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health + well-being

Roller Derby Broke My Ankle

September 21, 2016
I broke my ankle playing roller derby, and it made me wonder why athletes are so eager to return to a high risk contact sport.

On July 18th, I was struck down by my own passion: roller derby. I was skating at practice with my team the D-VAS, and I took a fall, just like I have a thousand times before. Only this time I saw my foot twist all the way around and snap back like a spring. Yikes.
First, let me quickly explain roller derby (I’m sorry but you can’t rely on “Whip It” alone). The Toronto Roller Derby, is a part of the WFTDA, which means we skate on a flat track in a big oval, trying to race, jump, push, block and hit each other. One player scores points, while the others try to stop the opponent from scoring their own. It’s a contact sport. I’ve been warned of the dangers. Everyday, injuries happen — in sports and in life — and roller derby is not to blame. This experience got me thinking about why skaters (and all athletes) are so eager to return to something that will likely bring them more pain.
Illustrations by Kate McDermott
I’d never broken anything before, but I knew what it meant when you feel your body go “pop”. My teammates and coaches came to my aid and shuffled me off to the hospital. I was hardly in any pain at all — I was either in shock or I am way tougher than I realize. I was offered all sorts of drugs all night in the hospital, but I declined (not even an Advil!). When I showed everyone the scans of the impressive three breaks in my ankle, they answered with equal cries of, “You’re such a champ” and “You didn’t even cry?”
After my rough night in the ER, two hopeful weeks of laying on the couch and willing my bones to knit back together, and a short stay in St. Joseph’s Health Centre, I had surgery to insert a plate and six screws into my shattered bones. I’ll be in a cast now for at least 4 more weeks, but I’m not the least bit discouraged about playing the sport.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again – injuries (and MAJOR injuries) occur on a regular basis in roller derby. But there is also a strong pull back to the sport. Luckily, I found out a few online communities of skaters sharing their experiences of derby injuries. Eventually, we hope to return to the game that put us in this position. It’s comforting knowing I’m not alone on this long road of recovery.
Professional athletes have teams of surgeons and physiotherapists, and more than enough resources to rehabilitate. For us amateurs, what’s the deal? Do we enjoy pain and hardship? From debilitating painkillers, to mandatory time off work, to sometimes even losing a job, recovery is hard on the body and the wallet. On top of that, getting around anywhere is exhausting. Even if I did have a job I could do in my current situation, it would be a nightmare trying to get there since I’ve discovered almost nowhere is accessible (I’m especially looking at you, TTC).

Against all odds, I’m still feeling optimistic. I’ve learned from watching the online progress of my fellow injured skaters that there is a foreseeable end. Every step (or crutch hop) brings me closer to returning to my sport and to feeling like myself again. Roller derby and the vibrant, supportive community is such an important part of my life. Nothing – not even broken bones – will tear me away from that. I’ll keep resting, I’ll keep practicing, I’ll work hard at my physiotherapy, and I will skate again soon.
After all this time and all this hell, I’ve realized the answer to my question is simple: the highs will always outweigh the lows when it comes to something you love. High risk = high reward. People break their ankles every day stepping off a curb, at least I broke mine doing something amazing.

Kate is a cross-disciplinary designer and craft lover, known to worship at the shrine of minimalism, and gaze lovingly at the moon. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her work!