Friday, February 10, 2012

When Is It Time to Stop? The Scream Weaver Story

Scream Weaver is a vet who skates for the Palmetto State Roller Girls.  She was seriously injured playing roller derby, and raises some profound questions that may be unsettling to the rest of the skaters out there.  How would you handle a career ending injury?  Have you contemplated the fact that this sport could cause you to be bionic in the future?  Read her story and ask yourself, how far will you go for derby?

I doubt I was the first patient to ever burst into tears in the orthopedic surgeon’s office, but by the look on the doctor’s face he hadn’t seen too many. I apologized quickly, mildly embarrassed at myself. He handed me a Kleenex gently, and began to tell me about his years of experience, his success rates for patients like me...

A middle-aged woman in otherwise good health

I giggled between sobs, shook my head, and started to interrupt him, but I couldn’t. Words coated and stuck to the back of my throat, unable to go anywhere. He slipped out of the room quietly, leaving me with his nurse to start the pre-surgical paperwork.

C 6-7 disc herniation with spinal cord impingement

The pain, at least would go away. Truth be told, most of me was willing to hang up my skates for a chance to have full function of my left arm back. The pain was as if a blacksmith had taken a poker from the coals and lodged it in my left shoulder blade. It ran from shoulder to forearm, and unlike any injury I have sustained before or since, I could find no comfortable position to ease my pain.  I spent the majority of time holding my elbow into my side in a weird Bob Dole-esque pose, and the lack of sensation in my fingertips made it difficult to scribble my southpaw signature anywhere. My wedding was in three months. It had to be done.
1 titanium plate
4 screws
No more derby.

It wasn’t as if there was a great spectacle of a career- ending accident (a la Tart of Darkness), that would have been, I don’t know…respectable. I always imagined myself ending my career by landing a massive hit on someone twice my size that sends both of us tumbling across the track and into the stands. Then being wheeled out of a bout venue on a stretcher, giving the thumbs up to my team mates while under the influence of copious amounts of pain killers. I didn’t get that. I simply went to practice and came home. I knew I felt pain in my back, but I was too-cool-for-the-doctor- tougher- than- that-I’ll just take some Advil and I’ll be fine. The next day my body was so overwhelmed with pain that my fianc√© (now husband) had to dress me and rush me to the doctor.
Weaver makes surgical steel sexy.
Waking up in the recovery room was my first pain free experience in months. I could tell I was going to be my idea of normal again within 10 seconds of coming out of my medically-induced sleep. Recovery was quick.  So quick, I guess, I surprised myself when I asked my doctor when I could start playing derby again.  He rolled his eyes, but then, he promised me he would do everything he could to help me play again. He was an athlete too, and he understood my love for my sport (and has since become a major sponsor for out team).

5 months later I was cleared to play.

I have my good days. Sometimes I still feel like I am least in my late twenties again. I can still get around the track when I need to, but my days as a primary jammer are gone.  I’m happiest when I am at the back of the pack, with a long view of the incoming jammer.  Three years later, my plate and screws have become a part of what I call my “bionic wonderfulness” – an inherent part of who I am and how I play, but also something different- they made me realize how much I love this sport, and how much I am willing to lose to play it. Since then, I have lost my PCL ligament, torn my meniscus, separated my shoulder, and sprained my ankle too many times to count, but I keep going. When is it time to stop?

I put in a call to the above mentioned Tart of Darkness, Head Referee for the Palmetto State Roller Girls. Tart’s accident was spectacular- I am not afraid to say that. On June 1st, 2008, she tripped over sprawled out legs and landed on her right arm. I saw the fall, but didn’t realize what happened until I heard her scream. As then-president of the league, I followed the ambulance to the hospital, and sat with her during x-rays and morphine drips.  Two hours later, I was calling her mother to tell her about Tart’s shattered elbow and arm.  She told me that night that she was done with derby.  Her tone was somber, but emphatic, and she was completely at peace with it. She gave her right arm for the sport. What else could I ask of her?
Courtesy of Shannon Stewart
I asked her if she could think of anyone who had plates like we did, and kept playing; thinking that surely I had missed SOMEONE. What about ___________. Her answer was always the same- nope, no metal, just a cast/surgery. She says I’m the only one crazy enough to keep skating. I can’t believe it. The lure of this sport is just too strong to keep certain people away from it. Skaters center their entire universe around derby- derby practice, derby bouts, derby social functions- and having that ripped away is a traumatic, identity changing ordeal. One that can’t be overcome by everyone.
 I keep asking around about skaters like me- those who have earned their “heavy metal” from derby and keep at it. I hear about those who have had plates due to prederby accidents or surgeries (Palmetto State had a girl with steel rods in her back from scoliosis), but I can’t seem to find any whose “bionicness” is derby-earned.
So, I ask you, where is the heavy metal? Does it affect your play? Do you think about it during the game? When is it time to stop?


  1. Pyro Maim-Ya, Trigger Mortis and Vanna Rockin’(all of Assassination City Roller Derby in Dallas)call themselves the Bionic Triplets. They've all got enhanced parts thanks to derby. And lemme just say that it's motivating and awesome to have role models out there who go through serious injuries only to come back badder and stronger. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Lordy, woman - I can't believe we haven't crossed paths before now! I've been asking the same questions. :) March 1st 2011 I shattered my left tibia and fibula at practice. I felt and heard the bones break. It was nasty. Two steel plates and 12 screws - looks like a bad drywall job. My surgeon privately told my husband I'd never play again, but my PT was a rock star, and I came back to full contact in early December. Just played my first game against CQS January 29th. This will be my fifth season of derby, and I've never appreciated every single practice so much. I'm astonished at what my body has overcome. At 44, a lot of my friends thought I was more than a little crazy to work so hard to get back on the track, but I do love this game so much. And if I didn't maybe I'd still be limping around - wanting to play made me work very hard to get this leg back in shape. It still hurts most days, but it's going to hurt whether I play or not, so might as well have fun, right? It's not going to break again, that's for sure. ;)

  3. Iona Trailer & Double Barrel Bambie are bionic skaters still bouting @ 40+ :) I am bionic too & 42, but never skated, only-refereed. Loved the story about Scream & Tart. Thanks Q!

  4. I'm just glad we have so many older chicks in derby!

  5. ...oh, and to answer the actual questions (duh): the metal does affect my play - I haven't regained 100% of my pre-injury range and strength yet, but it's continuing to improve and I believe the 2nd year of recovery will be better than the first. My lateral movement is a little different than it used to be - I had to come up with new ways to get from here to there, and my Smith Scabs knee pads get in my way now - they never used to. I have some PainCheaters on order, and I think that will help a lot. All that said, players are always surprised to learn I have a bionic leg, so I clearly notice all of this much more than anyone else does. The jammers on my team still mutter "crap" when I get on the track in front of them at scrimmage. :)

    I don't think about it all when I'm playing. I also play power a lot, and I'm too busy clocking people. ;)

    It will be time to stop when I'm ready to stop, or when I can no longer effectively play. I can't let a big injury stop me, or why did I bother suffering through all that recovery work? I can't assume there will be another big injury. Maybe there will be. Maybe not. If I had to worry about everything that could happen, I'd never get in my car or cook pork. Part of the beauty of derby is that is forces us to live in the moment. You can't think about that block you missed in the first period or the traffic ticket that needs to be paid next week - you have to be 100% present in the game for your team, and that's how I'll keep on playing until I can't anymore.

  6. I've cracked my tailbone, broken my collarbone, twisted countless ankles, and sprain my middle finger. Last summer I snapped my foot and had a pin inserted to speed healing and get on the track faster. I've been playing for three years now and my drive to achieve is even greater. After three years of hard work I'm still only B team level because every time I make progress I break something. The pin in my foot feels like an ice pick when I skate, but I keep doing it because I can't give up. Although each break has set me back, it's taught me so much more. I now drop my shoulder blade when I hit and skate harder with an improved under push due to my metal. I keep coming back for more because I can't let my body beat me. Mind over matter.

    Happy skating!
    Bloodshed Red

  7. I sport some pre-derby metal in my lumbar-sacral spine due to Double Spinal Fusion Surgery for 2 severely herniated discs with nerve impingement. I have had a piece of my right hip shaved and added as a bone graft at L4-L5, 6-2inch titanium screws (one of which has snapped in half due to derby), 1rod, 3 plates, and 12 pins. Basically, my spine from L3 down was rebuilt with bone and metal. Luckily, I have escaped any injury more than the snapped screw. Between that and some other medical issues ( I still love derby), but I'll stay on the sidelines. : )

  8. broke the tip of my left fibula in April '10 (xrays on facecrack). it was minor compared to the breaks described above, but was still bad enough that it needed bionics. i thought about it lots when i first got back on skates (12 weeks), and for about 6 months, i skated better than i ran. it took almost year before it stopped swelling from activity. even with regular activity and rehab, the strength in my ankle is not the same. that ankle gets tight often and i usually want it adjusted after every practice or run (not that i get it). i've taught friends and family how to do it, so i wouldn't have to pay a chiro every time it feels tight. occasionally, i experience pain when i bang the plate and non-flush screw heads on the floor. Other than that, i don't think about it while practicing or playing anymore, but i still don't have the range of motion i used to have... my crossovers aren't as deep.

    i missed 3 practices in 2010, one of them being the day of surgery. i continued to lead practices and bench coached while hopping around on one leg. some were worried for me, some were entertained by my one foot hopping and jawing at the refs. i accomplished my goal of playing in my first game (coed OSDA) 6 months after my injury. getting through the recovery process was tough, but i'm glad to have proven to myself that i was tougher. i wear the scar proudly as a reminder of the sacrifices i've made for derby, and why.

    i firmly believe that if you want it, you'll make a way to get it... whatever IT is.

  9. I have a bionic leg from derby, I broke my tibia and fibula in November 2009. I had to have 2 surgeries about 5 days apart. After about 6 months of healing and rehab, I returned to the track. I could definitely tell that my skating abilities were affected and every time I fell I felt pain in that leg, especially if it was a quick movement. Nevertheless, I continued on determined to play in a game again. I was going to get that chance, but in November 2010, I herniated a disc between L5-S1 and suffered severe sciatica. After surgery on my spine, I said that's it, I'm done and thus ended my days of playing derby. I still am involved though, I announce at games and right now I'm helping to run a junior derby camp. Once you get derby fever, it's hard to imagine your life without the sport!

  10. I shattered my knee cap in 2011 was advised to hang up my skates, to make a long story short it took 3 months to fully comeback. I found an identically injured skater that came back and made her recovery time a challenge to be beat. Although we have never met she is my personal hero in roller derby, and keeps me "mean/violent" on the track.

  11. Felicious Intent of the Ohio Roller Girls broke her ankle, got a plate/screws and came back. She's over 40. Fancy Shennanigans, also of OHRG, broke her leg, got a plate/screws and skated with the league for a while before dropping down to Rec League because of time/family obligations.

    Our coach, Triptease, shattered her ankle at practice. She has a lot of hardware in there. It was a derby ending career, so she became our coach. But I have faith that she'll be playing derby again soon. Maybe for OHRG, maybe for rec league...I don't think she can stay away!!

    Personally, I just tore my ACL, MCL, and medial meniscus after a hit on a gigantic jammer just outside of the pack(who was subsequently eaten, muahahahahaha). I'll have titanium screws after the ACL reconstruction, so I don't know if that counts...but I plan on coming back (after my 9 months of hell waiting to be cleared again).

    Injuries suck...I have been putting feelers out on twitter for a super secret government lab to turn me into an indestructable cyborg--but no one has answered the call yet...

  12. I have metal installed in me permanently (radius & ulna each have a plate and several screw on my dominate arm) from derby, and that limb constantly complains that it's not like new, but the heavy metal is not what stopped me. The hidden brain injuries of too many concussions are why I'm not skating in contact any more. It was very hard to continue to go to practice and just skate because I wanted to play and do the contact drills too, so I gave up on practice (which freed up a lot of time, so that's cool). I still skate at the rink and on the trail. I still NSO for my league and other leagues. I can still coach newbies on skating & hitting better, even if I can't really hit them. I'm working with other locals to start a Junior league. And, I'm selling skates & gear at my shop in Bloomington, IN, Rolling Thunder Fun Factory. My counselor says I still haven't fully mourned the "death" of my derby skating career, but I think that's because it's not entirely dead - I am still involved. I just want to keep wiping my own butt for the rest of my life, so, no thanks on risking more concussions. Sigh.

  13. I busted 2 bones in my rt ankle shortly after joining derby and now have a 12 inch plate and 10 screws in there. I am just now about to participate in my first home bout, 18 months later, yes my injury affects my play, my right ankle isnt nearly as strong as it should be and if I go down on my left knee I have to switch legs to get up, but I am working on it, and getting stronger everyday. Pyro-maimya from AC has been a huge inspiration to me to get back to it.

  14. Hi All! I'm 39 and will be 40 in August (wow, that sounds crazy. I feel like I'm 29!). I just suffered a trimalleolar ankle fracture in my first ever bout on May 19th! As fresh meat, I was initially assigned as inside blocker on all of my lines. However, our bench coaches decided we would do hockey lines. Yay for me! I get to be a jammer in my first ever bout?!? Awesome!

    Well, I was going up against a vet, but I didn't care, I wanted to score some points for my Bathtub Betties. The opposing jammer had already gained lead jammer status and just as I was rounding a corner, doing a crossover, one skate on the track, I was hit by an opposing blocker. I went down and immediately tried to jump back up and go after her. Only thing was my leg wasn't having it. I couldn't understand why I couldn't jump up til I looked down and saw my foot dangling from my leg! Crazy. Surreal. Unbelievable. I did not feel anything! I did not cry. I did not scream and holler. I just kept pointing at my foot in disbelief. My bench coach Deadly Sweet, took such good care of me as did fellow teammates Rapwna Flowers, Sprinklesaurus Rex and Noelle Bows. I could not ask for a better group of supportive women! Bath City Roller Girls are friggin Amazing! The bout was called off, the girls said they didn't feel like finishing the bout with me in such dire straits.

    Back to my injury, I was immediately taken to the hospital (I tweeted about my injury while waiting for the ambulance, during the ride to the hospital and the whole time I was in the hospital). I was scheduled for surgery the next morning at 10:30. I have heard stories of people waiting days and even weeks before having surgery. I'm not sure what the pros and cons are on that front but I am so thankful to have my surgery over with so I can get on with the business of healing my body. I have a metal plate with 6 screws. I just got a plaster cast last tuesday. My awesome surgeon, Dr. Balazsy, wanted to put me in a walking boot, but I was scared. I'm not even going to lie, I didn't think I was ready for that. I go back next week for the boot, so two weeks total, with this plaster cast.

    Now, as far as me and roller derby are concerned, I'm in love! My husband of 21 years was so upset about my injury. While we were waiting for the orthopedic doctor in the ER, he said I was too old and because I have Lupus, I really should have never started derby in the first place. But that's the thing, I have Lupus, it doesn't have me! I want to live my life! I love derby. I don't know if my injury is a career-ender. I do know that there are two Grrrls in my league (Dixie DestroyHer and Spanky B Hines) that had very similar injuries and are on on that track kicking ass and taking names. My coach Darryl B. Payne says that I can rehab my ankle and be bout ready if I want it bad enough and he'll train me.

    Right now, I'm torn. As much as I love derby, I just want to be able to walk without a limp. So I'm just taking it day by day. I stay in bed with my leg elevated at least 22/23 hours out of the day. I'm focused on healing my body. I am so blessed to be alive and kicking, albeit it with one leg right now, and that's not lost on me.

    Sheba O'Baby
    Derby <3

  15. We've got two skaters on the Peoria Push Derby Dames who have bionic ankles and are just as good as they were before the injury. I'm joining that club as soon as I can get clearance from my physical therapist and hope to say that I'll regain most if not all of my skating prowess back :) But at the very least I'll be skating/playing again.

    Triple Flip-Out