For the past 3 years, I have been training to play roller derby. It hasn’t been easy — for a lot of reasons — but the one thing that has been easier than I imagined it ever could be was being a part of the Jerzey Derby Brigade family. On the track and off, I have never experienced anything but 100% support and encouragement from everyone in the league. And that’s the biggest part of why this is so difficult:
Last night, I made the decision to stop training as a player and switch entirely to reffing. I knew this would happen eventually, and have even been doing some training and reffing another ruleset, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. Early on in my training, I torqued my knee the wrong way and experienced some mild trauma. I went to the doctor, took the time off, did the physical therapy. It got better, but it never got back to 100% and a lot of the things we do in practice really exacerbate it.
Even before the original trauma, I was never going to be a great player. I’d’ve been lucky to be a good player. I’ve never been athletic…I have trouble getting my body to move where and how I want it to (you should see me dance sometime — it’s very Elaine Benes).
But I did want to get good enough that I could at least support my team on the track. At the East Coast Derby Expo this year, I had the opportunity to take a clinic with one of the best jammers in the world, Miracle Whips, and I jumped at it. I knew going in I would likely be the low man on the totem pole in terms of skills, and I was absolutely right. But Whips is an amazing coach, and took the time to scale her instructions down to my level, so I was able to participate in all of the drills and exercises.
A lot of jammer skills involve quick changes of directions and moving your body at weird angles. While running on your toestops. And getting hit. For instance, like this, only with people trying to hit you:
We did things like that for four hours. I was supposed to skate as a ref at a scrimmage the next day, but my knee felt the worst it has felt since the original injury so I sat it out. Then we didn’t have practice for a couple of weeks, so I let it rest, until I went up to practice with the team I’ve already been reffing for (hi, Firestorm!), and we did a 15 minute work line. That is a looooong time to maintain derby stance (basically, a rolling squat), and I should have known better, especially since my knee still hadn’t gotten back to normal.
The next weekend, I reffed my first game for Firestorm, and my knee felt okay-ish. Not great, but not the intense, painful ache I’d been experiencing since the clinic, either. More like it usually felt after practice before the clinic (it hurts, but low-level ache and then I ice it when I get home and it’s fine). I made it to another couple of practices and did some experimenting. Straight-up skating in circles (including crossovers): totally fine. Transitions and turn-around toestops: totally fine. Pretty much anything else: screaming knee.
So I’ve spent the past couple of weeks coming to terms with the knowledge that I physically cannot play roller derby without being in a pretty tremendous amount of pain. I’ve tried making deals with myself, like I’d make the switch after my first game, or at the end of the season, but the truth is, my knee won’t even make it through a full practice at this point, much less allow me to play a game. So, last night I let league management (and the refs and players who were at practice) know where I was at. And once again, I was met with so much kindness and support…this league, y’all. <3 <3 <3
I’m still really down about the switch…not that I don’t think I’ll both enjoy and be good at reffing, and not that I’m not already very fond of the ref crew (I totally am!)…but it’s a different dynamic. I’m not super fond of change, especially when I’m happy, and I have been super happy being part of the team at JDB. I mean, technically I’ll still be part of the league, but it won’t be the same, and I’m sad about that.
I’ve also spent the last three years feeling like a total badass…does switching to reffing make me lose some of that badass cred? I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and realized that as a ref, I will be in charge of disciplining the badasses, so I think that actually maybe makes me more badass. Other positives:
- there is a LOT of rainbow zebra and even zebracorn merch out there. I am going to own all of it. (For those not derby-adjacent, the refs really embrace the whole “zebra” thing.)
- I get to keep my derby name.
- I can be a bit more flexible about going to practice (although my plan is to keep attending as much as I can — at least every Wednesday at Firestorm and Friday at JDB)
- Maybe, possibly, not overworking my knee every week (but still continuing to train and strengthen) will allow it to actually heal up and I will be able to return to playing in a year or two. I’m not super optimistic about this right now, but it is a tiny little beacon of hope (and huge thanks to Coach Jheri for pointing this out to me last night — it helped so much).
I’m still not feeling happy about this…I had planned to switch to reffing in a few years, but I did want to play some first. I’m kind of angry at my body right now for letting me down. But I’m going to try to make the best of it and do what I can still do. <3