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Road to Recovery – Da Silva Surfer

At the start of July 2013 I got some really exciting news: I had been successful during tryouts and was now part of Team Portugal Roller Derby who were going to take part in the 2014 Blood and Thunder Roller Derby World Cup! I immediately started planning the months ahead, pencilling in our training sessions and other important dates, setting milestones for my on and off skates training and just trying to figure out how to be the best athletic version of myself I could be. I was officially in training for something big and there was a lot of work ahead…little did I know how much…

official Team Portugal headshot

official Team Portugal headshot

By March 2014 I was already feeling quite on form: running, weights, plyo and as much derby as I could fit in seemed to be doing the trick! Our A team had a great match coming up that month against the formidable Paris Rollergirls; I could not wait to play. Game day arrived and although it was tough, I felt like I was having a great game. But during the second half of the bout in a very uneventful moment on corner 3, I lost my footing; I heard a snap and hit the deck. I paused for a second and tried to get up…I soon realised I couldn’t, and then the pain hit me. I screamed – loud – so loud the announcers turned up the music as my swearing was scaring the children…I was not only in pain, I was seeing all my hopes of making it to the world cup in December disappear. I was angry and devastated.

I was actually lucky to get injured during a game; we always have great medical staff at our events and I had first response then and there. Some of my teammates who’d injured themselves at training had to wait for a much longer time to get medical attention. My friend and physio Gael Barnes (aka “Phizzical Terrorist“) was on duty and I knew I was in good hands. After removing the skate, she whipped out this magical rolled up brace. Once that was fitted, the pain subsided, and I was ready to be moved and shipped to the hospital.

the magic brace

the magical brace

I had broken my fibula on my left leg very near my ankle. It was a straightforward break, no displacement and no operation required; initial estimated healing time was 6 weeks, so things were looking up! I suddenly needed to know exactly what was happening next so I could figure out how to deal with my injury.

A million questions were running through my brain: how do I sleep with my foot above my heart so I won’t die with a blood clot? Why is this cast so heavy? When can I shower, how will I shower? That dude has a walking boot, when will I get one? Why do I feel so tired?? What about work, how will I get there? How do I use crutches?


flowers to cheer Silva up!

Information didn’t take too long to arrive. The NHS got in touch very swiftly for my follow up appointment where I would get a new, lighter cast. Friends offered helpful advice about past injuries and recovery times, and came to visit bearing gifts to help aid my recovery (shower enabling covers and toe cosies!) and cakes and flowers to just cheer me up :). I was so lucky to have a great support network, an understanding boss and an amazing boyfriend who helped me do everything from making cups of tea to showering, and who transformed my cast into a work of art that was turning heads at the hospital.

Silva's amazing cast artwork

Silva’s amazing cast artwork

treats to mend the break

treats to mend the break

Although the initial healing time seemed short, in reality it would be 3 months before I could exercise properly or skate again:

  • 4 weeks in a cast and on crutches non-weight-bearing: this means you can’t put your foot down, walking is a pain and showering is now an event that has to be booked.
  • 6 weeks in a walking boot: getting around is a lot easier (even if buses suck), and I now had shower freedom.
  • 6 weeks out of the boot, at the end of which I would be fully healed and could return to all normal activity. Highlight: I could wear 2 shoes and ride my bike!
walking boot upgrade

walking boot upgrade

During this time I threw myself into all things derby that didn’t involve skates to stay in the loop. I kept coaching, going to meetings, running rules sessions with our rookies, organising league bootcamps with guest coaches, researching footage, taking notes…This kept me sane; it’s not for everyone, but it definitely worked for me.

bootcamp fix at Anarchy 2014

bootcamp fix at Anarchy 2014

In late May my focus shifted fully back to my rehab. I was being treated at the Bristol Royal Infirmary and was lucky to get onto their physio circuits programme which meant I had a weekly gym session dedicated to building up my muscle strength, agility and confidence. I had exercices to take home and work on and I did – religiously! I also topped these up with extra physio sessions and advice from Gael. My objective was to be back on skates at the end of June and I was making sure I did everything I could to meet that deadline.


Being back on skates again was exciting, scary and uncomfortable. I was wearing a brace that restricted my movement a lot; it gave me confidence, but was definitely not suited to skating. Skating around again was amazing though, I had a smile from ear to ear even if my plow stops didn’t work anymore and my hits were really weak. Baby steps…but I had Team Portugal training mid-July and my steps needed to be a bit more adult-like. I pre-warned my coaches that I wouldn’t be at 100% yet, but would try my best to keep up. Easier said than done… The first day went horribly for me; I knew where to be on track and what I wanted to do, but my body wouldn’t keep up. My leg was not up to a rigorous weekend of training yet, and the brace was hindering me more than it was helping. Everyone around me had progressed and I had gone backwards; I couldn’t hold back my tears of frustration. My team were really supportive, and with their help I tried to find new track positions where I would be more useful, and change up my style of play to suit my current limitations and get the most out of the remainder of the weekend.

A month later, however, everything was dramatically different! My leg was getting stronger every day, all the hard work doing physiotherapy was paying off and I could see gains week by week. Just in time too, as our first challenge at the European Roller Derby Championship was fast approaching and I didn’t want to let my team down, as, despite my poor performance the month before, they believed in me enough to vote me in as captain! I was feeling able enough to take on a challenge, so I signed up to the Roller Derby Athletics Pump up Your Jam programme; I had done this programme the year before when it had given great results, and I only had to make a few adaptations (more cycling than running for example). My NHS physio sessions also progressed to the advanced level, and my physio suggested I try skating without a brace as it wasn’t helping my ankle to strengthen. It was liberating! I felt almost normal again, and could skate and swerve (but those plow stops still sucked).

September in Mons, Belgium, and our first game was against the tournament favourites Team France. As if that wasn’t scary enough, fear was also rushing through me as I had broken my leg playing against Paris, many of which were playing for France that day. First whistle, first jam, first game after my injury… It wasn’t horrible! I was playing again and suddenly more worried about my new bruises than paranoid about my ankle. I felt almost normal and was pumped for the rest of the tournament! We had a really positive game against France, a terrible game (for us) against Team Wales and a super fun game against Team Spain (dancing to the Macarena for their national anthem might have had something to do with that). We came 8th out of 8 teams, but we were super happy about our performance, and ended the tournament looking forward to the world cup and not coming last again.

Silva with Team Portugal at the World Cup

Silva with Team Portugal at the World Cup

During the months that followed I made it back onto Bristol’s A team, had a good run of challenging games, continued to work hard at the gym and had another team practice in Portugal that went infinitely better than the last. All the work I had put in since March got me to Dallas ready for the World Cup: I had made it, even after thinking all was lost just a few months prior. We faced France again and I was no longer worried about my ankle, won a nail biting game against Team Switzerland, and had a brilliant performance throughout: we didn’t finish last in the tournament! I couldn’t have wished for a better outcome.

– Da Silva Surfer

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