The only evidence of Tahirah Johnson’s past life is the teal and silver roller derby jersey hanging by the front door. There on a hook, it seems ready to be snagged, thrown on in the car en route to a bout.
But look at the evidence of Johnson’s current life inside her northwest Oklahoma City home, and you know that jersey is a relic. There is a walker stashed in the front corner of the living room. A wheelchair sits nearby. Johnson reaches across the arm of her automated wheelchair and grabs her plastic water mug with her thin fingers. Slowly, carefully, she swings it toward her and brings its straw to her lips. Even the most basic action is difficult. The same goes for staying motivated. "I sort of go in waves,” she admits. Johnson is known in the roller derby world as Tequila Mockingbird. She is also known as the gal who suffered the worst injury in roller derby’s history. Saturday night, roller derby players from around the region converged on Oklahoma City for a benefit bout. In a sport where they sport names like Anne Putation and Athena DeCrime and wear bruises like badges of honor, players packed into cars and drove for hours to help raise money for Tequila. "It’s the worst injury that’s ever happened,” said Brooke Burleson, a member of the Oklahoma Victory Dolls which organized the benefit bout. "She deserves so much more than we could ever do for her.” Johnson, you see, has no insurance. She was living in Chicago and working as an attorney, a profession where firms regularly tell lawyers to pay for their own health insurance. Not long out of law school and living under a mountain of debt, Johnson did what millions of Americans do. She took a chance and went without. Truth be told, that was the last thing on her mind five years ago when she saw a flier for roller derby while attending a poetry reading. She worked out at the gym and went for runs regularly, but she thought adding a team sport to her fitness routine would be good. Since she’d skated as a kid, too, she was sold. Not long after, she attended her first practice for the Windy City Rollers.