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}

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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.

It all started in the winter of 7th grade and the first year with my travel team, Ashburn Impact.  We were playing indoor soccer against our rivals.  I was headed towards the ball which bounced off the wall and rolled back to me, what I didn’t know was that one of the other team’s players was right on my back with her arms out straight.  Before I knew it, I was flying face first into the wooden wall.  As a dumb middle school student, I thought nothing of it and I only had a slight headache, dizziness and never lost consciousness.  I continued playing but my coach noticed slight confusion and took me off the field.  I went home, took it easy, and went to my pediatrician the next day.  She told me to rest for a few days without any stimulation; I did, and was back at school within a week with no problems.  I was in great shape and continued playing competitively and as physical as I always had with no fears.  I was never aware of the danger I could be putting myself in just after one concussion.

I learned that lesson just over a year later; I received my second and worst concussion on May 27, 2012, in a Memorial Day weekend tournament.  I have no memory of the tournament, but I have seen pictures and have been told this story multiple times since then.  It was over 95 degrees on the turf, and we were all on the brink of heat exhaustion, but that did not stop us.  I was receiving a goal kick from my own player; I jumped up to trap the ball but misjudged it.  I ended up taking the ball straight to the face, but that was not the end of it.  Moments later, a defending player ran through me before I touched the ground.  I flipped over and hit my head on the turf.  I was able to get up on my own and continued to play, or at least I thought I was playing but really, I was running in the wrong direction, away from the ball.  My coaches pulled me out of the game immediately, and I will be forever grateful for that decision because I was unable to make it myself.  After the game, I was unable to eat without becoming ill and I could not even walk without debilitating dizziness and headaches.  At that point, I should have gone to the Emergency Room but I did not.  We went back to the hotel at some point and I was babysat and forced to hydrate until I was able to fall asleep.  After all of that, I convinced my parents to let me play in the two following weekend games to finish out the season.  Looking back, that was the dumbest and most dangerous situation I could have put myself in.

The months that followed were full of headaches and symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, and extreme irritability.  Doctors warned me and said to rest but with school out for the summer, I chose to do things such as swim, exercise, and use lots of technology, which I knew not to do, but it just ended up furthering my recovery.  The headaches continued into my sophomore year of high school, and my neurologist prescribed maintenance medications to control them.  In the fall, soccer started up again and I played through headaches until the last weekend…

My third concussion occurred a short, six months after my second in the end of season tournament, on November 18, 2012.  I was defending an opposing player, who had the ball and she elbowed me on my left cheekbone but I played through it thinking nothing of it.  My cheek was swollen and sore, but I had no concussion symptoms until 3 days later, at the start of Thanksgiving break.  I had gotten a headache that did not go away for quite awhile and the dizziness and irritability worried my parents and I.  I went to my concussion clinic almost a month later, took the Impact test, and was in the one percentile for reaction time, in my age group.  That is when I heard the words that I knew deep down were coming very soon….“I would not feel comfortable allowing you to continue playing contact sports.  If you were to get another concussion, it could result in permanent brain damage.”  Those words changed my future goals of playing high school and college soccer  and my love for the game turned to spite and sadness…I left that office with tears in my eyes knowing that I had played my last game of competitive soccer.  That winter was just as bad as the drive home from the doctor’s office.  It had sunken in that I was no longer preparing to play my first high school soccer season, instead I was crying myself to sleep and asking God, “why me?”

However, my soccer days did not stop there, I became the varsity manager for my high school girls’ soccer team, this meant that I was always in the locker room with the team.  On May 13, 2014, during my sophomore year, I was standing in the locker room when the wood door swung open right into the side of my head; it was not a major hit but just enough for my symptoms to flare up.  I was dizzy and had migraines worse than usual, for days.  In the mean time, I, irresponsibly, hid it from my parents in fear of their reaction and the consequences of getting a fourth concussion, because for some reason, I believed that if I did not say anything, it could not be true.  Unfortunately, (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) one of my teachers noticed my confusion and fatigue.  He called me out and said, “I’ll give you 48 hours to tell your parents, or I will.”  I did not want that so I told them.  They were not surprised and just told me to take it easy.  I made it through the end of the school year and relaxed most of the summer without problems except the usual headache.  I cannot thank that teacher enough for that courageous move in the interest of my health.

School started again in September and I had more problems than ever.  I could not concentrate or memorize vocabulary, and I was much more exhausted, and the stress began to take a toll on my emotions and well-being.  I knew something was wrong and informed my parents.  They decided to take me to a neuropsychologist, and they recommended that I go through with the neuropsychological testing process.  It was a grueling 8-hour test to analyze every single part of my brain.  Four weeks later, on December 31, 2014, I was officially diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, it also identified attention problems, processing/organizational deficiencies, possible fine-motor issues, and possible depression, all consequences of my multiple concussions.  They recommended a few helpful accommodations for school and we are now in the process of implementing a 504 plan until I graduate.  This was a huge step for me as I am very stubborn and hesitant of change; I did not want to admit to needing help nor receive help at all, but in the end I need to do what will help me succeed in school and life.  Since then I have had setbacks making me realize how important it is to protect myself as well as how easy it is to get a concussion after already having multiple concussions.  It is a scary thought, but I am not living in fear.  Things happen, and there is no reason to live paranoid…just aware.

Life goes on, I truly thought my life was over without soccer but it was just beginning.  I have had multiple opportunities to share my soccer abilities with others; I have been the varsity soccer manager for my high school for three years, which has given me the ability to interact with the players as well as get insight on Athletic Training, which I hope to be my future career.  More importantly than that, I was able to coach a beginner, youth soccer team and share my experiences with the next generation, which is so much more rewarding than any step I ever took on the field as a player.  I will continue to stay involved in the sport because, no matter what, I will always have a love for the game.

My concussions, and the events that go along with them, will haunt me for the rest of my life, but I will not regret them.  I am now much more aware of the seriousness and consequences, and am able to help others get through the injury, and give coaches the knowledge they need to protect their players.  The strength and support I have gotten through this journey, I will be forever grateful for; without my club coaches, Kris, Dan and Mark, as well as, my high school coaches, I would not have the courage to come back to the field each day and sit on the sideline.  Although, most of all, I am thankful for my parents, for believing in me when I did not.

My journey has not ended. I am still recovering, but God placed me on this earth for a reason.  The saying “everything happens for a reason” is something I have always held very close to my heart; I have grown as a person and as a student, and know I have to do something in order to help others get through this far too common injury.  Which is when I came to Jay and I can’t thank him enough for this opportunity.

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