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Photograph by Curtis Cartier
WALKING WOUNDED: Injured roller derby player Evie Smith nurses a torn ACL and sports a tattoo of the Derby Hurts logo, a sugar skull and crutches.

Skate Awakening

A roller derby injury gives rise to an idea

By Curtis Cartier

THINGS were going pretty well for Santa Cruz Derby Girl Evie Smith (a.k.a. Raven Von Kaos) when she skated onto the Roller Palladium floor for practice on Aug. 13. She was recently engaged, serving on the team's board and playing better than ever, primarily as a pivot. Then, during a scrimmage, that tidy world order changed very suddenly. "It was a freak accident," she says. As Smith lunged hard to her left to hit an opponent, her right skate somehow locked with someone else's. Smith went left, her knee went right.

"I screamed bloody murder," she says, sitting in her improvised physical therapy gym in her Live Oak apartment. "It was a minute of the most pain I've ever been in in my entire life with an adrenaline rush, and then I felt nothing." She was told she'd torn her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and needed surgery, with at least six months' recovery time. She did not take the news lightly.

"I felt like my identity had been ripped away," she says. "I was really making a name for myself this season. To see that all taken away from me in a matter of five seconds—it's a hard bullet to take."

But Smith soon found that as painful as the surgery and the initial recovery were, it was just as hard to tend to her Derby Girl board duties if she couldn't play. "I was like a Jewish kid on Christmas," she says. "I felt really alone."

Although she says her teammates were supportive, she began to isolate herself and even thought about quitting. Then one September night, while venting online to another skater in Sacramento, she came up with the idea for Derby Hurts, an online support group. She put one up on Yahoo and it took off.

"People were starting to flood in," she says. "Injuries are so common in this sport and you get injured and it's like, 'OK, see you when you get better.' There was nowhere to go where injured skaters could vent and get information."

Soon roller girls from all over the country and as far away as New Zealand were posting their stories. They even started sharing gory photos of their bruises and post-op scars. Smith decided the forum needed its own platform.

Last Friday marked the launch of the official Derby Hurts website, a social network where derby players can create profiles, ask questions, give advice and post their most hideous injury photos. Smith says the site's applications are manifold, like forums designated by injury type and mini therapy sessions.

"There's a thread—'Things I Wish I Knew Before I Had Surgery,'" she says. "Maybe getting all your loose-fitting clothes laid out, knowing you're not going to be able to take a shower for a week, knowing you're going to be constipated from painkillers."

As of this writing the Derby Hurts site has 49 members and 533 Facebook fans. It's even selling T-shirts emblazoned with the Derby Hurts logo, a sugar skull with crutches for crossbones.

With the popularity of the sport booming post–Whip It, it's only natural that a dialogue on injuries is necessarily opening up, especially since not all roller derby teams require their players to have health insurance (SCDG does). And as medical professionals become more interested in studying derby-related injuries, Derby Hurts hopes to help by collecting stats from its members about their injuries.

In addition to moral support, Derby Hurts users can directly aid a Chicago Windy City Rollers player named Tahirih Johnson, a.k.a. Tequila Mockingbird, whose injury in 2007 was so severe it landed her in a wheelchair. "I was falling and someone's skate drove into my neck," she says. "I was completely paralyzed."

Since then, Johnson has been battling her insurance provider, AIG, to cover her medical expenses and had to relocate to Oklahoma City to live with her boyfriend's parents. Although she can now move all her limbs, Johnson is struggling to cover the cost of regular physical therapy. Proceeds from the Derby Hurts merchandise will go toward that end.

Although she does not participate on Derby Hurts—her injury is so much more severe than the others' injuries—Johnson supports the idea.

"In the beginning, I couldn't do a sit-up. I could barely move. Now it's much different," she says. "It doesn't get much worse than my situation, so I would say for anybody, you really can start over."

As for Smith, the success of Derby Hurts has led her to relinquish her seat on the SCDG board to work exclusively on issues of health and wellness. She is partnering with team sponsor Seabright Spine & Sport to create workshops and fitness regimens for the team that focus on strength, safety and injury prevention. But will she skate again?

"Hell, yeah. It's really been a dream of mine to be able to take our team to regionals. I gotta be on that team. I'm going to be at regionals," she says. "But I'm only going to let myself have one more surgery."

Derby Hurts is at

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