So let’s talk about fatigue in roller derby.
I developed post-viral fatigue in my first year of skating at main league. I went for a lovely relaxing weekend to Norway, developed glandular fever and the rest is history.
Before this happened, I was what most would consider a pretty fit and healthy human. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve eaten less vegetables over the course of my life than most people eat in a month, but I was weight training around 4 times a week in the gym, working all hours under the sun, dancing the night away and still up bright and early to do it all again.
Getting sick hit me pretty hard. At the start, I didn’t even realise what was going on. I’d be okay for a week, feel run down for a week, have a resurgence of my glandular fever symptoms again and be pretty much tied to my bed for a week. My partner at the time told me it was all in my head and quite frankly, I was starting to worry that it might be. Several blood tests and doctors appointments later I found out it was glandular fever. Hooray! I’m not going crazy, but then…
“Most people recover in 6 months, you just have to pace yourself. Try to stay active and you’ll start to feel better”.
I’d already been ill 3 months, what was another 3?
Well, 6 months came and went, I was still only able to work VERY part time, and was sleeping for more of the day than a person should be.
Roller Derby kept me sane. Being on skates made me feel like I was (kind of) in control. I prioritised training because it was the only thing that made me feel...normal. This meant no work on the days after training because I’d get payback for using my precious energy on skating. But I felt like it was worth it.
As time went on, I started to feel better. I tried to stop telling my teammates how utterly dreadful I felt most of the time because...well...it’s boring. I was bored of it, why wouldn’t they be?
I was told the reason I couldn’t make jam rotation was because I hadn’t been able to prove that my condition wouldn’t hold me back. I was placed as first sit by concerned bench staff who thought they were being helpful and were looking after me. I found this tremendously frustrating. But I am monumentally stubborn.
I got up and I went to training, twice a week, EVERY week. I tracked my eating, my heart rate, my sleep patterns to help me to find my triggers and markers that I was heading for an energy drop.
I’d skip team meals before games if I could, try to avoid pre-game socials and catch ups, all to just conserve just a bit more energy to get myself through.
I cried about the fact that session on session my endurance would fluctuate so much and then worked hard to find out WHY. Was it emotional tiredness instead of physical? What has worn me out?
I spent time on me, to prove to myself (and to others) that THIS GIRL CAN.
I am very fortunate that I have seen massive improvements in my fatigue over the past 12 months. My endurance has been better, my performance more consistent. I’ve had less bad days. Less, not none, but I’m working on it.
Having a fatigue condition and choosing to play roller derby is not an easy or obvious choice. You’ve got to have a lot of grit and be stubborn as hell to make it work. And you’ve got to be able to let it go when you can’t make it work...because you can’t always make it work. That’s the reality.
Letting it go when things don’t go well is the hardest part for me. Knowing that if it had been a “good day” I’d have been more successful, or more useful. But not all days are good days, and it’s taken time but I’m on the road to accepting that..
Fatigue management is complex, and no two people have the same experience of it. Just when you think you’ve cracked it, you’re back feeling exhausted after the warm up and questioning whether you’re going to be any use at all. But that doesn’t mean you should quit.
Obviously, everyone’s circumstances are different. For some, it just isn’t a possibility for them to skate, for others it is. I acknowledge that I have a certain amount of privilege that has enabled me to keep training and choose to enjoy this wonderful sport. But if you’re struggling, please:
Talk to your league; let them know what’s happening and if you need anything
Focus on yourself; pace yourself, be kind to yourself. If you can only do so much...so what? That’s better than nothing!
And fatigue condition or not - be kind to your league mates. You don’t know what they’re going through, and even if you did you might not understand it.
Let’s continue to be part a sport where we lift each other up, not drag each other down.
Photo credit: Paul Jones Photography