This was the weekend I was supposed to run the California International Marathon in Sacramento. It would've been my third full marathon, and my fastest (because I would've had to finish in 6 hours instead of 6:30 or 7:00). I was supposed to run it with my best friend Becca.
What happened instead was that I sprained my knee badly at the end of September scrimmaging at the BAD warehouse, which meant that by the time I felt well enough to run, it would be too late to just jump into marathon training, so that was out.
I was already missing so many things due to that injury, and missing the CIM was a major blow. Still, I tried to be optimistic and planned ahead.
The weeks ticked by, and my knee barely got better. And then I got a sinus infection. And then SVRG's Thanksgiving tournament happened... without me there. And then PRG's mini-bout happened... with me off-skates as well.
And then, miraculously, my knee felt exponentially better. Not 100%, but all of a sudden I could do certain things that I couldn't do without pain before. And with skills testing going on at practice, I immediately went in to see my PT. She cleared me on Thursday to return to full-contact skating.
Just in time for Red Red Holiday - finally I would get to skate. I was assigned to Team Camo.
I was optimistic. I planned to play it safe - with 100% health, I would've been prepared to go in every other jam if they'd let me, but in this case, I would be content to go in every 3rd or 4th. (They were 20 minute bouts, so... not much playing time.) Nervous and excited for my first taste of derby action since the end of September, I packed up my stuff and made the drive through heavy traffic and hard rain with two other skaters from my league.
Saturday morning, I awoke after a restless night's sleep to birthday well wishes and nervous jitters - how fitting that my team was in the very first bout. On my birthday. What a way to start the day.
I met up with the rest of Team Camo, and we went over our plan and did some off-skates warmups before gearing up to hit the track. My endurance is pretty much shot to hell, but I managed to get through the paceline drills and stuff.
Then we did a blocking drill in threes. I was a little shaky because I was still finding my footing and getting used to playing aggressively again. I tripped and fell a little awkwardly, but I scrambled to my feet quickly to get in place for the next people to go through our wall of three. I slid kind of awkwardly again while trying to block, and BAM. I landed on my bad knee almost the same way I injured it. I cried out and pulled myself off the track and just stayed there for a minute on all fours, not really believing what had just happened and not really sure what to do about it. I couldn't even get up - my knee was hurting SO badly that it couldn't support me enough even just to stand up. A couple refs and even a couple teammates came over to see if I was okay, and I told them that I just needed a minute. I honestly believed that if I sat there for a little bit, I would magically be okay again - as if I could just TELL my knee, "Hey, we JUST got a doctor's note two days ago, so PULL IT TOGETHER." Knees just don't work that way, I guess. Stubborn, ornery little things.
I tried to get up again, and I couldn't. So I sat back down, right there on the inside of the track, and the sinking feeling was overwhelming. I bit my lip to fight back tears, as I realized the inevitable conclusion, which was that even IF I was well enough to get up and get back out there with my team to start the bout, it wouldn't take much of a fall to completely mess me up again. Especially with the level of skating from the girls on my team and the other's - I'm more than a rookie, but I'm nothing compared to these girls. And they weren't planning to go easy, so... there was only one choice in front of me if I didn't want to spend another two and a half months or more off-skates with something even worse.
I refused to let myself start crying right there in the middle of the floor in front of the growing crowd, so as soon I was able, I hobbled off the track and went back to our team locker room (which we shared with some other teams). And I cried there instead. I fought it for as long as I could, but with each piece of gear I removed, the tears fell harder. Derby can break bones, but the thing that hurts the most is when it breaks your heart. I had made it all the way there, only to re-injure myself during WARMUPS.
Knee injury, 7. Thu, 0.
I'm sorry to say it, but I moped. It was my 31st birthday, and I sulked and sniffled in the locker room like a little kid. Mine were the tears of the bitterly disappointed, and even after that subsided, I still sat there a little while longer, staring blankly at the ground or at my phone, hardly believing my bad luck.
Other skaters approached me to see how I was doing and offer their sympathies, and when I finally left the locker room to rejoin the derby festivities, my league mates didn't miss a beat trying to cheer me up. As we were watching one of the bouts, we noticed Demanda Riot standing nearby, and Moose said, "Hey, we should get Demanda to sign a program for you!" I managed a small, pathetic smile - I was too depressed even to get excited about my derby hero at that particular moment - and turned back to watching the bout silently. BUT... because Moose is the kind of person who will totally DO stuff, she ran off and came back with this:
And even I had to smile at that :) I don't know what Moose told Demanda (though I would love to know). The autograph itself would've been awesome, but the fact that she wrote "Happy birthday!" too made it pretty damn special. (I plan to frame this, by the way.)
A couple hours later, after I was feeling a little bit better, I was walking in the vicinity of Demanda and I decided to talk to her. I've spoken to her before, and she's ALWAYS been absolutely friendly and kind, but you know? When you have a crush on someone, you just can't help but be nervous around them because you think so highly of them and you want them to think highly of you. It's not JUST that I am in awe of her derby skills or that I find her incredibly attractive, but I also think she's an amazing person - again, as famous and widely-admired as she is, she's SO nice, and humble about her skating, and not into the superstardom aspect, and is just an all-around cool person - like, whenever she does a post-bout victory lap, she makes sure she high-fives ALL the hands and doesn't skip anyone, or the entire weekend, she played to the level of the other skaters on her team and the other team - she didn't go out and try to show off and SMASH everyone, which she was fully capable of doing. She's a classy skater who cares about the sport, and I respect that so much. I admire and adore her SO much.
So I was nervous. And I was already feeling pretty shaken and emotional, so when I approached her, she eyed me rather curiously and said, "Hey," quirking her eyebrow a bit. (I don't even want to know what my face must've looked like.)
In my brain, I was like, Oh god, she acknowledged me. Now I have to SPEAK. But then aloud, I said, "Thank you so much for signing that program for me. It really meant a lot."(I tried to sound as lighthearted as I could, but it didn't quite work, and I probably just looked so solemn and subdued.) I figured she must sign a gazillion things all the time, and she wouldn't specifically remember my thing (and I didn't have my name on my jacket or anywhere she could see, and I would never expect her to remember my name or who I am), but she broke out into a big smile and said, "Aww, you're welcome! I'm glad to hear that. Happy birthday!" And I had to fight HARD to suppress the goofy grin that was suddenly threatening to overtake my face.
And from that moment on, I really started to realize how blessed I was to be there. I mean, yes, it's true that I would not have re-injured my knee if I had decided to stay home, but I would've been mopey at home missing both CIM and Red Red Holiday. I truly think that the derby community is the greatest thing in the world, because my entire weekend was full of kindnesses from other skaters and particularly from my league mates, who went above and beyond the call of duty and busted their asses to make sure my birthday ended on a FAR better note than how it began.
The thought of that makes me tear up a bit, because I never got super attached, emotionally, with other skaters in my league before I left derby last year. Maybe that was even a contributing factor to me leaving - I never felt excluded on purpose, but I tended to feel outsider-y, you know? Like, I honestly didn't think anyone cared much about me (not that anyone was uncaring, but I just didn't feel connected), but this weekend, I really saw how wrong I was about that. I know it sounds cheesy, but I had actual moments of, "They like me? They actually like me? They don't just put up with me?" and while I hated feeling burdensome (because they were there to play/watch DERBY, not to deal with my extreme emo-ness), I also felt incredibly moved by the love and caring I received from my PRG sisters.
And everyone else who was there, whether they realized it or not, really contributed to making my birthday (and this weekend) end on a high note, because there really isn't anything like the derby community. Jane Austen wrote in Northanger Abbey, "Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love," and while it's not disappointed love that I'm dealing with (well, it's really my disappointed love for derby, actually), the rest is certainly true: even strangers who heard the birthday shout-out that Moose ordered wished me a happy birthday (after seeing my name on my clothing), and a great many derby acquaintances asked me about knee, having heard about it all fall. Despite the fact that I'm injured because of roller derby, the best place for me to be was around other derby skaters, who know how disappointing it is when an injury keeps you away and who also love the sport so much that of course they don't find it ridiculous that I cried about not getting to play, because maybe they would cry too. I may never be as good as the majority of the skaters I watched this weekend, but I still definitely felt like I was among kindred spirits.
So this morning, as I sat reading the updates from the CIM (that I wasn't running) and watching bouts (that I wasn't skating in), I could not in any way feel sorry about my decision to go to Red Red for the weekend. I did not get to skate and I did not get to run, but I did get a smile and an autograph from Demanda Riot, and I did get the greatest outpouring of love and support I've ever received, and I did get closer to my leaguemates, and I did get to watch some awesome, AWESOME roller derby.
And I did get to meet some Disney princesses at Peet's Coffee on the way home, as well as ice cream at Fenton's:
Despite the way it started out, it did indeed end up being a happy birthday.