It’s been a while since I last wrote, and since I haven’t done many noteworthy things lately, I guess now is as good a time as any to talk about how I almost walked away from derby at the beginning of this month.
tl;dr I bit off more derby than I could chew and am working on saving myself from choking on it
I don’t think I ever posted about it when it happened the first time, but this season did not go as expected because it turned out to be my last. Back in February, I took a very hard but very legal hit from one of my (now former) teammates during practice that sent me flying backwards. While I didn’t hit my head, I landed so hard on my butt that it shot right up my spine and made it feel like I did.
For anyone who has actually seen me skate, you’ll know that I am no stranger to falling; on my butt, on my knees, on my hips, wherever. Part of why I think I could half-ass my way through a bout as a jammer (or a blocker, for that matter) is because I basically bounce off the floor. But as soon as she hit me (again, very legally) and I fell on my butt and my head hurt, I knew something wasn’t right. So I crawled off the track, took off my gear, emailed my editor to ask for a sub the next day — I was scheduled for a night cops shift, so while normally I just play catch-up, I actually needed a sub for this — and went home and cried.
Backing up even further, at some point while learning to NSO (specifically scorekeeping) with the league on the other end of the state, I got to talking to their scoreboard operator, whose career had ended due to concussions. Inspired by her chats, and also having read “Concussion” by Jeanne Marie Laskas, I vowed to abide by a “one strike and you’re out” rule. Unlike NFL players (and, ahem, some other skaters), I was going to be progressive and stuff and actually acknowledge that concussions are bad and stop skating after my first one.
Hence the crying back in February.
Fast forwarding a bit, I ended up sticking it out until our last regularly scheduled game in September, partially because we had lost so many vets over the off-season (by the end of the season I was a vet, which tells you how hard up we were for skaters) and also I wanted a full playing season, dammit. I also decided that when I was done, I wasn’t going to stop skating entirely but rather switch to reffing; again, part of it was wanting to stick with the league and the fact that we reeeeeeally need refs, and part of it was that I had already spent at least $400 on gear and was not going to let that go to waste.
Between the hit in February and my last game on September 23 in Vermont, I did end up hitting my head not once but twice: once during practice in August and once in that last game. That last one more pissed me off than anything because I was like “seriously this is my last game,” plus the floor had like no traction and it was a guest skater from another CT league who hit me so she shouldn’t have been there in the first place, but whatever.
It was a little weird going from playing to just coaching. It’s not like the 3s ever gave me a hard time about my decision, other than a few who wanted me to come out of retirement for our surprise November game since we had ordered our uniforms for mid-August and they didn’t come in until October. I still went to Jersey for that game, this time as a ref, and while I didn’t do terribly (I called five penalties, all on our girls because I know their numbers, and I only forgot two hand signals), it just didn’t feel the same.
This is the part where my brain started working against me. Self confidence has never been my strong suit, and because other people (not on our league) had continued to play after concussions, I started to feel like I let down my team by leaving after what wasn’t even a concussion. Reffing came somewhat easily to me since I had NSOed and played, but sometimes the skaters would give me a hard time for my calls (I know some of them were crap, but they knew I was learning), so I started taking that personally too. And then came break.
Last year, we took off I think two or three weeks for Christmas because a lot of people were going to have attendance issues anyway with the holiday, but this year we voted to end for the year the week of Thanksgiving. The same attendance logic applied, plus with losing so many vets last offseason, they wanted to give people time to take a step back and regroup physically and mentally to avoid burnout. I was kind of looking forward to it since I was starting to feel down, and then all the 3s were gung ho about going to the gym 5 times a week during break and going skating and starting completely arbitrary diets and stuff, all things that are kind of the antithesis of break, at least I thought.
So what did I do? Project my self-hatred onto them and make myself think that they hate me for not working out full-time and eating nothing but kale. Despite the fact that we’re on break. Despite the fact that I’m a ref and would argue that I’m not an “athlete,” at least in the sense that I was an “athlete” when I was playing. (I think part of it was that I got put on that stupid no-dairy thing again and was permanently hangry from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Not having cheese was bad enough, let alone the overexaggerated and likely fabricated sense of self-righteousness my teammates had about not eating like a fat lard over the holidays.)
Not sure if I posted this ever either but also this year I started helping out with our newly-established junior derby league, going from volunteer with the intent of reffing to coach to VP. Juniors took a holiday break around the same time, but right around this time we started the process of merging efforts with the other junior league in the state. Combine that stress with my issues with the adult league and I started to wonder if I should have just hung up my skates.
(Of course, I had just bought new-to-me skates for about $350. That shouldn’t have been a deciding factor in my wellbeing, but it was.)
Instead, I talked to my derby mom and twin about how I was feeling, and my derby mom told me that I was burning out and that I needed to take a break. No skating, no meetings, no Facebook groups or messages, complete cut-off. She said ideally I should go 30 days, short enough not to write off derby completely but long enough to miss it and want to come back.
Did that happen? Not entirely. That Friday was our end of the year gala (that I had invited my boyfriend down from NY to go to), and Dec. 9 to Jan. 2 isn’t 30 days. I also didn’t completely tune out juniors stuff because of the merge and also coaching stuff for the adults because I had to chip in on ref things. And I had to buy new toe stops and guards for the new skates. But I muted our group, most of the other derby groups I was in, and have tried to avoid talking about it. Do I feel all hunky-dory? Again, not entirely. Self-confidence still isn’t my strong suit. But I do feel better about the whole thing.
I still have a few days to go before Jan. 2, which is the first day of juniors practice and the league meeting for the adults, but I have thanked my derby mom several times for possibly saving my derby career. I mean, she couldn’t save me from the first (or second, or third) sub-concussive hit, but if she hadn’t told me to go on this break, I’m not sure I’d be going back.
Besides, I really wanted to enjoy those new skates.