Great Britain hockey player becomes team’s cheerleader after leg injury

Emma Bird left no doubt that she was injured.

The defenseman on the Great Britain women’s national inline hockey team connected with teammate Kate Rigby during a “warm-up friendly” scrimmage game last Sunday with France at the Taylor Sportsplex. Bird spun around and collapsed to the floor, writhed in pain and howled for help.

Her left foot, wrapped by her roller hockey skate, was turned 180 degrees from its natural position. Teammates, coaches, staff from the International Roller Sports Federation, arena staff and others rushed to her aid. Players from other teams and spectators surrounded the arena to get a look. The Taylor Fire Department was called. A coach from the French team, who is a paramedic, assisted.

Bird, 19, was in agony.

After firefighters wrapped and stabilized her leg, she was transported to Oakwood Heritage Hospital, where doctors said Bird suffered a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle, pending further tests. She will face surgery to repair the damage.

Her brief participation in the world championships of inline hockey – which started with a nine-hour flight from England – was over pretty much before it started.

From that point, Bird was relegated to a cast and a wheelchair. As one of her team’s top defenseman and a competitor who loves to play both ice and inline hockey, Bird admitted it was difficult at first not being able to contribute.

The mood “was a bit morbid,” she said.

The next day, Bird noticed several teammates appeared nervous as they were about to play their first game against Canada. From that point forward, she became her team’s biggest cheerleader. Her outlook was positive. The team morale skyrocketed. And her smile was infectious. Everyone passing by seemed to have something nice to say to Emma Bird. The USA women’s team sent her a card.

“I had tears in my eyes, but I got over it,” said Bird, who lives in Scunthorpe, England, about three hours north of London. “It was a freak accident. It shook up a lot of people, but it could happen to anyone.

“I would prefer to be playing, but I’ve still got my leg. I’m still alive.

“Everyone is so nice and helpful and always asking me if I’m all right. It’s hard to be sad when you’re around so many nice people.”

Great Britain lost its first two games to Canada, 7-2, and the Czech Republic, 6-2, then defeated Mexico, 2-1.

“I think they’re playing amazing,” Bird said. “The last time we played Canada, we lost 19-nil.”

The Great Britain women’s dreams of a world championship ended with a 6-0 loss Thursday night to France.

Bird said the team played better than it ever had against Canada and was tied 1-1 with the Czechs, which was an impressive achievement.

The world championships ended with medal-round games Saturday night. The AAU Junior Olympics portion of the inline hockey festival continues this week. Results are available at www.aauhockey.org.

Laura Stark, Bird’s defensive partner who rushed to her aid after the injury, stayed with her in the ambulance and overnight at the hospital. Co-coach Danny Martin and a nurse followed in a car driven by Amber Leininger, an official with FIRS.

“I know someone would do the same thing to me if it happened,” Stark said. “She’s such a huge part of the team. She’s still part of the team, but in a different way.”

Bird raved about the support she received from the Fire Department and the work done by the staff of Oakwood Heritage Hospital.

Bird, who raised money to play in the tournament by working at Burger King, said she loves the sport of hockey because of the “speed, movement and tactics.” However, she said the injury will keep her from playing on the Great Britain national ice hockey team next month in Prague.

Instead, Bird said she will begin mastering the art of wheelchair basketball and other wheelchair sports as she prepares to begin college at Sheffield Hallam University. She will study sports technology, which will allow her to mix her two favorite things: sports and design.

Her goal is to get fit in time to play in next year’s world championships.

“I want to thank everyone,” she said. “Everyone has been amazing. I definitely would come back, just for the people.”