Back in July, on a beautiful Saturday when Men's Team Canada were playing in the World Cup, I set off on my bike to get to Neon Skates early in time to watch the game. On my way, I had the "pleasant" experience of getting hit by a car.  First off, don't worry, I'm okay! It was a rough time though and I'm determined to take away something positive from it.  

So, what's more positive than lessons that will make me a better derby player?  "But weren't you biking?" you may be asking.  Well yes, but sometimes we get a little focused on all things derby, so to stay balanced, I've taken to looking at other experiences in my life and asking "What does this tell me about myself as a derby player.  What can I learn from this for the track?" 

So, here are the lessons I learned and maybe they'll give you some helpful perspective.

Lesson 1. Don't Play Roller Derby with Cars

They are hard, heavy and made of metal. Hitting them hurts and you will not win. So...don't.

Lesson 2. Wear the Right Gear

I can say with 98.99% certainty that my S1 helmet saved my life.  How do I know that? Well, I kinda took off the passenger mirror with my head. I'm sure luck had a lot to do with it, but I escaped the impact without head injury.  In a contact sport, it's not just about wearing gear that protects you from the most likely occurrences, the knee falls and the hits, it's about protecting yourself against those situations that you cannot control, like when you're taken out at the feet and do a cartoon style landing on your head.  Even the greatest skaters can't fight gravity. So, for my health and longevity in this sport, I will not compromise my safety, I will wear good, durable, reliable gear.  

Lesson 3. Accidents Happen

When I started biking more seriously this summer, I came off bike paths and took to the Ottawa's new street bike lanes. My mindset was that as long as I followed all of the rules and was a good person, that this was the recipe for safety and success. The truth is, that while following the rules and doing what you're supposed to will definitely reduce your risk, it doesn't take it away. The driver that hit me didn't wake up that morning and decide they were going to break the law and hit someone, they made a split second bad decision and felt terrible about it. While I was in shock and just making sure that I had all my bits and pieces, the bystanders got so mad at the driver. And they kept asking me "Aren't you mad?  Did you see what that person did?".  Um, yes I did, up close in fact.

So, how does this apply to the track? It could just be another lesson in wearing lots of protective gear, but instead of looking externally, I looked internally, at the way we react to incidents. I've seen players get really riled up about stuff that wasn't intentional, whether they are directly affected or on behalf of their teammates. So much so that it completely blew their mental game. Unfortunate stuff will happen in games, it is a contact sport, there are risks. Recognizing how to productively deal with incidents to move forward is important.  You can be mad, upset, frustrated sure, but how and where you direct those feelings matters. At the accident, having people acknowledge that I was hurt and not at fault was very helpful.  Having them get me mad at the driver was not. Working as a team on methods to focus and diffuse negative feelings is wise. Getting mad at the players or referees, well, that just rarely ends positively.

Lesson 4. Trust Your Gut

I remember the following conversation going through my head as I pulled up to the intersection.  It went along the lines of "Light's green, all clear, oh look, there's a car in the turning lane, I sure hope it doesn't decide to turn.  There's no possible way that car could decide to turn right? Is that car turning? OMG they don't see me, they're turning". Something made me focus on that car, I still couldn't tell you why because it was just a car waiting patiently to turn across my lane. But it made my spidey senses tingle, and even so, I was like "shhhh inner voice, you're being silly", all in the period of half a second. 

Instinct is extremely valuable to derby players.  There are so many inputs that it can be a real challenge knowing what to focus on and what to ignore.  Practicing formations and situational drills help us to create heuristics that we can apply. For example, if our jammer gets lead, do x if their jammer gets lead, do y.  But while you can practice plays over and over again, there's something really valuable in those players that are in tune with what their body is telling them about the situation around them and what is worth noticing outside of typical procedural stuff.  If you've ever found yourself thinking "I knew that was going to happen", ask yourself if you would have behaved differently had you actually known it was a guarantee.  Of course nothing ever is, but you'd be surprised how often you're right. So maybe start trusting your instincts on the track, I know I will be.

Lesson 5. Things Don't Always Heal (Properly) by Themselves

I think that somewhere along the way in life, I was taught that health professionals are only needed when you've lost a limb or are on your death bed.  If you were in pain, you waited until it healed and unless you had a broken bone, you toughed it out. Bodies heal, they are magical, right?

So after the accident, that's where I was at. My injuries weren't visual, no massive cuts, some lovely bruising but nothing a derby player would be phased by, and I could walk. Pretty good, I thought. I have a physical job though, and as the weeks went by, I still couldn't carry boxes or loosen skate parts, and it wasn't getting better.  I finally sought professional assistance and very quickly discovered that this type of soft tissue injury would not have improved without intervention. It was also affecting other parts of my body that were compensating so leaving it alone was making things way worse. I was shocked to discover just how much pain I was tolerating as though it were normal.  

As derby players, we often let nagging injuries go unchecked and when we actually take time off to let things heal, assume they will be fine if left alone. Thanks to this experience, I know to seek professional help and to know that the right help matters.  My GP did not have all the answers but they referred me to a sports therapist who was focused on getting me back to sport and performance. 

Lesson 6. Look for Positivity Even if it's Hard to Find

I'll be the first to admit, it's really easy to see the negativity in situations. In the end, I got hit by a freakin' car, I'm still not back playing derby, my back hurts a lot of the time and I missed Team Canada Tryouts which were hosted on my doorstep. 

BUT, I'm actually really grateful that I'm giving myself the time to heal properly and fixing other injuries with my therapist that have been 8 years in the making.  I can't do contact yet but I can skate, so I've taken up jam skating.  My footwork on the track is gonna be amazing! I finally had the time to build my new Bont Vaypors which I'll post pictures of soon. Lastly, I have a much more realistic perspective for when I return to biking that will keep me safer on the roads.  

So, I've used this opportunity to step back from the whirlwind that is roller derby life to get some perspective that can make me a better balanced skater when I'm ready to get back at it. It didn't happen automatically, at first I really had to dig for something good, but intentionally seeking it helped me break out of the spiral that was starting.

See you on the track soon!

Dawn Cherry