New Jersey HS Soccer Player On Life With Multiple Concussions

By Alicia Jensen

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I was hit. Hit hard. I got up, and stumbled around. I was losing my balance, seeing stars and everything was spinning. I had no idea where I was, or what I was doing. I didn’t even recall the date. The referee blew the whistle to stop the game, and as everyone took a knee, I lay there in a complete daze. He said to me, “21 are you okay?” I, of course, said, “Yes, I’m fine. Just keep playing.”

I turned to a few of my team mates and asked questions like, “Where are we? How have I been playing? What’s the score? Who’s their best player?” I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t want to admit it. I let my teenage attitude take over and kept playing. Reality hit me again late in the second half with another blow to the head and the realization that I should have stopped after the first hit.

April 22, 2012 was the first day of my new “life”, of my new “normal”, and of my new “journey”.

I would be lying if I said that this concussion hasn’t changed my life. It has completely changed it in every aspect possible. It has changed me physically, emotionally, mentally, academically, and socially. It has put me in a position of trying to find myself, which, for a 16 year old, is still in the process of happening to begin with.

In July 2012, for my 16th birthday, my parents took my siblings and I to Disney World. My doctors had restricted me from any rides or attractions that would aggravate my symptoms. Once again, I didn’t listen. I went on the legendary and iconic “Rockin’ RollerCoaster”. For those of you who have never been on it, it is a concussed person’s nightmare. I didn’t know when the ride was going to start and didn’t pay attention to the “Keep your head back” signs. The ride started and I hit my head on the seat and immediately blacked out. *Bam!* another concussion. My doctors ruled this one as “AMA”, or, against medical advice.

I didn’t realize how stupid my decision was until I had to start all over again at Vestibular Therapy.

I just wanted to be a kid; I wanted to live my life. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be on those rides but for some reason I didn’t care. Afterwards, I just wanted to be reassured that this concussion hadn’t totally taken my life away. Let’s just say I didn’t get that reassurance.

Fast forward to August 2012- I was tested by a Neuropsychologist and was put on half days for school. To be honest, I didn’t follow that accommodation as much as I should have. I didn’t want to be at home. I wanted to be at school with my friends and actually be around people. My doctors didn’t understand that the time I was out was instructional time that I was losing, and I was falling behind. In October 2012, I was put on a medical 504 Plan, which is basically just an official medical accommodations plan for school. For some reason, this basic plan hit me hard mentally. How did I go from an honor roll student and A’s and B’s, to needing help everyday? It was frustrating because I wasn’t used to needing help, as I am so used to doing everything myself. Asking for help when I need it is a huge struggle internally that I still deal with, even though I know it is necessary and that it is okay to ask for help.

I can’t remember what being a normal teenager feels like. Forget parties, because crowds make me feel overwhelmed and anxious. Forget football games, because the lights and the noise are a killer. Forget movie theaters and big restaurants, because the dim lighting and people give an instant headache. I shouldn’t have to live my life like this, wondering every day not IF I’ll get a headache, but WHEN I do get a headache, how bad it will be. Should I go home early from school? Should I not even go to school? Questions I ask myself every day aren’t questions a normal teenager should have to ask themselves on a regular basis.

I can’t focus in school with a headache. Sometimes it’s a waste of time even being in class because I’m not actually doing anything but sitting there with my head down and praying for the class to end and for the teacher to turn the lights out and stop talking. But, I know that this feeling won’t last forever. I know that I’m headed the right way to a full recovery. I know that I’ll get into college and although it may be a struggle, I know that I can do it. I won’t let my dreams of becoming a Doctor specializing in Sports Medicine be changed because I can’t handle college.

Sports have been my life since I was 4 years old. I have been out on that soccer field every week and weekend for 12 years and never missed a chance to kick the ball around. Soccer has always been a way to release my stress and forget about all my problems. That’s why hearing the words “Alicia, I don’t medically advise you to play soccer again” were some of the hardest words I have ever had to hear in my life. Being told you can’t do something that you have always done is hard to accept. I didn’t know anything but soccer and I didn’t want to know anything else. I liked the way things were.

I guess you could say I don’t like change, but this wasn’t just a simple change. It’s a change that there is nothing I can do about; nothing I can say to my doctors will make them clear me to play soccer again. I want to say that I have accepted that I will never play soccer again, but it still hurts every time I hear people talking about it. Every time somebody brings up a game, a tournament, or even practice, it hurts to think that I’m missing out on something- not by choice but instead by force.

It is hard to explain to people what Post-Concussion Syndrome is. Some people like to claim it as “faking”, “wanting attention”, or even “excuses for being lazy”. Nobody understands the pain that PCS sufferers go through everyday. It isn’t “just a concussion”; it is something that changes lives. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it is when people ask me, “You’re still concussed?!”

So much for not wanting to talk about it; I always just nod my head “yes” and walk away. I hate talking about my PCS to people who don’t get it. Why would anybody do something like this for attention? PCS doesn’t just affect me; it affects my family, friends, teachers, coaches, and administrators.

Some say we are put in situations like this to make us stronger, I truly believe that. This concussion has taught me that I need to make the most of every second that I feel well. It has taught me that I need to persevere and overcome any obstacle I face. It has taught me that everything could always be worse and that I have to be thankful that I’m still alive. I can’t take each and every day for granted. I’ve got to focus on the positives of every situation. I learn new things every day from my PCS that some people don’t learn until much later in life.

I see that as a positive in this whole ugly situation. This concussion has changed my life- and it is hard. But, because of those things, I wouldn’t take back a second of it.

13 thoughts on “New Jersey HS Soccer Player On Life With Multiple Concussions

  1. Samantha

    Alicia, you are very courageous and wise for such a young lady. My concussions ended my soccer career in college, it killed me then and i can’t imagine having handled a situation like that with the grace that you are. Keep fighting and keep learning as you go. I’m in a doctoral program now, you can do medical school! Take the help if you need it and keep reaching for the stars! Keep it up, you are going to change lives 🙂

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  2. Nancy

    Alicia you made me cry – for you and all the athletes out there that will never be the same. But in a lot of ways you are better than you were before. You are one inspirational and courageous 16 year old. Love you. 😉

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  3. Diane

    Alicia,
    I am so proud of the wonderful 16 year old you have become. Your story about living with concussions will help people understand what you and others go through everyday. In my book you are such an inspiration. You will succeed in everything you want in life and don’t worry your friends will always be there to help! I love you and you know if you ever need anything you can call me!

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  4. Laura

    I am a 15 year old athlete that suffered a concussion playing basketball last February, and I was diagnosed with second impact syndrome a month later. I can completely relate to everything you just said, going from playing sports, hanging out with friends, and your future being the most important things in your life to suddenly having your headaches consuming every single minute of it. I also went from having a 4.0 to being on a 504 and doing half days of school. I have spent many hours a week with therapy over the past year although I am definitely seeing the improvements now. I think it is so good to see people speaking out about this because once you get a concussion you suddenly feel so alone, none of your friends seem to get it. I don’t really think you can until it happens to you. As young athletes with traumatic brain injuries we need to realize we aren’t alone and there are other people dealing with the same things we are that will all be here for each other. I agree that a concussion completely changes who you are, but those changes don’t necessarily have to be all bad.

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  5. Aunt Eileen

    When I first heard about your injury, I hoped that you would heal. You continue to amaze everyone around you. Your healing is not just physical. You are wise beyond your years to understand that. Special thoughts are being sent your way !

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  6. gwen

    Wow… this is college essay material. Your words were like looking into my daughter’s life. You will go far and I pray for u to get totally better soon. You are very special.. ..

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  7. Shoshana

    This is fantastic, Alicia! Concussions need to be taken much more seriously than they are, and this is one step towards that; spreading awareness. I admire you so much, I am lucky enough to be able to say that I don’t know what I would do if I had PCS from my concussion but i can totally relate to the debilitating symptoms. I hope you start feeling better soon!

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  8. Jamie Goldberg

    Hi Alicia, Thank you for sharing your story. Concussions are truly dangerous and need to be taken seriously! I am a freelance journalist and student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. I am writing about multiple concussion syndrome and how it impacts girls in soccer. I have been trying to speak with athletes who have experienced multiple concussions, like yourself, about how the concussions impacted them and what made them decide to stay with or leave soccer. It would be great if we could talk more about your experience. You can contact me at the email I list here. Also, if anyone at The Knockout Project knows of other soccer players going through similar experiences — particularly any in California — that you can refer me to, that would be great. Thank you.

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  9. Christine

    I am an 18 year old former athlete that went through a very similar situation. I was in my senior year and was a three sport athlete. I was getting recruited by colleges to play field hockey. One of the first games i got hit in the head and knew I had a concussion but did not speak up in fear that I would never be able to play again, that was my fourth concussion. Unfourtanelty I got hit a couple more times and later spoke up and was diagnosed with PCS. I know exactly what you are going through, that was the hardest time in my life, I was graduating and applying to college. You have to stay focused on your goal, i graduated and am now in college, unfortunately not playing any sports ever again. I can not say I got over it but I think I am finally okay with it. Its also hard because you feel so isolated from the world, especially for me everyone thought I was faking or trying to get out of school work and I did not understand why because I am a hard worker. We as female athletes have to stick together and spread awareness because it is an issue that not a lot of people get or know about. I hope you fully recover and fulfill your dream of becoming a doctor!

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  10. ashley

    I was just diagnosed with my fourth concussion. Your story made me cry knowing that i am going through the same thing and there is nothing i can do to stop it. soccer has been my life since age four. i eat breath and sleep soccer. I was unable to play all last season because i had three concussions within 6 months and a doctor told me no more soccer. i saw a specialist and they said they would be okay with it if i wore the helmet. This year i wore it and bam fourth concussion. guess it didn’t help. now im out and have to deal with being told i can’t all over again it hurts to hear it once but a second time hurts more. thanks for sharing your story helps me realize im not the only one. keeping going strong!

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    1. jfraga Post author

      Ashley, keep the faith. I’ve now had ten. The only thing that will save you from not getting another one is not getting hit or bumped. I’m sorry that the specialist told you that you’d be alright if you wore a helmet. That was obviously bad advice. Feel free to send us an email or a tweet (check out our contact page). We’ve been where you are and understand what you’re going through.

      Thanks,

      Jay
      The Knockout Project

      Reply
  11. Shelly

    I definitely know where you’re coming from on both levels. I’ve had 10 concussions (a couple were really bad, and 3 times just 1 injury caused more than 1 concussion) and am really showing the signs now that I’m in my early 30’s. Sadly, almost all of mine were wrong place, wrong time type situations. I drop things more often, forget and/or say the wrong words constantly, no recollection of events or conversations, I’m surly, I spend hours trying to make a decision, walk into people and doorways, I randomly blackout which causes more concussions from hitting the floor, etc. It’s a bummer that you’ve been let down by the adults around you. Your coaches should’ve never let you continue playing and your parents took you to an amusement park knowing you weren’t supposed to ride anything and knowing you wouldn’t listen bc that’s what kids do. You’re a teenager, you always think you’re fine. You knew better, but it’s also the adults responsible for you that failed. I tried to pull a few fast ones, but my mom didn’t fall for it. She was on me like a hawk. 🙂

    As far as the soccer thing… I was a percussionist, co-capt of the drumline. I was in a car accident spring of my junior year (I wasn’t driving- wasn’t our fault) and it tore up my shoulder. 2 reconstructive surgeries and a year of medical leave from school. I wanted to go to work and school and back to the drumline. My friends were busy and had lives and I was stuck laying in bed in a brace from waste to neck. I had the best grades of my life, though. The teacher that the school district sent to my house during my leave was my old algebra teacher, so we already had a good relationship. Honestly, I’m thankful it happened. It gave me the ability to pick my battles. I see people freaking out over little things and I just shake my head. I like RoboArm, I like my surgical scars (all 8 of them), I like the way it all turned out. It stopped me from being the drummer and let me be me.

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