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back from the grave...
Injury May Keep Local Roller Derby Competitor In Wheelchair
Tequila Mockingbird Hurt In August Bout
POSTED: 2:13 pm CDT September 10, 2007
CHICAGO -- By day, Tahirah Johnson practiced law. After hours, she became "Tequila Mockingbird," a skater in a Cicero-based women's roller derby league.
But Johnson might never skate again. Indeed, after being injured in a roller derby bout last month, it remains uncertain whether she will walk again.
"It's kind of a strange accident," said Johnson, 39. "It's kind of like I just walked across the street and got hit by a truck."
Much about the league is tongue-in-cheek. The Windy City Rollers' Web site has an "injuries page" with photos of the cuts, bruises and bone-breaks suffered by women with names like "Anne Putation."
But there is nothing funny about what happened to Johnson on Aug. 25, when she fell in front of another player, who skated over her at the collarbone. Johnson lay on the track, unable to move her arms or legs.
"I just felt the life drain out of me," Johnson said.
Now being treated at Schwab Rehabilitation Center on the South Side, Johnson has an injury to her C4 vertebra. She has partial use of just one arm and no use of her legs. But she has feeling in her limbs.
Dr. Leonard Cerullo of the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch (who is not treating her), said that is reason to be "cautiously optimistic" about her recovery.
"I'm hoping I don't spend too much time in a wheelchair, and from there a walker, and hopefully from there a cane," Johnson said. "I will walk again."
Professional roller derby had its heyday in the '50s, '60s and '70s -- its popularity memorialized in the 1972 Raquel Welch film "Kansas City Bomber." Some dismissed it as theater and not a true sport. Fights broke out, predictably. By the mid-1970s, organized roller derby was dead.
Johnson says roller derby's current, all-female revival is a real sport with rules, and that nothing is staged. A cable TV show chronicling the revival, "Rollergirls," aired last season on A&E.
Teams compete to get their "jammer" -- one of the five team members -- past as many opposing team members on a roller rink as possible.
The revival began in 2001 with a league in Austin, Texas. In 2004, Elizabeth "Juanna Rumbel" Gomez and Kelly "Sister Sledgehammer" Simmons founded the Windy City Rollers, a league of four teams. "Bouts" take place at Cicero Stadium.
Johnson grew up in Uptown and attended Mather High School on the North Side. After graduating from John Marshall Law School, she practiced criminal defense and divorce law before going to work as a contract attorney.
Always physically active -- her other interests include weightlifting, boxing and break-dancing -- she got into roller derby three years ago after answering an ad at a Wicker Park nightclub.
Even after her accident, she wouldn't warn other women away from roller derby. Her injury was an "anomaly in the sport," she said. Besides, "The type of girl who's going to do roller derby isn't going to listen to any advice."
Copyright 2007, Sun-Times News Group
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