Whoever coined the phrase “your body is a temple” was right about mine, because over the years I have managed to destroy it slowly (and sometimes quickly). On a regular basis, I am left to pick up the pieces and rebuild until I am back to a “normal,” functioning state. I started ballet at three years old, and I was good at it. Good enough that my teacher asked me to start on pointe shoes when I was around ten years old. As I’m sure you can imagine, putting all your weight on the tips of your feet at such a young age is hard on the body, and at around thirteen I had my first major injury in my foot. The idea of dancing through your pain is expected for a dancer, and it wasn’t until it was so bad that I had to take a short hiatus from dance to recuperate that I realized I had done some permanent damage. Now, eleven years later, I still have a cluster of cysts in my foot that sometimes feels like nothing, sometimes feels like the worst pain in the world, and ultimately ended a huge part of my dance career.
After realizing I was no longer going to be dancing en pointe, I decided to pick up some other dance styles, mostly modern, contemporary and jazz. These often involve falling on the floor with no padding for artistic effect. Here is where my knee injuries come into play. I now have some calcified bruises, ligament issues and wobbly knee caps, which were one of the first things I noticed affected my derby participation from the get go. Derby involves falling on your knees a lot; it’s one of the first things they teach us. The padding made it feel way nicer than when I used to just land straight on my knees, but after multiple falls and skating around in a squat position, I noticed my knees were pretty angry at me for days – and sometimes weeks – after just one practice.
Now, if the knee and foot injuries (and now chronic pain) weren’t enough, I also have scoliosis, which pretty much means my spine is curved like a ‘C’ at the lower part of my back (note: all scoliosis is different, this is what mine looks and feels like). The spine curvature doesn’t hurt on its own, but the affect it has on my muscles, gait and internal organs is a concern. It means that bending, kicking and sitting one way feels totally normal, but another way causes some pretty significant discomfort and sometimes pain. I noticed that skating in derby direction and the way my body leans into turns sometimes causes pain in my back, numbness in my one leg, and a decreased ability to open my hips to one direction.
My chronic pain and injury history affects my involvement in derby, as well as my everyday life. I see physiotherapists, massage therapists, pain specialists and general practitioners on a regular basis. This equals time, money and often more pain (from massaging, poking and prodding). This also means that I have to pace myself differently in practices than other people, which is frustrating for me. I danced for years through pain, and still have this notion that I should be pushing through pain in order to succeed. However, as I get older and the pain gets worse, it starts to take days out of my life when I need to recuperate because I can’t stand up. So, I have made a commitment to myself to not push myself as hard as I would like, and to take breaks when I need them. This means sitting in the middle of the track during some practices, or even missing months of practices at a time. I often feel like I am constantly falling behind other skaters; the people I started derby with last winter are now in intermediate or seasoned skaters, while I am always going back to LoCo (Low Contact). When we started doing hits, I realized my body wasn’t going to able to take much of that. Each time I come back, I end up picking things up quicker than the last time and feeling less pain, but each time, I make it through a certain number of practices before my body tells me to stop.
I am constantly angry at my body and the limits I have to set for myself to stay healthy, but I have been able to find alternative ways to be involved in the derby community, on and off skates. NSOing (non-skate officiating – often score keeping for me, and sometimes penalty tracking) has been one of my favourite things I have gotten to participate in this summer while off skates. More recently, I went to my first referee training, which gave me an opportunity to skate without purposefully bashing into other skaters, and take breaks when I need to.
It has been challenging to accept the limits of my body, but derby has given me more than one way of participating, and an accepting, non-judgemental community of people who often understand some part of what I feel. It has also given me a new understanding of what my body can and can’t do, and how those limits are not necessarily a bad thing.