5 Things to Keep in Mind About Safety, Over-Training and Body Image in Roller Derby

You need not look much further than Derby Hurts to see the severity of some injuries that can happen in Roller Derby. Countless have experienced accidents or hits on the track with consequences ranging from a few weeks of recuperation to even major reconstructive surgery. The spread is larger than you may think! Torn ACLs, separated shoulders, broken ankles, broken legs, shattered tail bones, broken/shattered fingers, slipped disks, grade I to III-b concussions, broken kneecaps, broken wrists, dislocated jaws, knocked out teeth, the list goes on. While much of these are the result of game play, there is no doubt in my mind that training, both on and off the track, plays a big factor in this and not necessarily in the way one may think.

It Can Hurt 01

Photo courtesy of Rob Vida Photography.


I know this can be a very sensitive topic and there is a lot I want to address so I will try not to ramble, but rest assured I do not intend to hurt or insult anyone with this piece. I merely hope to engage in some thoughtful discussion on training, over-training and injury in Roller Derby. More often than not our feeds and sites are chock full of motivational quotes, inspiring fitness stories and post after post of workout selfies, CrossFit stats, jogging distances and more. Things like: “Never give up!” “Push harder!” “The only bad workout is the one you didn’t do!” “Good enough isn’t good enough!” Not bad things per say, but I feel more  discussion on the importance of moderation and balance with all of this is warranted. There’s lots of talk about how not exercising or working out enough can lead to injury… which is true… but what about skating, exercising and cross-training too much?

The Importance of Not Rushing “Fresh Meat”

Now, I’m not trying to scare you away BUT I am here to recommend to all of you newer skaters that there is no hurry to get rostered and out on the track. As alluring and exciting as the prospect of getting out there and being a derby girls is, please be honest with yourself over how ready you really feel for the game. It can sometimes, though not always, be a habit of leagues located in smaller cities, with lower membership numbers, to rush girls through fresh meat training so that they can have enough skaters to compete for the season (STOP THAT!). My frustration in this is that really nailing the basic skills is arguably more important to skater safety than any of their gear is. This is a high-speed, FULL impact game played on concrete and hardwood floors and there is only so much that your helmet, mouth guard, wrist guards and other pads are actually going to do for you. As such, truly consistent and proper execution of everything from your safe falls, to derby stance, to crossovers are of the utmost importance in roller derby.

Of course, even at the best of times, accidents can still happen:

That being said, slowing down the process of playing in your first bout with your team is not a bad thing. There is nothing to wrong with taking a little bit longer, dipping your toes onto the track at a few rookie scrimmages and attending a couple of boot camps around your region before donning your leagues jersey and competing against more experienced players. The truth of the matter is, your home team isn’t going to always be playing against opponents of equal skill levels and if you debut too soon, when you’re not really ready, you may find yourself beaten down not only physically but emotionally as well.

Are You Over-training or Over-Reaching?

Any time I attempt to bring up fitness, exercise and diet with fellow derby peers I am more often than not met with defensiveness and a tinge of aggression. And for good reason too! These can all be very sensitive conversation topics and my own personal stance on the subject can sometimes clash with those of others. While some of the following is common sense and general advice repeated by many online, I have included quotations and stories from other sources that I hope will encourage honest, thoughtful reflection in others about what REALLY constitutes healthy/balanced physical activity and eating habits. The reality is, there is such a thing as too much exercise, too much training, too little/too much eating and yes, too much Roller Derby!


  • Don’t Overdo It

In both your participation with or training for this sport. Through my social media contacts I have seen some derby athletes who not only religiously make their practice schedules (1 to 3 or more nights a week), attend scrimmages in their region and play in home and away games but they also, on top of all of this, do CrossFit/Insanity/TRX multiple days AND go to the gym a couple of times AND do weightlifting AND follow some sort of intense diet plan. Honestly, it’s a wonder that I haven’t seen more bad injuries! Although you may be motivated and inspired to be the best you that you can be, the pursuit of healthiness can quickly become unhealthy. The more you pile onto yourself, the harder you push, the greater the chance for serious injury out on and off the flat track. What good is cross-training for derby if you push so hard that you hurt yourself, possibly shortening the bench, before your next game?

In the quest for better health and fitness, it is sometimes difficult to quell one’s enthusiasm and take a break from exercise. But if exercise is leaving you more exhausted than energized, you could be suffering from an acute case of overtraining. Individuals who exercise excessively are risking more than poor performance: They’re risking their health.

American Council on Exercise


  • Know your body’s limits.

Your body speaks to you and sometimes its saying “whoa… slow down. Hey. HEY! THIS IS NOT COOL! STAHP!”. It could be chronic muscle, bone and joint pains. It could be fatigue, depression or sleeplessness. Maybe you’re getting sick more often and for longer periods. Perhaps it is explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting (probably a bigger issue at hand but still a sign). When your body cried out in pain, listen to it! Give it rest BEFORE a serious injury comes along or you could be risking your future in this sport. Take even MORE precautions if you also have medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, blood pressure, a heart condition, etc.

I wanted to do the Shred, I wanted to do yoga, and I wanted to run a marathon. Instead of approaching all three with a sane and moderate game plan, I attacked each one with all that I could give. Why do 15 minutes of yoga when I got do 60 minutes? Why do the Shred once a week when I could do it 3-4? It is a dangerous trap to fall into.

The Superwoman Syndrome: Dangers of Over-training


  • Build up your athletic and physical level GRADUALLY.

As tempting as it might be to jump right into a rigorous exercise or training routine, don’t go all out too quickly! Many individuals in my expansive roller derby circle have quickly become rather obsessed with fitness and while it is certainly a positive thing to strive for a healthier living, as previously mentioned it can be equally as dangerous to pack way too much in too quickly. Whether you are brand new to the sport or have been playing the sport for years, talk to a doctor or nutritionist/dietician before radically changing your physical activity and/or eating habits. Don’t let a gym or online diet plan strong-arm you into something without first researching the impact that will come of these routines. A gradual, patient fitness plan will reduce the risk of you making yourself sick or seriously hurting yourself from overdoing it.

We all know that muscle soreness is a good thing. It means that we’ve really challenged ourselves and that our bodies are working hard to make us stronger and fitter. But if you’ve been doing an activity or exercise for a while but tend to get sore really easily–or stay sore for more than 48 hours–it’s probably a sign that you overdid it and next extra rest. This is why it’s so important to ease into exercise, adding time or intensity slowly over weeks instead of all at once. The body simply needs time to adapt and improve!

7 Hidden Signs of Overtraining


  • Learn to play roller derby right.

Make sure you use proper form to reduce your risk of injuries. Never be afraid to seek guidance or advice from the more senior skaters and look up videos on technique and form. YouTube has a lot of great “how to” uploads available here: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=roller%20derby%20skating%20form&sm=3. Similar searches will help you find even more! Just remember: there is no such thing as a shortcut to improvement or success, only shortcuts to injury.

We’re too eager to play.  The best predictor of future injury is prior injury.  We need to reinforce slow and steady progression of skills for our new girls.  They should always be ready for the next challenge that derby throws at them, both physically and mentally.  I’m not saying to go easy – I’m saying push them to the edge of their limits, but not over the edge.

Roller Derby Saved My Soul (but hurt my knees, and back, and shoulder…)


  • Don’t let body image get you down.

Never forget that roller derby is still for men and women of all shapes and all sizes! That being said, I personally certainly have seen that body image image issues HAVE made their way into our growing sport. All I’ll say is: if you were happy and proud with yourself before, try not to lose sight of that. I know it can be difficult and stressful if you find yourself in a situation where you feel that the rest of your peers and/or trainers are pushing for a more “fit” and “athletic” team but never forget that you always have been, and will continue to be, an athlete in this sport. Besides, changing too much in yourself can lead to you losing some of your strongest assets!

  • Of the athletes that responded, 80% stated that they felt pressure to conform to a certain look and body type.
  • The pressure also comes from within sport, with 61% saying fellow athletes contributed. Other internal causes cited were coaches and national governing bodies. One former athlete said: “My coach was very critical and bloody minded about us athletes being the right weight but constantly changing the goal posts and judging what we had to eat.”
  • Athletes also put pressure on themselves, with 14% saying it came from within. Downhill bike racer Rachel Atherton said: “Myself. Feeling that I do not deserve to call myself a professional athlete if I am not the owner of a stick thin body with visibly bulging muscles attached, zero body fat or gorgeous skin that isn’t weathered from the elements!!”
  • The pressure has had a direct effect on athletes, with 76% saying their behaviour had been influenced. The most common reaction was to change their diet (87%), while exercise and training regimes had also been affected (58%). One athlete said it had affected her diet to the point that she developed an eating disorder, while another admitted she had prioritized striving to be thinner above her performance within her sport: “Sometimes it has meant my diet no longer is optimum for performance but becomes optimum for looking slimmer/thinner….which isn’t my body type.”

BT Survey: Body Image Insecurities Rife in Women’s sports


I also cannot stress enough the importance of reading, understanding, knowing and following the WFTDA rules so that you do not seriously hurt somebody else either. But that’s another conversation, and debate on accountability, altogether.

While there has certainly been some discussion on over-training and over-reaching in roller derby I honestly wish I would see more from prominent, popular individuals around the sport. I’m sure many have experienced both and many more will throughout the course of this year. Awareness and education about the risks of doing too much, pushing too hard and trying to progress too fast would be beneficial to us all. Just as further discussion of being too inactive or not cross-training at all has its on track risks as well.

Be as healthy and fit as you want, or don’t want, to be. Just be careful either way!


Do you have a good balance of Roller Derby and cross-training in your life?

Do you have any advice for others pursuing athleticism in this sport?

Have you ever felt body image issues in Roller Derby, be it in terms of meeting some sort of athletic mold or simple aesthetics?

What was your worst derby related injury and do you feel that too much, or too little, training contributed to it?

IntensityWritten by Kevin ‘Kevlar’ Dennison

Who is hoping most of that was coherent!



  1. Well said! I agree that overtraining all too often leads to injury.

    I have definitely felt pressure to increase my fitness level in derby. There is far more of a push for training outside of derby now than there was when I started 4 years ago. I’ve seen girls go to the extremes of working out and body image/eating issues, and they worry me.

    1. Hello Reckless!

      I am sorry to hear that you have felt that pressure to increase fitness and change. I agree that there is definitely a much greater push for cross-training and it may be controversial to say, but I personally feel that this push comes due to the sport’s Olympian goals and growth into international competition for things like the World Cup. To me it feels almost as if this mold for what makes the perfect Roller Derby athlete is starting to take shape. A sort of physical aesthetic of how a competitive derby girl should look, behave and exercise.

      It’s a shame because that moves away from the “all shapes, all sizes” ideal that really set this sport apart as being truly inclusive and now I see many women rigorously working themselves to look like what their peers are saying is best for competition.

      Of course fitness and good health are good things, for sure. But not at the expense of ostracizing thousands or making once proud amateur athletes feel bad about their bodies. I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but these athletic body image issues just seem to be rising more and more.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!


      1. To begin with, derby was probably the first positive thing that had ever happened to my body image. The idea of exercising to be good at something and not just as punishment for being overweight; well that was nothing short of a revelation. But now I feel like the sport is becoming less accepting of bigger girls, and the focus on training seems to be – train hard, eat for fuel, get strong. Which is great if you are under or normal weight range. But I don’t think I have seen one article on losing weight in derby.

        Training on a deficit is tough. It means going to practice hungry sometimes. It means not being at your best energy-wise (especially if you are restricting carbs). It means saying “no” a lot of the time to things your team-mates can allow themselves. Adding to that, you simply cannot build muscle on a deficit.

        The good news is, as a bigger girl you probably already out-muscle them by a mile, the bad news is while your smaller team-mates get to talk about building guns and traps, you’re back there, in the fucking gym, sweating to get skinny again like you were all those years before derby. And you can’t even brag about it, because it’s not talked about. It’s disheartening.

        1. That is definitely very disheartening… I too have felt that the sport is slowly becoming less accepting of bigger girls and you’re absolutely right about it not being talked about how much extra work they feel they need to put in to meet “the mold”.

          I spoke with one skater not too long ago who felt that the sport needs to shift its focus back on performance and a little more away from fitness. She felt that although fitness most certainly does impact performance, that impact is not always positive and Roller Derby’s new found obsession with it is alienating and ostracizing many. She also spoke of many friends or fresh meat skaters who had become so discouraged, stressed and depressed about their bodies and fitness that they ended up leaving the sport because they felt they were physically incapable of meeting the body type that so many images and article seemed to perpetuate as being desirable.

          Anyway, now I’m rambling haha. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences!



      2. Do those things have to be mutually exclusive? I think derby would lend itself well to a minor league/major league set-up. All shapes and all sizes and many commitment levels should be welcome, and individuals that have the desire, drive, and time to reach the level of skill and athleticism required to pursue more Olympian goals should have an opportunity to do so. Honestly, I think it would also help the sport to have minor leagues that recapture some of the “fun” that I sometimes feel is slipping away.

      3. One of the factors influencing my decision to get out of derby was the “fitness” component. I get it: being fit is great, and essential for performance, etc, but I’ve noticed a shift from what derby was when I started looking at doing it to when I got out, too. Quite simply, I find a lot of fitness stuff boring, personally: if I wanted to do crossfit, I’d have done crossfit, not derby. I’ve also noticed a growing subtle competition happening, and while I can understand people taking it seriously, I didn’t really sign up for *that*, either. Like the poster below me, I think there is a huge body image issue creeping into the sport, only instead of it being as blatant as in other sports (ie. figure and artistic skating, gymnastics, lingerie football) it’s a lot quieter and ignored because it seems like you can’t say anything that challenges “derby is all-inclusive and a big feminist lovefest.” I “friended” a heap of derby people on FaceBook, and started seeing “fitspo” pictures and “cleansing” diets and “get fit to look pretty” type “inspiration” all over the place.

        As someone who has spent a serious portion of her life struggling with body image issues and eating disorders, I found it triggering as all fuck some times: throw in a lousy night at training and it didn’t take much for my brain to revert to the old coping mechanism of “If I lose weight, I’ll be doing okay at something…” Thankfully, I didn’t go back there, and I had enough knowledge of what sets me off, ED-wise, and was able to recognise it and deconstruct it. In the early days, derby was the like anti-eating disorder, because restricting would fail to give you the needed energy for training, but I think as more people have come into it, it’s become a lot more competitive. Maybe it’s also partly to do with the types of people who are attracted to it: you get a lot of people who feel like outsiders, I’ve noticed, but also a number of type-A super-competitive types with perfectionist tendencies. (I’m not denying that I fall into this category myself.)

        I hated even the casual talk about bodies which most people didn’t even notice: it permeated everything… not sure if it’s inescapable amongst a predominantly female group of people (given the socialisation we get about women’s bodies from day dot) or in a sport, but I never noticed as much years ago. Throw in socialising which often includes food and other people, and it can get really uncomfortable. And weight inevitably comes up; people lost weight, gained weight, “binged” and “had to ‘be good'” over Christmas, etc.

        And… don’t get me wrong: I’m fairly healthy (aside from taking up smoking again): I’m vegan (not for “health” reasons: it’s ethical, but I realise there are health benefits if you’re not just living off Oreos) and I love throwing things in my juicer to make weird juice combinations, and I actually don’t mind a bit of physical activity. And I can understand how derby can become an all-encompassing take-over-your-life thing. I wasn’t really expecting, from what I’d experienced of derby in the early days, for body image and “fitness” to be something to be fixated on as well. One of the HUGE attractions to derby for me was that bigger girls had an advantage as being damn good blockers, and that they were proof that you could be extremely fit AND not looking like something out Sports Illustrated. Truth be known, I actually *gained* a hell of a lot of weight doing derby though was eating insane amounts of food because, fuel, but shapewise, I was still wearing the same clothing as I did pre-derby. I haven’t skated in months yet I can still flex my legs and see muscles, and I haven’t taken up any kind of regular physical activity since derby, either. (I also won’t deny that I don’t sometimes look at that and go “WTF have I done to myself?” and wish my legs hadn’t bulked up as much as they did.)

        I realise a lot of this stuff is inevitable, and that much of my experience has been influenced by my own past, too. I’m not blaming anyone for anything or even asking for anything, but just putting it out that it’s nice to see some acknowledgement of it.

  2. When I first started derby in 2011, I caught on to some of the basic skills really fast and I was passed through minimum skills in like 6 weeks. During an intense drill one day, I was going too fast and could not control my speed and ran into a girl and broke my ankle. Recovered from that and came back, immediately passed skills again.. I still had no idea how to play derby or how to take/give a hit. I was rushed into bouting and thrown in as jammer, within 15 seconds, I was hit and sprained my ankle. After that I was DONE! Finally after a year I missed it so much, I came back (to another league). From the get go I explained I didn’t care if I passed skills quickly, I was bouting when I was ready. This team is really supportive and I have continued to take it slow. I have bouted 3 times since starting back in March of 2013 and no injuries! Our league is also supportive of all body types and levels of fitness. We encourage outside workouts, but no one feels pressured to do more than they’re able. OKCOUTLAWSFORLIFE!!

    1. Very glad to hear that you are taking your time and bouting when you feel that you are ready! I wish more approached the sport in that way. It’s also wonderful that your league has been so supportive and understanding of all levels of fitness. That is an excellent way to approach things!

      Thank you for sharing your story, Sonya!



  3. This was the reply I just left on my team’s FB post of this:

    Extremely timely for me. I’ve been debating if I should NSO Sunday because my right hip joint has been so sore the last two days that it hurts to put weight on just the right leg. I am guilty of skating hard all week until my joints hurt (ie. Earlier this week) and then having to break the following week, all the time. And the body image thing is still being worked out too, as I really need new (bigger) pants now.

  4. This article is SO GOOD. I like how you addressed the pressure to do extreme workout regimes. While cross training is amazing for our game, we could really use a sense of proportion to keep people growing athletically while still getting enough rest and SLEEP. Nothing happens overnight, or even over a couple of months. I also started derby as an overweight person and I completely lacked endurance or athletic abilities. My progress was slow but steady, and I am grateful for that. The biggest contributor to my improvement and safety in derby was completely re-focusing on my very basic skills. I re-did everything. I hope that we don’t discourage larger women (and men) from becoming amazing skaters because we assume that they aren’t “fit” enough based on looks. That’s pretty much a grievous violation of the derby code.

  5. Love this.
    I put my ongoing and recurring knee injury down to pushing myself more than my skill level or body was able to take when coming up through the ranks.
    When I should have rested it, I didn’t (still don’t really either) and when I should have maybe held back a bit, I didn’t. There was as much external pressure as there was internal – my upcoming first-ever bout, not wanting to let the team down, not wanting to look like the “weak noob link”, being part of a small league, being desperate to play….
    Luckily, my knee got better and I was able to continue playing and improving but at one point, I was worried I might need a knee replacement! *drama queen*
    There is definitely a lack of understanding about injuries and how to prevent and heal them within leagues, especially new ones that have been set up by people who’ve never been involved in the “fitness” industry before. This isn’t their fault at all, its more a lack of resources. We don’t get dedicated physios like football teams do unfortunately! 😀
    Having adequate rest is something I’ve recently learned I need to take seriously. I was doing an intense training program to benefit my derby stuff but it actually made me MORE tired and LESS effective as a jammer! I couldn’t understand it. Then, after a 2 week xmas break when we all came back more energised and as fit as ever I got it – rest is good. Rest is essential!
    Thanks for a great post. xxx

  6. This is a great article for fresh meat. I am overweight but have been a dedicated member if fresh meat for a year now. I’m dying to move on not necessarily for game play (though that would be awesome) but so I can skate twice a week as I feel my gym work outs aren’t quite enough, I’m so discouraged about how slow my laps have come. But this article makes me feel a lot better about the time I’ve given to fresh meat and that it could be a good thing it’s taken me this long to get ready. The rest of my skills have progressed nicely and I can take a hit and stop quite well. Side note, my league is awesome and very inclusive of all shapes and sizes. Love these girls 🙂

  7. I think I am probably guilty of wanting to run before I can walk. I have been skating for 8 and a half months and still not mins passed. I *really* want to be involved in scrimmages and bouts but when I think about it, I do understand why I can’t yet, however, I don’t think that training is a bad thing or wanting to improve your strength should be criticised.

    I started to skate because I wanted to find something that I enjoyed but was still exercise. The inevitable happened and Derby took over my life and now I do attend 2-3 training sessions a week and I go to the gym twice a week on top of that. BUT before I rocked up to my first ever session, I could not do the stairs at work without being short of breath, I smoked and my shoulders were agony every day due to weak traps. I now have pain free shoulders which I never thought I would, I have quit smoking because I was given the motivation to do so and I can run up those stairs without it even phasing me.

    I guess from the outside people might think I am working to hard but had I not worked hard I would not be able to do any of the things I mentioned above. I hope this does not come across as ‘defensive’ I just wanted to share my opinion. There was no pressure from my team mates to lose weight or train harder, nor do I feel that if I do not do extra training will I not fit ‘the mold’ – I am actually eating more and healthier than before I started skating because I don’t want to loose weight and I actually have the appetite now instead of being able to go a day without eating anything, mostly through forgetfulness on my part.

    I play a sport and I want to be good at this sport, as well as feel healthy, that’s all really. Thanks for listening. x

  8. I kind of feel like you are trying to expose the Female Athlete Triad when it comes to training but kinda missed the mark. Maybe many of your readers don’t even know what that term refers to, so I will explain. The Female Athlete Triad is what is known as compulsive exercising, disordered eating and chronic fatigue and injuries. http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/the-female-athlete-triad.pdf

    Let’s not put all skaters who train 6 days a week on and off the track under the Female Triad umbrella. Bottom line derby is changing and as it moves ever close to legitimacy, fitness will become even more of an essential component. That is reality. If competition isn’t your thing, shop around. There is a plethora of leagues out there and one will suit the level of intensity and competition you are seeking.

    Being pushed to excel is a fine line. Some skaters find a reason to drop out of every fitness or endurance drill, then feel upset that they get bypassed for the draft-again- because they didn’t make laps. If you want it you’ll do the work. Own it. For the gals who feel they are being pushed to skate injured or pressured to play before actually being ready; speak up!!! Say something. Maybe your training committee needs a shake up. Value your self. You joined Derby to be an Alpha.

    If you are upping the intensity of your training see your doc get a physical and visit a nutritionist. Notice I said nutritionist not local Derbalife rep. That stuff is evil. Stay away from it. Yep I said it. Bring on the hate mail. Never ever attend practice improperly hydrated or nourished; you will be a hazard to your self and others.

    Find a really great sports chiropractor and physio to assist you with those problem areas. Milk your health benefits. If you don’t have supplemental benefits access the free stuff that is out there. In Alberta derby players are recognized as athletes are are eligible to receive three free physiotherapy visits a calendar year. Use it. Take care of those nagging injuries.

    Lastly do not mistake size for fitness. They are not synonymous nor are they mutually exclusive. Please, let’s stop perpetuating that myth. If you are a big girl and you have made your laps, I applaud you. You are actually stronger and more fit that your smaller counterparts doing the same. Your worth is not determined by your waist.


  9. Oh my goodness, body image. I remember the days when derby was truly welcoming to every body type. As long as one could prove their mettle on the track, it didn’t matter what size or shape a person happened to be. Those days seem to be long gone, yet another casualty to the idea of derby becoming like every other sport despite its initial attraction to most people being that it’s NOT like every other sport.

    I don’t want derby to be like every other sport. If I wanted to be ostracized for my size, there’s a lot of other sports I could choose to humiliate myself in by trying to participate in them. Derby was attractive because it’s athletic without the typical jock baggage that came with it. Now there’s signs at Playoffs making fun of the size of skaters from certain teams. That’s “professional”?! That’s horrific, and self-destructive to women in general. STOP IT.

    I shudder to think how many new skaters have been turned off to derby nowadays because they thought the old welcoming ways of “any shape, any size” have been traded in for obsessing about what is essentially still a hobby for 99% of derby’s participants (including refs, NSOs, vendors, announcers, sponsors, skate shops, etc). Striving to enhance the overall skillset of teams is great; to do so at the expense of the very people who are interested in derby is self-defeating.

    In the words of Sgt. Hulka from the movie Stripes, “Lighten up, Francis.”

    It’ll do derby a world of good to really think about what should be happening to this sport.

  10. Wonderful peice. I felt pushed too hard, too fast…until my body was so injured my legs literally refused to let me skate more than a few minutes. That was 5 years ago. Still not totally sure what cased it, but it seems fallen arches & onee injuries have something to do with it. Worst part is now even walking is effected….& yet I still miss derby & skating….dearly.

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