SKATERS PLAY WITH PAIN FOR THE LOVE OF THE SPORT
by Magilla Guerilla, ARRG Bout Co-Announcer, Photos by Bob Dunnell
There is a part of derby that is almost a little taboo to talk about, a little like ‘Fight Club.’ It exists, but everyone just tries not to think about it or mention it too much. This of course is the great grim specter of injuries.
Unfortunately, injuries are a part of sports. We all know it when we watch and we all hope for the best, but they are unavoidable. Roller derby is a full contact sport. But even with pads, helmets and rules to protect everyone on the track, these skaters can and do suffer very serious injuries.
Some might say that injuries are the price you “pay to play” and I couldn’t argue with that and neither would any competitive athlete. However, this isn’t a professional sport paying top dollar to its athletes. This isn’t the college athlete that gets hurt and can just focus on rehabilitation and education or the high school athlete living at home with mom and dad.
The Arch Rival Roller Girls are professional women with jobs, children and other responsibilities beyond the track. Imagine having to deal with a broken leg or having to arrange your life around knee surgery while also juggling the rest of your life at the same time.
I don’t know about you, but as I have grown older, I have tried to avoid full contact as much as possible. Not these ladies.
There isn’t a medical staff working with these skaters to help get them into rehabilitation programs and there isn’t always guaranteed spot on the team waiting for them when they return. To recover and return to the sport they love, these skaters have to do it all by themselves.
A regulation bout has an average of forty individual jams, equaling roughly forty-plus minutes of high-impact play in the aforementioned sixty. That’s two-thirds spent by athletes skating and hitting – at every imaginable speed, angle and impact – within the confines of a bout.
During the course of a local regular season, an ARRG skater participates in these bouts once a month. If the skater is a part of an ARRG travel squad, her amount increases to at least two if not three bouts a month on average.
Add to that the numerous hours of practice and scrimmages within the span of a week, one can see that a lot of track time is logged by an ARRG skater, regardless of her tenure with the league.
Its quality time spent with the exhilarating nature of derby…and conversely time exposed to its physically-demanding pitfalls.
Bumps and bruises are commonplace in the sport. In fact, some consider the yellowish-purple “badges of honor” a component of participation. If one doesn’t have a bruise the shape and color of a burnt blueberry waffle, then they haven’t played the sport.
But at times, these badges morph into tourniquets.
Longtime fans of derby have seen scenes all too familiar. A team on bout night that sports on the end of their bench a collection of skaters that looks like the proverbial “Spirit of ’76.” Sometimes, they have slings. Sometimes, it’s crutches.
A quick perusal of the ARRG bios here at archrivalrollergirls.com and you’ll find the following injuries:
Broken finger and busted eyebrow
Jacked-up tailbone & dislocated kneecap
Torn Vastis Intermedius
ACL Reconstructive Surgery
…and those are just the things that were reported! There’s many more incidents and injuries that were not disclosed.
The study of injuries related to the sport was examined in 2008 by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association via electronic survey. Their studies revealed that – out of 1,070 respondents – 574 reported an injury that kept them from participation on one or more occasions.
That’s 46% of the skaters, folks. Of those 574 respondents, almost half were due to knee injury.
Keep in mind that the data of the survey was gathered four years ago. Given the growth of participants in the sport internationally, progression in the protective gear worn and advancements in training methods, have the percentages changed over time?
In a more recent survey conducted by the University of Utah Orthopedic Center – hailed at the time as “the most comprehensive study of roller derby injuries to date” – researchers received electronic responses from, once again, 1,000-plus WFTDA skaters.
Ultimately, the manuscript was delayed in its release. When asked in March 2011 by an online blogger – a microbiologist who coincidentally skates with the Twin City Derby Girls of Champaign, IL – as to the progress of the findings, the response was unfortunately ironic.
Said the responder,“…our statistician sustained a derby-related concussion and we had to wait for her to recover.” I think it is safe to say that sums up the study just as effectively as any presentation of statistics.
The good news is that skaters don’t take the track without some support. Per WFTDA regulation, a derby event must have a minimum of “two licensed or certified medical professionals with expertise in emergency and urgent medical care.”
For ARRG locally, that service is provided by the West County EMS & Fire Protection District, who has attended bouts since the league’s move to Midwest Sport Hockey in Ballwin, MO in April 2011.
Everyone feels the same about the services of these emergency responders, we love to have them at the bout and we never want to see them in action.
There are no guarantees in life, save the usual clichés, but the women of roller derby don’t worry about that when it comes time for a bout. They attack and hit and skate with the same passion as they did from the first time they laced up their quads. You can’t worry about the things you can’t control.
This is a full contact sport, played at full speed and on roller skates. Sure, something might happen to a skater, but I can tell you that no one is thinking about that by the time that first whistle blows. If the unfortunate does take place, the next thought in a skater’s mind is “when will I get to skate again?”
Derby girls are fearless athletes and they wouldn’t have it any other way. Neither would I.
COMING UP TOMORROW AT 8 AM FOR ARRG’s “30n30″: The countdown to Chaifetz continues. The league has been busy with spreading the word about the 2012 ARRG Local Championships on Saturday, April 28. From big, giant banners to media appearances, the quads are tightening up for the big push. We’ll keep you up-to-date with the latest and tell you what’s ahead for the final week. On Saturday, we’ll catch up with news and notes from the league as championship week approaches.
ARRG’s “30n30″ is a daily feature that examines different aspects of the Arch Rival Roller Girls – St. Louis’ first female flat-track roller derby franchise. In this section every morning at 8 AM for the entire month of April, a new feature will be presented.
Other installments of ARRG’s “30n30″: PRE-SERIES SET-UP (1) EVOLUTION (2) THE DREAM TO PLAY AT CHAIFETZ (3) LOCAL SEASON RECAP (4) ARRG ALL-STARS (5) SAINT LUNACHIX (6) ROOKIE RIVALS (7) REFEREES & NSOs (8) PRE-BOUT RITUALS (9) POST-BOUT RITUALS (10) GUERILLA UNCAGED – NO MINORS (11) ARRG VS. MEMPHIS PREVIEW (12) CHARITY (13) CHAIFETZ PUBLICITY (14) McWHEELY PHOTOGRAPHY (15) GUERILLA UNCAGED – DERBY NAMES (16) ARRG ALL-STARS VS. MEMPHIS RECAP (17) JEERLEADERS (18) SKATING MOMS (19) LUNACHIX VS. SIRG PREVIEW