California BMX Racing Pro Reflects on What He Thought He Knew

{Editor’s note:  Is it finally OK for BMX Racers to talk about concussions? This is MY sport and I feel like awareness in the racing ranks has been more difficult to achieve than in many other sports. BMX racers are a slightly different breed mentally and physically, to put it lightly. Most of us think that we were forged in iron until it’s irrefutably proven that we weren’t. By then, the damage is done and the regret is incredible. 

Today’s knowledge comes Straiiiiiiiighttttttt out of Fresno, California. If you’ve followed the National USABMX Racing scene, you either know or have heard of Austin. I first heard of this blazing fast grommet on the tail end of my own career as a washed-up cruiser racer. He was about 15 years old and lighting tracks up. Now, he’s a pro and in his early 20’s. He has learned some things over the course of his career that he’d like to pass on.

It’s so important to understand that if you hit your head one weekend, you can’t just take a couple of days or a week off and show right back up to the track and pick up where you left off. You’ve got to have a competent concussion doctor evaluate you and give you the all clear. These docs exist and you can visit to find one near you. Thanks to Austin for tackling what has been such a difficult conversation in our ranks.   –Jay}

By Austin Hiatt

hiatt3The concussion… My concussion story starts in late February of 2015, at the opening round of the USA BMX Pro Series. In my third qualification moto I took a nasty fall going over the front end of my bike, head first into the following jump. I went from roughly 30mph to a dead stop. This left me unconscious for 4 minutes and with a less than lovely 6 day visit on a trauma floor in the hospital.

I didn’t know what to expect as this was my first concussion. It wasn’t simple like the previous injuries I had, at least it didn’t seem like it. When you turn your foot backwards, break an arm, wrist, or elbow, you see the injury, you feel it. With a concussion you can’t see it. I struggled with that. Like any injury I had ever had before, Doctors and friends who have experienced it tell you what to expect. A doctor tells you 6 weeks on a simple fracture. In your head, you’re thinking “Sweet, I can be back in 4”. Every injury I had ever had, I healed way before the doctors expected date. At first, I thought this would be the way that it was with a concussion. After all, it’s nothing more than a serious headache right? Wrong. For the first time everything Doctors said that I would feel, I felt. What I thought was an injury that would put me out for a week, put me out for 5 and a half.

I was very fortunate to have a great system around me. I was able to meet with a doctor weekly and constantly evaluate my symptoms. The first two weeks it seemed like it was nothing but headaches and low toleration for bright light and loud noise. It wasn’t until the end of the second week were I realized I was having pretty crazy mood swings. I was incredibly irritable and easily frustrated through this time. One minute I could be perfectly fine, the next minute I was throwing a pillow across the room because I was so frustrated.  Most of the frustration came from the anxiety and fear that came along with the concussion. If I couldn’t remember a word, a person’s name, or a number, the first thought into my head was it’s like this because of the concussion. Then it was a downhill mini anxiety attack from there. Each week all of this progressed, I would feel exponentially better. After 5 and a half weeks my doctor gave me the clearance to begin my full training load and I was back in action.


Looking back, I would say I took the proper steps. I was guided well from the hospital in Phoenix to my doctors and coach back home in Fresno.

Fast forward the story to a weekend in early August in Grand Junction, Colorado. This is my fourth race returning to competition. On the final day of racing I had a fluke crash in a turn. Unfortunately, I hit my head. With this crash in the semi final, my weekend was done and over with. I noticed that I had a headache following my crash. My helmet had scratches from where my head hit the asphalt and the inner foam shell had been cracked. I got a new helmet as soon as I got home and decided to take it easy for a few days. I noticed myself being exhausted throughout the week. When I returned to training on Wednesday, I felt weak and slow. As soon as we started doing anything with high intensity, I would begin to feel light headed followed by a headache. At first my coach and I chalked this up to a race in higher altitude. The following two weekends I had races, both of which I did not feel 100% at. After my second bad weekend of racing, I went to the doctor who confirmed I had almost certainly had another concussion. I could not have done things more wrong the second time around. In the back of my head I knew I had hit my head. But, I also knew I was scared from my first experience. I knew I had races coming up that I wanted to be at. I knew I just didn’t want another concussion to be the case. I am incredibly lucky and grateful that I had not hit my head again in the weeks following the crash in Colorado.

What I want you to take from this article is if you ever hit your head, if you know you have a concussion, if you even think you might, take the right steps. Do not follow in my footsteps of how I handled my second concussion. Taking the right steps is such a vital part when dealing with this injury. As doctors are learning more and more about the long term effects of concussions, we are learning how seriously we need to take brain related injuries. Do yourself the favor of making sure you make that full recovery as fast and as efficiently as possible. It is the best thing you can do.

Yale Hockey Player Writes- Don’t Be a Hero: Second Impact Syndrome and the Risks Athletes Take by Playing Through Their Brain Pain


Paige Decker

{Editor’s note:  In November of 2013, Paige Decker, a forward on the Yale Women’s Ice Hockey Team, suffered what she believed to be a rather minor concussion. What followed was a battle with a concussion so severe in its symptoms that it would go on to change her life forever.  Recently, Paige began to speak out about her injury and the healing process, which is something we know all too well about: You can’t keep an athlete down for very long- even in the midst of miserable symptoms. Motivation and determination tends to seep into different outlets when we are removed from competition. You can view her blog at . Paige- keep at it. You WILL get there–Jay}


By Paige Decker

If there was one message I want you to take away from my journey, it would be this:

Do NOT play through your concussion symptoms.

This is a hard lesson to learn considering it is the exact opposite of what so many athletes have done their entire careers.  Practice of any sport basically programs a player to push through any form of injury, whether physical or mental.  This is something that is committed to muscle memory; whether it’s an ankle sprain, stress fracture, tendonitis, or pulled groin, you leave the trainer’s room and get back to business.

I was no newcomer to playing through injury.

In high school I played field hockey with a broken jaw, two busted teeth and a split open lip.  I played lacrosse with a broken wrist for three weeks before realizing it was actually broke.  And I’ve played with many of the common injuries I listed above.

These stories aren’t special.  Any competitive athlete can tell his or her own versions.
Injuries are expected and sometimes you just have to suck it up and push through it.

I mistakenly applied this logic to my concussion. Continue reading

Wisconsin Baseball Player Paul Mallas Writes In To The Project

mallascomboGood morning Knockout Project,

I have been following the organization for about the last year and a half since I discovered it on Facebook.

As a person who has suffered multiple concussions throughout my life of 37 years, I want to say thank you. I’ve always been an active person. Like many, I played football and baseball through high school and college baseball as well.

As we all know as an athlete or an active person, we all suffer bumps and bruises. In the past, I always heard the phrase, “Are you hurt or injured?”- which is Coach’s speak for “can you suck it up and play or not?” I never thought much of these words until my last concussion on July 14th, 2013. It was a typical summer Sunday morning baseball game in a competitive, local, adult league. I singled and a few pitches later, found myself caught in a run-down. Usually, “Pickle!” from the movie Sandlot would fill my memories of getting caught in run downs. Continue reading

Virginia HS Junior Reflects On “The Journey”

{Editor’s note:  When we tell our stories, it’s as much to get them off our chest as it is to release the regret that we feel for having done something to ourselves that likely could have turned out differently if we knew ahead of time that suffering like this was even remotely possible. Marissa is very eloquent in this piece, but what should not be lost while reading it is the very real physical and emotional pain that she still feels to this day. Saving others the expense of dealing with this pain is a common thread in all of our experiences. These stories are all here for a reason. Heed them. –Jay}


Marissa, left, and friend

By Marissa Flora

“Invincible,” the word that would rush through my head each time I stepped out on the field.  It was a reminder that I would never be the one to get hurt, and if I did, I somehow convinced myself that I could play through anything and I would be just fine.  These days, that idea has changed; “invisible,” is now the word that rushes through my head each time someone does not ask, “What’s wrong?”  No one can see my injury, no one understands what I struggle with to get through the day, and no one knows how much harder I have to work to be successful. Continue reading

Teenage Athlete With PCS Writes About The Death of Kosta Karageorge

{Editor’s note: I received the following piece from a teenage athlete who suffers from Post-Concussion Syndrome. I speak to this person often, and they have the benefit of a constant and all-encompassing support system with everyone from multiple professionals, family, and peers. That’s important.

Post-Concussion related suicide is the 800 pound elephant in the room. It’s obviously a touchy subject and hard for some to understand, but it must be talked about in the open rather than trying to reverse engineer after the fact why someone who can no longer speak for themselves might have done it.  I recently had a conversation with an AP reporter whose head was swimming with trying to sort out the rationale behind why someone with acute PCS might take their life. I told them quite simply that, “People don’t want to be dead- they just want the constant misery and pain to end”. Unless you have felt it, it’s very difficult to understand. It is an unbelievable level of suffering.

Part of our job here at The Knockout Project is to show others that the incredible pain that comes post-injury doesn’t stay at that level forever. There is light after all of that darkness and you simply must hang on and get good doctors involved. This is why we speak. It can and does get better.

If things ever get too intense, PLEASE call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 24×7 at (800) 273-8255. Bad times do not last.   –Jay}


By Anonymous


As soon as I saw the news report, I had to leave the room, retreat to the bathroom and bawl my eyes out. Kosta Karageorge, the former defensive lineman for the Ohio State Buckeyes had been missing a few days before he was found dead in a dumpster with a handgun nearby. My heart sank, broken into a million pieces, and my thoughts and fears were uncontrollable. My heart raced and I could barely breathe.  I could not fathom what was happening.

I did not have to bring myself to understand why or how; I already knew. Pain. Continue reading

PCS: A Parents’ Perspective

{Editor’s note: In 2012, I was contacted by a then-sophomore in high school who was having trouble dealing with the rigors of PCS on top of trying to be a student. She asked me to help her work through things. What came out of that has been a wonderful friendship with a very resilient girl who is now a freshman in college and who still soldiers through some absolutely incredible symptoms. She always tells me how tough I am, but I think she’s tougher. It has also earned me a director on our board in the form of that very resilient girl. Who better to help me guide the trajectory of The Knockout Project? I am thankful that Alicia has such great parents who will go to such lengths in her search for good health.  –Jay}

jensensFrom left: Mike and Joy Jensen with their children Mike, Alicia, Sean, Ashley, and Matthew

By Mike Jensen

As any parent would agree, the most difficult and stressful job you could ever have is raising a child.  You take all of your experiences that you learned in life, and use them to guide and teach your children to meet the challenges that life will throw at them, and hopefully they can build a better life for themselves and future generations.  But, there is one thing you can never prepare for.  That is if your child is sick or injured.  When Alicia got her concussion in April 2012, I was concerned, but, with the little experience I had with concussions, I didn’t know what to expect.  When I was in youth sports, if someone got hit in the head, or, as we used to call it “got his bell rung”, it was no big deal.  Even if the word concussion was mentioned, the consensus for getting better was a few days rest.

I learned a lot since April 2012.  Alicia was 15 at the time, been playing soccer since she was 6, never got too badly hurt.  Not even a minor injury would set her back too far.  On this day, she was defending a play when the opposing player attempted to kick the ball down into the offensive when it struck the side of Alicia’s head.  She went down, got right up, slowly, and said she was fine.  That was right at the end of the half, so there was no real question of removing her form the game, the half was over.  After half time, she felt OK, went back out, and right at the end of the game, she got hit again.  Hit twice the same way in the same game.  After 10 years of soccer, she played her last game, and has had a debilitating headache ever since. Continue reading

South Coast MA Soccer Player Lindsey Santos: 4 Years and Counting

By: Lindsey Santos
Edited By: Carolyn Kenney

santos3I think it’s about time I use the real date of when I actually got my first concussion. I’ve been using different dates in my writings in the hope that it will scramble my memory and I’ll forget eventually the date that is imprinted in my mind. Well, it didn’t work like I hoped it would.

So, I will use the real date: October 28th, 2010.

It was a cold, dark night. Our blood was pumping, fueling our energy as we arrived at the high school. Lights were shining down on the field that we were about to play on. Tension was growing as both teams warmed up for a rival conference game. I had played over 2,000 games of soccer, and I had no idea this one would end up changing my life. I was having one of the best games of the season. Distributing the ball and getting around people came simple to me. With one minute left, the score was zero-zero. We had a corner kick, so I went into a position where I could run in and head the ball. As I was jumping up, I was grabbed by the waist and pulled down to the ground. Before I had time to react, I was kicked in the head two times before blocking the third strike with my hand. I got up and took a few steps before I felt overwhelmed and threw up. I jogged myself off the field. Little did I know I would be on the sidelines for three months. Continue reading

Simmons College Freshman Reflects on the Past Three Years with PCS

By Madeline Uretsky


Recently in my college writing class, I was assigned to write a paper on a learning experience. Naturally, I chose to write about living with a brain injury. I hope that this can be of help to anyone suffering, or any caregivers who may need hope.

Sunglasses on, and slumped in my seat, I awaited the verdict at the first of many appointments with my neurosurgeon. After producing an unsatisfactory symptom chart, and failing almost every test, I knew that I would be diagnosed with a severe concussion and neck injury. Everyone I had come in contact with could tell that something was just not right with me. Was it the fact that I had no short-term memory? That I wore sunglasses inside my dark house? That I could not walk on my own? Or, that I was unable to hold a conversation? My fifteen-year-old self never could have predicted the physical and emotional effects that followed this first appointment. While painfully recovering from this injury for over three years, persevering and giving hope to others has helped me to find my place in this world. Continue reading

Amidst the Pain of Post-Concussion Syndrome, PA Girl Finds Herself

{Editor’s note: I am constantly amazed when I hear the stories of people who deal with PCS in school. As someone who inherently knows the misery involved with PCS because I deal with it myself, Alyssa’s story is heartbreaking for me. I am heartened though, by her maturity beyond her age and her resilience. I know that she will be successful as she moves forward in her life –Jay}

doudsMy name is Alyssa Douds. I am 18 and live in the Pittsburgh area.

Growing up, I was a tomboy. I played basketball, volleyball, softball, and I bowled. I had many friends and always kept busy! I always pictured myself growing up going to school for volleyball and majoring in sports management. Two days before my eighth grade year in August 2009, my mom, my friends, and I went to an arcade. Who would have ever thought that going to an arcade could change your life?

The arcade game “The Vortex” fell on my head. I tried to duck, but it smashed the back of my head. Right away, I knew something was wrong. Everything was blurry and I just wanted to throw up. I didn’t even know what my name was! My mom took me straight to the Emergency room. The doctor told me that I was fine and that every hit in the head wasn’t a concussion. Two days later was my first day of eighth grade. I went to school and kept coming home every day with a headache! I felt really confused and lost walking the halls. I still wasn’t myself. My mom called my primary doctor and they referred us to the UPMC Concussion Clinic. Continue reading

A Letter to Myself, Two Years Ago

{Editor’s note: Alicia Jensen is a freshman at Towson University. She was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome her sophomore year of high school. After writing this, she read it and sat on it. She realized that it reminded her of Luka Carfagna’s wonderful piece. I told Alicia to hand it over and that it was important to publish it anyway. –Jay}

By Alicia Jensen


Alicia, second from right 

Dear Alicia,

You’re in pain. I can feel it now, and I know exactly where you are: Probably laying in bed, in the dark, alone, praying and wishing for the pain of PCS to go away. You had a tough day at school today, huh? head on the desk, waiting for the bell to ring just so that you can go to another one for 52 minutes. I wish I could tell you that tomorrow will be easier and that you’ll be in less pain, but I can’t. Continue reading

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