Saving Ankles

I officially have one follower (I’m lookin’ at you ovarianfyst).  Upon being alerted via email, I looked her up, curious to know a little about this person who thinks of me as worth following.  Not surprisingly given my roller derby tag, this person is a derby girl. A derby girl with a broken ankle.  I can sympathize, in small part because of being out myself due to a planned foot surgery, and in large part because of the injuries I’ve been witness to.

Those injuries have been plaguing my league for a year.  Our league has had more than its fair share of broken ankles in that time.  Four that I know of, this past one being the most gruesome of them all.  During the second day of a weekend boot camp, Cole Izzion fell the wrong way and broke her ankle.  I’ll skip the poeticism and just tell you that she was in a lot of pain, and she looked like the precursor to post traumatic stress disorder.  Pale face, blank stare, shaking jaw while waiting for the ambulance.  We later found out that she had broken her ankle in three places, dislocated it, and completely torn her tendon.  The astonishing number of screws in the X-rays of her foot after the second surgery made it look like she’d gotten her surgery at Home Depot.

Fanny was the first, and she handled it like a badass.  A few groans of pain while politely explaining it was definitely broken and asking for her husband to be called.  The visiting trainer suggested that it was a sprain, since Fanny didn’t seem to be in pain.   “Well, Fanny’s German, and Germans are hardasses.” Was our response.  The end result of that was her ankle being broken in four places.  She earned herself the purple heart award at the holiday party for that.  After Fanny FM Lisa broke her ankle while practicing with the team, and after Lisa, Dorian broker her ankle.  I was absent for these breaks, but both handled it well, I’m told. Three of the four needed surgery, the fourth I’m not sure about.  There were a few broken arms and elbows between, but the ankles have been by far the most gruesome.

The point of this narrative is to illustrate how destructive roller derby can be to our bodies, particularly our ankles.  There’s a myriad of several reasons.  The biggest is not strengthening our bodies outside of practice.  Routine practices can NOT be our workouts.  In our off time we need to do workouts that both prepare us for the physically demanding drills and jams and mitigate the risk we take every time we step out on the track.  As a resource for myself and whoever may be reading, here are some of the workouts that I’ve been told and have personally found to be effective.

One of the top recommendations of the veterans in my league is yoga, espoused in large part by a yoga instructor who skates with us.  She returned recently from a yoga retreat and brought with her a lot of new poses which help with ankle strength.  Some of these poses are the Standing Raised Leg Front/Hand to Knee or Foot, the Airplane, the Warrior Three, the Half Moon, the Revolved Half Moon, the Dancing Splits, the Dancer’s Pose and the Tree.  Google those, and add some of them to a daily workout routine.  Youtube is also a fantastic resource for yoga poses geared toward derby players.

A less hippie oriented way to strengthen your ankle is by straight forward ankle exercises.  There are a ton of resources on the internet that explain in great detail and have pictures.  Below are some sites to get you started.

Plyometrics is something that’s new to me. It’s basically a high energy exercise regime probably invented by someone who had just previously snorted an inappropriate amount of cocaine.  It revolves around trying to get the maximum amount of output from muscles in as short amount of time as feasible.  It’s jumpy and explosive, which translates well to jamming and juking.  Regardless of your position on the track, it helps your ankles, so it’s worth looking into.  Heres a few more websites to get you started on polymetrics:

Sometimes as derby girls we are insanely busy.  If you can, try waking up 30 minutes early and using that time to do some quick strengthening.  If, like many of us, you have a full time job, kids, a husband or wife, and god knows what else all desperately vying for your attention, getting in an hour or so of working out most days is an exercise in futility instead of strength or endurance.  When life gets like that, there are ways to shamelessly incorporate derby exercises regardless.  If you’re standing in line at Subway, go ahead and prop one foot on your opposite knee and balance, keeping your finger free to flip the bird to anyone looking at you sideways.  Write down a few of those yoga poses you like more and take a bathroom break at work to do yoga for five minutes.  Double up on quality time with the little ones by having them pick out one of the exercises for you to do together.  Get creative, because anything is better than nothing.

Aside from lack of strengthening, other risk factors that increase our chances of getting hurt include our equipment.  When Kiki Urhaz came to host a boot camp for us, we dedicated a lunch break to discussing equipment.  She brought up the point that the wheels our league widely used (an indoor/outdoor poison hybrid) were too grippy for our floor, and didn’t allow our feet to slide when they needed to.  She said that most ankle breaks she’d seen happened on wheels like these.  I don’t have much in the way of expertise on roller derby equipment, but Kiki does, and she suggested Vanilla Backspins.  A few people from our league have ordered them, and so far have nothing but good things to say about their quality and performance.  Having wheels that are well suited to the floor type you practice on day to day helps improve your game and decreases the chance that you’ll hurt yourself.  If you’re unsure about what type of wheel is optimal for your floor type, most wheel manufacturers will help you to pick out an appropriate wheel if you email them.  Also, your derby sisters are a great and convenient way to get that info, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Other equipment considerations are cushions, or bushings.  Hold onto your panties, because we’re about to get technical.  In the below diagram they’re tagged with the number four.  They help cushion the kingpin (2), which holds the truck of the skate (5) to the plate (1).

Roller Skate Diagram

Softer bushings allow for greater steering sensitivity, so they’re preferred more by fleet footed skaters who like to juke what their mama gave ’em.  However, not all quick skaters have these. Bonnie Thunders, for example, prefers stiffer bushings.  Most beginner skates come with harder bushings, but if you’ve bought your skates second hand and are still working on your balance, checking your bushings could save you a broken ankle.  The same goes for your kingpin.  If it’s loose it has a similar effect as soft bushings in that your skate turns more easily by allowing the boot and plate to angle more.  If your skate boot (17) leans side to side easily and your body isn’t prepared for it, you could end up on the floor and in a cast.  Even if you’re not a beginner, taking your skate apart and checking your equipment will only help you.  Getting to know your equipment is never a bad thing.

Something else that everyone, regardless of skill level needs to take into serious consideration is to not push ourselves to do things we’re not comfortable with.  I’m not talking about having the jitters the first time you jam.  I’m talking about doing drills and exercises that we don’t know our bodies can handle.  All but one of our severe breaks were newly assessed skaters participating in drills that involved pushing and hitting.

I’d like to take a moment here to say that I myself am guilty of this all the damn time.  I’m way too reckless with my body and I’m damn lucky I haven’t gotten myself hurt.  This past Sunday, during a league bonding event in lieu of practice, I opted to go bowling with the team.  When a teammate pointed out to me that it probably wasn’t the best idea because my foot still has its surgical wrap on, I locked eyes and quite brazenly said ‘Like I give a fuck.’  I promise that I do actually give a fuck about my body, it’s just a scatter-brained fuck that doesn’t always show up when it should.  That being said, this blog is just as much for me as it is anyone else, so do as I say, not as I idiotically do.

No one in your roller derby league should look down on you for giving the appropriate amount of fucks and stepping out of a drill you don’t feel safe doing.  And if someone does, that person is an asshole, so fuck them.  The choice between being benched for a year because of a gruesome ankle break or working on stops by yourself for ten minutes is an easy one, but not always an obvious one.  Skating smart and taking care of ourselves is unequivocally our greatest priority.

I’m still a newbie to the skating world, and so have a rudimentary knowledge of everything that roller derby entails.  The internet as a whole is far wiser than me, so for any supplemental information to fill out what I’ve written about, Google has your back.  If I’ve spoken wrongly about anything and you feel strongly about correcting it, then that’s a bit weird and obsessive, but I respect it, so comment or message me.


For those interested, the link for the skating diagram and more thorough explanations for quad skate anatomy can be found here:



  1. This is such a great writing. I wish I had this information before my accident. I never knew how common of an injury ankle breaks were and I feel and empathize with all your teammates in my similar situation. I’m going to share this article with my league in hopes others will save their ankles. Do you know if toe stops can contribute to breaks? I feel like that was a major awful factor to mine as well as not falling small and forward. I feel tall and back.

    Ps. Thanks for the shout out

    1. When you’re balancing any significant part of your weight on a toe stop the risk for falling back on your ankle is pretty huge. If your weight shifts back just enough then your foot slides out from underneath you, and your body can easily fall in a way that puts too much stress on the ankle joint. If you want to do more juking and shit on your toe stops, then there are some drills you can use to get more comfortable with it so that you’re not so much at risk when you do decide to use toe stops. A really simple one you can do as a group or on your own is to stand on your toe stops on a line, and sidestep to another line. Go back and forth, slowly at first, only speeding up when you feel really comfortable with it. Then you can throw in some hopping motions, or small steps, big steps, whatever you’re weakest with. It’s a matter of repetition so that your muscles learn where your center of balance is on your toe stops, because it’s a little different than when you’re on your wheels.

      You’re welcome for the shoutout. I’ll keep following you and your progress. I hope it goes quicker rather than slower.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s