Derek W. of Tucson
Sci-fi enthusiast and prop-maker Derek W. spiraled after a motorcycle accident left him with a limp. With the aid of medical cannabis and the cosplay community, the force remains strong with this one.
The road was perfectly smooth on the way up the mountain. But before Derek W., started the ride back down from Tucson’s majestic Mount Lemon, a construction crew had filled parts of the pavement with lines of black tar, still sticky in the morning sun.
“I didn’t anticipate the tar snakes, and I felt my rear wheel slip—I still don’t know if I hit the guardrail or the road,” recalls Derek, describing the 2013 motorcycle accident that left him with a limp. “When I stopped moving, I was on my back. My jeans were torn up and my knee was smashed up. I was only going 35 mph, and I can’t imagine what would have happened if I’d been going faster.”
A lifelong rider, Derek had to garage his Kawasaki Ninja 300 for months while he recovered from the crash, though his knee continued to plague him. He suffered from chronic discomfort, but renounced traditional treatment and pain medication for multiple reasons.
“I couldn’t afford to go to a specialist, and I’ve always just avoided all kinds of drugs because I’m allergic to penicillin, and I’m just generally scared of opioids,” he explains. “So I’d kind of resigned myself to living with the pain.”
That changed in 2016 when a friend convinced him to try cannabis as medicine. Reticent at first to use something others used as recreation—”I knew what alcohol did to me and I didn’t want that”—Derek got his card and began to research different strains and their effects. He credits the popular online cannabis community TheWeedTube.com with helping jumpstart his education, leading to deep dives into particular terpenes and cannabinoids.
These days he enjoys chatting about concentrates and waxes with the knowledgeable budtenders at Harvest of Tucson dispensary, who he says represents “the most premium product around.”
“I started with flower because it seemed like a rite of passage, but I really hate the smell of bong water,” he says with a laugh. “Now I pretty much dab exclusively. And I’m a sativa guy, all the way.”
After a few months of medicating with cannabis, Derek was able to put aside his cane. He also began to lose weight—a total of 85 lbs.—leading to improved confidence and an expanded outlook on life.
“As I started using cannabis for one thing, the pain, I noticed benefits for other things. It started changing my perception of myself and the world,” he says, referring to Buddhist philosopher Miyamoto Musashi who wrote, “If you know the way broadly you will see it in everything.”
That wisdom may sound like the philosophy of a Jedi warrior, and for good reason: Derek, now 32, knows his Star Wars lore and is well-versed in all things sci-fi, fantasy, comic and anime. He uses his expertise in the cultural zeitgeist to craft prop and costume replicas from movies and video games, producing performance-grade helmets, body armor, light sabers, masks and more. (Check out his Insta @vertigoprops.)
Starting with pepakura, a form of Japanese papercraft, he now molds each piece from resin and fiberglass in his home studio, selling and trading with members of Arizona’s robust cosplay community. He also accepts commissions, often creating full-body costumes out of a simple drawing, a challenge that takes time and patience.
“First, I have to make it three-dimensional. Then, not only does it have to fit the person, it has to be comfortable so they can walk around in it for hours. It’s a long process, and it’s expensive. This isn’t Spirit Halloween stuff.”
In addition to participating in local and regional ComicCons, movie premieres and special “holidays” like May the Fourth, Derek often meets up with his cosplay crew for charitable purposes. Dressed in costume, they attend promotional events and visit children’s hospitals to spread the “force.” They call themselves the 501st Legion, a local faction of the international Star Wars fan organization dedicated to screen-accurate costuming and the proliferation of the greater galactic good.
We're the 'bad guys doing good.’ Our members' kids troop with us, too.It helps them develop positive connections and social skills without feeling judged amongst their peers,” says the proud Legionnaire, who often makes an appearance as a stormtrooper.
“It’s really awesome to take the fantasy and make it someone’s reality for the day.”
Derek is grateful to have come through the dark days since his accident. He continues to ride his motorcycle with care, working night shifts as a security guard to help fund his cosplay habit. While his knee sometimes still bothers him—“I can always tell when it’s going to rain,” he avows—he finds that as long as he is medicating with cannabis, he has plenty of good will and artistry to share with others.
“Cannabis has helped me learn more about myself and how to relate to community, in both the fantasy community and at the dispensary,” he says.
“Whether it’s the world you’re living or the world you create, you can always find other like-minded people, and that’s a positive thing.”