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This is where my bump comes back into the picture.
Every doctor and specialist I’ve seen about my condition is amazed by it. They love poking at it and asking me questions about it. They’ve never seen one so big.
But that medical curiosity means they’re not completely sure of the complications I could face. They’re fairly certain that removing it would require intertwined muscle tissue in my side and back to come out with it, but they don’t know how much would need to go or how badly the aftermath would affect my quality of life. They worried that it could have kept growing to the point where it could have rubbed up against my spine, though that looks like a non-issue now, thankfully. One doctor even said that it could turn cancerous in “50 or 60 years.” (“I’ll take my chances doc, thanks.”)
None of them had a problem with me playing roller derby, though. After all, I’d played four years of football and had skated for most of my life with this thing in me. Putting the two activities together shouldn’t have been any different.
And so it was. For the year I’d skated with Sugartown, my bump minded its own business. Sure, the same issues I had playing football were still there 10 years later, like being limited in crossing my left leg in front of my right leg; or getting gut-punched by my bump every time I fell into a low squat. All other systems were go, and it was full speed ahead.
Unfortunately, “full speed ahead” was exactly what got me into my current situation.
During practice, I was practicing hockey stops on a concrete sidewalk. Being the overly ambitious type, I flicked into them from faster and faster speeds to find the limit of my legs and of my wheels. On one fateful attempt, I caught a crack in the ground and awkwardly collapsed onto my left leg.
When I heard a pop coming from my left knee, I knew I was soon going to be in for a world of hurt.
The next morning, I couldn’t twist my knee without screaming in agony. It took days for the swelling to subside to the point where I could attempt to walk around without crutches. Thankfully, the ouchiness had started to subside by the time my doctor saw me, and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when he confirmed I just had a severe sprain. No tendon damage, and a month or so out of action at most. But It was a bummer be on the sidelines for that long.
I was stoked when I was well enough recovered to get back on skates and rejoin the team. I had lost a lot of the rhythm and endurance needed to keep up with everyone, though I had expected that.
What I didn’t expect the loss of confidence in my legs and skates. There was doubt in the back of my mind that putting real stress on my knee might do something to re-aggravate the injury, preventing me from giving it 100%.
Finding my feet again was slow going. Really slow. I’d be the first to tell you that I was skating sloppy and lazy. I couldn’t stay low and on form, I didn’t feel comfortable doing drills, and I never seemed to get back into the shape I had been in previously. Part of that was the endurance factor, but there was also the fact that real life was catching up to me; I had recently been laid off from work, I was still going to school, and there were some family issues I needed to take care of. After a few months, the combination of inconsistent form and stress got to me.
One evening, while doing some basic crossover training at practice, an almighty tweak developed in my lower back—right around the area of my bump.
I’ve dealt with tired backs before, but this one felt different right from the start. It persisted for days. Then for weeks. No amount of ice, heat, or drugs could get rid of the nagging tension. I tried to see if getting active again would work it out, but that only seemed to make it worse.
Complicating matters was my job. Sitting down in a chair in front of a computer in a chair that my back did not agree with was not improving things, nor was the occasional dose of heavy lifting I had to do every once-in-a-while. I constantly worried that the next box I picked up would be the one to throw my back out for good.
So of course, at just another day on the job, doing the effortless activity of leaning across my desk to turn on my computer…
My lower back started to tear apart. I could feel—worse, I could hear—the muscle tissues breaking apart one-by-one. It was if someone was slowly slicing me open with a rusty knife:
I immediately lost all the strength in my back. If I hadn’t been standing up in front of my chair, I would have collapsed to the ground on the spot.
It took me two hours to drum up enough strength to get back on my feet. Even then, I couldn’t stand up straight. Or anything resembling straight, for that matter. I was so jacked up, “The Crooked Man” was no longer a child’s nursery rhyme…it was my autobiography. It was three days before I could walk like a homo sapien again, though still in great discomfort.
It was around the time when the severe back pain went away when I started to realize the gravity of my situation.
For nearly 30 years, my bump has lived inside me without any major problems. I’ve gotten so used to it, as I’ve said, I usually don’t notice it at all.
But for some reason, my back injury caused something to happen with my bump. Or maybe, my bump caused the back injury. I can’t say for sure.
What I can say is that for the first time in my life, I could start to feel my bump inside of me, and not in a good way. It was if a facehugger planted an Alien egg inside of me, and an Alien newborn was thrashing about, primed to burst out of my hip at any moment.
The smooth bowling ball I liked to call my bump was starting to feel more like a porous volcanic rock, burning and scraping my insides me every time I sat down or bent over. It wasn’t a constant pain, but one that seemed to come and go as it pleased. The discomfort I was feeling during this time was so bad, there were some moments where I genuinely feared that my body was literally disintegrating.
It’s hard to describe how traumatizing this was to me. Unless you’ve also had a tumor lying dormant for three decades suddenly light up like a dry Christmas tree near a fireplace, no description will be able to accurately convey what was happening to my bump and my body. So let me just put it to you this way:
There was a period of time where things got so desperate, skating and roller derby became the absolute furthest things from my mind.
It was That. Fucking. Bad.
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So yeah, I needed to take an indefinite leave of absence from skating with Sugartown.
Obviously, not being able to skate with the team was devastating in and of itself. But what made it worse was the timing of my injury.
Last summer, the league was starting to get into trouble. We were nearing the point of losing ourselves, our track, and the dream. The rigid “no drama” policy that was championed as making us different also turned out to make us (collectively) look like assholes, unbeknownst to any of us at the time. (Or even to me: I only was able to put two and two together when Mollie wrote a piece for Banked Track News about the lessons learned in building a banked track league.)
A few weeks before my bump tried to kill me, we had a fateful team meeting that signaled some big-time changes in the league. The powers that be decided that our long-time coach would be leaving, among many other major shakeups.
With that bombshell, the current crop of skaters could choose to stay or go. We lost some really good people, which was a downer, but there were no hard feelings anywhere. I’m still friends with everyone that decided to move on, in fact.
The thought of leaving crossed my mind, if I’m honest. Our former coach really, really, really knew his shit, and to lose him felt like we were taking two steps back to take one step forward. I couldn’t imagine continuing to skate without his insight and experience.
Before the meeting was over, however, my mind was already made up: I decided I wanted to stay.
Looking at the big picture, I knew that Mollie and Saturday made this decision because it needed to be made. I quickly understood that they did what they believed was the right thing to do at the right time. I trusted that they had the best interests of the team (and of me) in mind, even if I personally raised an eyebrow at the announcement.
Soon enough, that trust paid dividends. A sense of purpose and direction finally seemed to appear. Our first exhibition bout was planned for the end of the year. With the help of the L.A. Derby Dolls, and coaching from the likes of P.I.T.A., Tara Armov, RegulateHer (GO SIRENS! WHOOP WHOOP) and many others, our girls got whipped into shape very quickly.
This past December, all that hard work paid off.
Many skaters from leagues across Southern California, and even up from Colorado, came down to help fill out rosters and put on a series of mini-bouts for curious bikers who had wandered in from a motorcycle show outside. Suzy Snakeyes, Figg Lebowski, Pinky Pokerface, P.I.T.A., Tara Armov (who still likes to hurt people, even in derby retirement), Killer Bunny FooFoo from Missile Mountain, and many others joined our very own Miss VenHurtCha, Cat Scratch Fever, Black Rydher, Tynee N. Forcer, and Saturday Night Special herself in a day of fun, fun, fun derby for everyone.
It was even fun for me, as I got a chance to do some derby photography. (Is there anything derby I can’t do?) Although setting up the track and tearing it back down again was certainly not fun—Bitchy Kitten banked tracks are ridiculously heavy, and probably a contributing factor as to why my back still aches—when it was all said and done, the trust we put into Saturday and Mollie was bearing fruit.
At the end of the event, as the girls finished up their last mini-bout, a “winner” was declared (the black team defeated the green team, for those interested) and the trophy was presented to Saturday, the winning captain. Demolicious, founder of the L.A. Derby Dolls, was also at the game to see the payoff of everyone’s efforts and lend her continuing support, much as she does with everyone else who is as batshit-crazy insane as she was in starting a roller derby league from scratch. (Demo, I love you for it, and you fuckin’ know it.)
As everyone was celebrating, I jumped into the infield—gingerly—to get some photos and dish out some hugs. Saturday was the first one I got a hold of.
“Finally. It’s over,” she said to me, relieved and exhausted.
I smiled. “Over? This is just the beginning.”
The look on her face was priceless.
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As it turns out, this is really just the beginning for me and my bump, too.
My doctor told me what I had suspected from the start: Because the muscles in my back and side are so intertwined with my bump, any damage my back sustained had something of a chain reaction. Because of this, I need to be extremely careful about engaging in any strenuous activities, lest my back unbutton itself again. Just thinking about it makes my bump ache.
It’s been around six months since I last skated with Sugartown, or in fact skated at all. They’re still my home league, and I know they’ll welcome me back with open arms once I’m fit enough to do so.
But I fear it will take some time before I can lace up my skates again. The anguish caused by my bump coming alive put me into a mental funk that led me to put on an unhealthy amount of weight. I also worry about what my future may hold if I never recover from this, or worse, need to have a significant portion of me surgically removed. God knows what I’d have to deal with if that came to pass.
Ever the optimist, however, I believe time heals all wounds. I’ve recently started to get active again, doing basic things like squats and lunges. Soon I’ll hit the streets again—this time on sneakers—getting my endurance back to where it needs to be. Mentally, I want to make sure my body can handle the activity necessary to play derby at a high level. This time around I’m not going to come back until I know I’m 110% ready. I’m not making that mistake again.
Short term, I’m aiming to get back on skates before the end of the year and ultimately play in the first true men’s banked track roller derby game in the modern era, whenever that might be.
Long term, I hope to fulfill my personal goal of playing roller derby: Showing the world how awesome this game can truly be, using my skates to show ‘em how it’s done.
If fate prevents me from fulfilling this goal, I still have my fingers, my mouth, and my brain to help things along. This blog—and indeed, this post—is part of the process that has helped me get my mind back to the place it needs to be in order to tackle this monumental task.
It’s reassuring to know that I’m not alone in this quest.
Though I don’t stop by the Sugartown warehouse as often as I’d like, every time I pop in to say hello I’m surprised at how quickly everyone is improving. (I’m also stupendously jealous that they’re having fun on the banked track, and I’m not. Grrrrrrr!!!) There are guest skaters and coaches coming in regularly (I missed skating with Bonnie D.Stroir! Double Grrrrrrrr!!!), more and more new skaters coming in via recruitment, and we even had a dude with a camera crew show up to film an episode of his TV show on our track.
It’s all been leading up to this year, Sugartown’s first official season as a banked track roller derby league.
As much as I’d love to tag along for the ride, I’ll be happy cheering for my team—my teammates—from comfort of home. I’m no doubt biased when I say this, but I think the ladies of STRG are going to do pretty damn well in their rookie season. They may even surprise a few people.
That’s something that Saturday and Mollie said they wanted to do since the beginning of my time with Sugartown—surprise people. They wanted to blow people away with talent and show the world how things were “supposed” to be done. As it turned out, they surprised themselves—and learned some more valuable lessons along the way.
I’ve learned a lot of things, too. I’ve always had respect for the modern derby revival, understanding how difficult it must have been to start from nothing and build things up to what they are today. But seeing things from the inside of a league, and a banked track league at that, makes me appreciate that struggle that much more.
But I think the most important thing I took from my time with Sugartown, and my injury, was that we are truly heading into the unknown.
Derby is growing exponentially. Banked tracks are being built at a faster rate. The men’s game is on the verge of exploding. USARS is starting the drive towards the Olympic dream. The international game is starting to pick up momentum. Professional roller derby is closer than we think.
For as far as derby has come, this is really just the beginning. What the game will look like ten years from now? Or even five years from now?
I don’t know.
Then there are the questions I ask myself. How will my bump affect me going forward? Will it be an annoyance that I will have to live with for the rest of my life? Will I be skating five or ten years from now? Or even a year from now?
I don’t know.
But here are a few things I do know:
As long as there is roller derby, I’ll be just fine.
As long as there are people who live this game and want nothing more than to make it the best sport it can possibly be, roller derby will be just fine.
All I ask is that everyone prepare themselves, in whatever part you decide play in the derby machine, to get ready to plunge head-first into the great unknown that is our future.
It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
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