Utah's ultimate derby girl overcoming her toughest bout

Utah's ultimate derby girl is overcoming her toughest bout.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Her derby moniker is Scarlicious #737.

Christy Atkinson, the former Salt City Derby Girl, chose the name because she was so determined to succeed that her feet blistered and then scarred. The number refers to the Boeing 737, the only plane her employer, Southwest Airlines, flies.

Atkinson watched Texas Derby Girls on television as a child. Though she was not an athlete, she told herself, "I'm going to do that one day." And so she did, becoming part of the only female flat track league in Utah at the time. It's now a banked track team.

"Being a derby girl became part of my identity," she said.

For four years, Atkinson was one of the most revered and feared derby girls in the city. To her fellow skaters she was the ultimate derby girl, strong, beautiful and determined.

Her coach, Eric Kraan, said it took Atkinson almost no time to be voted co-captain of the Salt City Shakers, the all-star traveling team.

"She is not afraid to tell you how things are, and she has always been fair and square with everyone she interacts with," Kraan said. " You could see her helmet go down and you knew she meant business, never afraid of the challenge that confronted her on the track."

At the same time she skated, Atkinson juggled a job as a customer service agent at Southwest and single motherhood. Atkinson and her daughter Star, a cheerleader, don't talk about what's happening to her at the moment, as Star gets too upset and is embarrassed by the change in her mother's appearance.

For support, she has her partner, Becky Burningham.

Life changed completely for Atkinson about two years ago. She had dealt with ulcerative colitis and acid reflux most of her life but kept them under control with medication, determined to compete even when she had to leave the track repeatedly to vomit. Even after a series of surgeries — bladder surgery, a hysterectomy (where doctors discovered a 10.6-pound tumor) and a throat replacement because years of severe reflux made it nearly impossible to swallow food. Still, she said she was "bound and determined" to go back to work. "I'm Scarlicious," she told herself. "I can get better."

In February 2012, she became severely dehydrated and malnourished. By March, her ulcerative colitis was so debilitating that she was forced to leave work.

Southwest is holding her job but with no salary. She doesn't have insurance and can't afford to pay the $1,100 a month Cobra payment

When Ashley Tarr first joined the derby league, she saw Atkinson on the track and thought "she was the epitome of badass. She taught me how to be fearless on the track and to be unapologetic for being strong and tough. But off the track, she was a mother and a very caring spirit. She was always so supportive of everyone and took care of us. She brought our team closer together."

Earlier this month, Tarr (aka Veronica Scars) and Angela Lawson Keith (Dangerlove) — both friends from Atkinson's Leave It to Cleavers derby team — saw how much she needed help and set up an account on gofundme.com, called "Healing Scarlicious."

Atkinson updated the page with this entry: "I had given up. I was spending free time planning my funeral. My parents and I had started to go over my current will. We had also talked about who would finish raising my daughter. I felt as though I was dying more quickly day by day. When I look in the mirror at my 105-pound body, I cringe. I see death."

But then came four visions at night in which she thought she left her body. "I could see white light, and on one side of me there were friends and family and on the other side there was a man's voice I couldn't recognize. He said that I could fight, or I could choose to give up and all the pain would be gone." Not surprisingly, she chose to fight.

After people saw the fundraising account, she was inundated with phone calls and emails, as well as more than $5,300 in donations from friends and strangers.

Atkinson had her last surgery June 12. She's lost more than 60 pounds and throws up every day. She's had a neurostimulator put in her left buttock. It sends electronic pulses to the bladder, bowel, kidneys and all lower regions. She has the control of the machine that is now running her lower body. She's also had to have tubes put in her ears and has lost most of the hearing in her right ear.

"I am still getting used to the electronic stimulants," she said. "My body jumps off the bed or couch and my arms, legs and feet move constantly without me telling them to. This is a good thing, though."

The pacemaker has fixed the urinary and bowel incontinence so she can go out in public and leave the house comfortably for a few hours. But it will take about eight weeks to heal, and then she will need a second throat surgery when she can get a state-funded medical insurance. She can swallow, but only about 30 percent of the time. She eats mostly ice pops and soup.

She has many new scars now, she said, but "I no longer feel like I need to plan my funeral."

Daisy Blake — aka Babe Rainbow— is a retired member of the all-female Red Rockettes league, a recreational flat-track roller derby program in Salt Lake City.

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Derby girl recovery

There will be a benefit scrimmage to help Salt City Derby Girl Christy Atkinson — aka Scarlicious #737.

When • Sunday, Sept. 1. Registration at 2 p.m., scrimmage at 3 p.m. and full bout at 5 p.m.

Details • Learn more about the scrimmage as well as how to donate at www.gofundme.com/3gf68o