Courtesy North Country Lumber Jills
Erica Olmstead, A.K.A. “SkinHer Box,” is among the members of the North Country Lumber Jills roller derby team preparing for a bout against the Twin City Riots Saturday, Oct. 29.
When many of us first joined roller derby, we were told that it was not a question of “if” we would get hurt but rather a question of “when.”
I interpreted this to mean bruises, fishnet burns and at worst a bruised tailbone. Serious injuries were reserved for serious athletes and I had never viewed myself as an athlete, let alone a serious one. Throughout my life, I previously had a fairly well-established sense of invincibility. I had never had a bee sting or a bloody nose. I got into a car crash my freshmen year of college, ricocheted off of a guard rail into the opposite field, and walked away with a mild headache. I had never seen the inside of an ER, let alone an OR. I had never had stitches, let alone a titanium plate and six screws drilled into my leg. I had never broken a bone; that is, until I played roller derby.
That fateful prophecy came true for me at a bout in Utica when my body turned one way and one skate simply didn’t follow. I had a spiral fracture of the fibula and managed to tear a ligament in my foot so forcefully that it popped off a piece of my ankle bone. It wasn’t until I arrived home that night in a cast and had to hoist myself backwards up a flight of 15 stairs that I realized the severity of what I had done. I quickly realized that I am not invincible.
Over the next few months, there were a series of low points: using a bedpan, needing my dad to shave my leg for me, bathing sitting upright in a lawn chair wrapped in trash bags, to name a few. When I filled friends and family in on what had happened, they interpreted my story as a cautionary tale and were flabbergasted when they realized that I was not done with roller derby. I was not even close. I wanted to skate.
As the EMT assessed my ankle in Utica, I remember begging him to let me skate, insisting that the pain had passed and I “felt so much better” because I refused to accept that I was out of commission for our first bout, a feat we had worked towards for over a year. I’ve heard the same story in different words from so many injured skaters. We walk (or crutch) into physical therapy demanding to know the exercises that will get us into a pair of skates the fastest. We struggle to balance pushing our limits and also allowing our bodies to heal. We count down the days, weeks or months until we can skate again like we are waiting for Christmas.
For me, lacing up a pair of skates felt like coming home. Sure, I was terrified. I was drenched in sweat before I even stood up. But the second I skated my first lap, I felt better than I had in months. I love roller derby, and with true love comes risks. I may not be invincible, but there isn’t a doubt in my mind that roller derby is worth the risk. Roller derby has given me so much more than it has ever taken, even now. It has given me a confidence I never had; it has taught me to challenge myself and to never give up, especially when I want to the most. It has given me a family of strong women who I respect infinitely.
Eventually, I will walk away from roller derby, and when I do, it may be with an occasional limp; but I will walk away one hundred times stronger than I was when I arrived.
The team is gearing up for its first home bout Saturday, Oct. 29, at the City of Plattsburgh Recreation Center against the Twin City Riots, a team from Barre, Vt.