Taking Off the Helmet – Mia Mauler #8

If you are involved in roller derby you know that once you dip that toe into the pool you quickly find yourself over your head. It starts with a couple of practices a week and then turns into practices, meetings, events, parties, and projects. It can truly take over your life. But what about when life circumstances or an injury forces the derby out of your life; when your car doesn’t drive to North Tonawanda on autopilot anymore. What’s life after derby? Mia Mauler, the original captain of the Nickel City Knockouts sat down and shared the events that led her to have to do without derby.

How long were you part of QCRG?

I skated for three seasons: 2007-2009. I was the founder of the Knockouts and the first captain for the ladies in blue. We coached ourselves the first year (boy was that an atrocity), reorganized the second year and had the infamous “Danny” as coach for my third year. I had to have surgery in 2009 (that story is later) and had to stop skating then. I coached the KO’s for one year and then transitioned to announcer and also founded the Queen’s Court – the QCRG home for undrafted skaters.

Once I had my hip surgery, it was clear that I couldn’t do anything on skates anymore and Mason was glad to have me on the microphone at that point. It was good to have a dedicated team of announcers. There was no fumbling to figure out who had the script and commentary, who’s got the color and humor part – we just blended. We were a good team.

Is being an announcer a different job now than when the league began?

With old school announcing, we were free to say anything – including where the jammer was because there wasn’t the same strategy there is now. Now, announcers have to pay attention and call after the play has happened. For example, someone makes a great block and the jammer has to come in bounds behind so-and-so. As an announcer, you can’t say what’s going on while it’s happening. The biggest mistake announcers can make is ANNOUNCING that a team has their jammer in the penalty box. It’s like, thanks for the jam, and thanks for your big mouth! OY –

Photo by Ike
I still love announcing, because I think the fans still don’t get the rules, and they don’t try to learn them. They expect everything to be explained as we go along. You try to bring them up to speed, but they just want to see somebody get creamed. That’s what they’re there for. Well not all of them, that is a big generalization, but the biggest response from the crowd is when there’s a great hit or somebody goes flying.

What do you like about derby now, versus when the league first began?

I am so proud, grateful, thankful and hopeful – with the direction it’s taking. I love seeing more strategy and less smash, because it keeps skaters healthier, stronger, and they can have a little bit more of a career instead of getting banged up and saying “oh crap, I can’t do this anymore.” Like in my case – had to hang it up because I want to be able to walk when I’m fifty!

Do you think people are smarter about the physical risk involved now?

I hope so. There’s so much love to play this game that I still think people are rushing back onto their skates too soon. I know I rushed back into it too soon. I remember being back on skates, terrified, thinking, “if I fall again, I don’t even want to think about what will happen. I’m still bruised.” I told one of my teammates “you’ve got to hit me. I’m terrified. I don’t want to fall but you’ve got to hit me.” She was like, “Don’t ask people to hit you, they’re more than happy to hit you. Let it happen whenever.” She still hit me.

What circumstances led to your hip accident?

Photo by Match
It was during a game against the Devil Dollies. I’m not a jammer, but we wanted to pull something different right off the bat. It was period one, jam one. The coach (my husband) said, “Mia, you’re jamming.” I said, “Shit!” I didn’t normally jam and there I was jamming against Red Fox.

The whistle blows and the front of the pack takes off. Second whistle goes. Release the hounds! We’re skating, she wheel locks with me on that very first corner. My feet got pulled out from under me. I levitated perfectly for a split second, kinked at the hip, and then all 200 pounds of me slammed down on my hip.

I kept skating for the whole game. In fact, it was the Knockouts’ first win ever. I didn’t know that I had ruptured my bursa sack and dislocated my femur.

There was no quit in this old girl. I’m in the penalty box five or six jams later screaming, “Somebody get me an ice pack!”

This was 2008. There were no trainers, and only one EMT. You just kept skating until you decided you needed a break, and half the time your coach put you right back in. By the time the night was over, my thigh had engorged. By the time it bled out, my waist to my heel looked like a raw steak, except for the spot that actually hit the floor. It started the legend of Bernard the Bruise.

Photo by Match
Tell me the legend of Bernard the Bruise.

It was hard to get medical assistance for such an unusual sport at that time. When I went to yoga a few days later, they threw me out and said: “go to the emergency room, will ya please?” And that was from just looking at the bruise. I went to Immediate Care and the physician wouldn’t even physically touch me. He said you have a bad bruise, take some aspirin and be careful of clotting. So I’m thinking, it’s just a bruise. I went on my merry way, until it started to hurt and got worse step after step.

I went a full year before I finally got to University Sports Medicine. They did an MRI and they told me I had dislocated my femur and that I would need to have surgery to fix it.

Of all the people who should not have that injury, it’s me. I’ve been a fitness instructor for 25 years. I’ve been teaching kickboxing, weight-lifting, pilates, tai chi, yoga, and aqua kick (kickboxing in a pool). I am the queen of cross-training. It was just such a freak accident. I almost think had it been anybody else, it would have been a fractured hip. It would have been a much worse injury. But because of the condition I was in, I was able to get up and still go. Anybody else would have been stretchered and sent to DeGraff.

But it turned out to be a pretty serious injury, right?

I had the surgery in 2009. They had to dislocate my hip twice, initially to pull the femur out to make sure it would go back in. The second time they dislocated it, they resurfaced the ball joint with, for lack of medical term – with “bone spackle.” Then they ground the pelvic lining and filled in the ruts that femur had gouged out. They resurfaced and put it back together. I was off work for three months but then back teaching kickboxing.

The bursa sack is the problem—it lubricates the joint, and, unfortunately, they don’t regenerate. I wish they did, but we’re not chameleons. So that joint does not get the natural stuff it needs and it is compromised. It’s never going to get any better. I have osteoarthritis. At the time they were tossing around the word osteonecrosis, which is bone death. I can’t get a new hip yet because according to my insurance I’m too young. They won’t give me a shiny new hip until I’m older.

I’ve got metal replacement parts from other sports, too. I broke my leg skiing in Vermont in ’93. Had my meniscus repaired from a roller derby injury, broken thumb, four concussions in 3 years and 3 tears in my shoulder. I’ve taken my lumps because when I started, it was smashup derby. It was hit ‘em, hit ‘em hard and send ‘em to the third row.

There was no strategy – hitting them was the strategy. There was no placement on the track, no booty blocking. It was hit, smash and grab, that was it. I’ll never forget what Sissy Fit said to me at the very first jam of practice back in 2006 – she said: “oh shit, you’re going to hit me!”

So your injury is one of the reasons we have a professional sports trainer at all QCRG bouts.

Pastor Pat gave me Tony Surace’s card. He is the Sports Medical Director with University Sports Medicine. Pastor Pat said talk to this guy and see if he can help out the league. I said: “Well that’s a brilliant idea.” I called Tony and had a meeting and it snowballed from there. He wanted to help so much. He arranged for a sports trainer to come to all of our bouts and be there trackside to help any skater stretch, tape up and prep for every bout. It was wonderful.

I’m sure the decision to stop skating wasn’t an easy one.

It was heartbreaking. I wanted to continue coaching my Knockouts, but when I couldn’t get on skates and outskate them anymore, I thought it was time to stop. I felt that I needed to be better than they were in order to teach them. If they’re better than me, they won’t learn anything from me.

I handed over the reigns to Super Nova and dedicated my time to Queen’s Court and announcing. But after a while it was clear I couldn’t do that either. Damn hip. The training committee took over Queen’s Court and I stepped back to just announce. It was heartbreaking to not be able to get on those 8 wheels and keep rolling.

Are you still involved in the league?

No. I don’t announce anymore and don’t get a chance to make it to too many bouts. My heart is still there though. My husband drag races and he’s home so infrequently that I try to keep my schedule clear so I can see him. He’s usually home when there’s a bout and the last thing he wants to do is schlep all the way out to watch roller derby because he lived it 24/7 with me for 5 years. I can’t blame him. It’s time for something else but I will always love QCRG and roller derby. I still go to open skate sometimes and I love the way it feels to zip around the rink. I will always be Mia Mauler.