time. It eased my nerves and settled my stomach.
I am determined to work on one skill at each practice, until I can be cleared for contact again. I have worked past a lot of fear. I want to keep focusing on the future.
I really try to function to in the realm of everything happens for a reason. From the beginning of my recovery, I started trying to learn what I could from this whole experience. I learned to ask for help and needed lots of it! I learned to listen to my body. Not only during the recovery, but if I had not geared up that day, maybe things would be different. My girlfriend is willing to sacrifice for me and I for her. There is a lot of fear and anxiety, but I probably won’t vomit, and I will likely be fine. If I’m not fine, I can get through it. Derby has been many things for me this past year. Both stress relieving and stress inducing. I know that I still have a lot of recovery ahead of me, but I will come back, stronger, and more determined than before my injury.
by "Ruby Bruiz-Her"
Editor Note: This writeup is a true personal account, published with permission of the author.