Tag Archives: mindset

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}

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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. 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}

despair

By Anonymous

“Suicide.”

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

BMX Racer From California Speaks Out on the Effect Concussion Has Had on Her Life

{ Editor’s note: I first became aware of Sara the night that she crashed racing in Oregon. I got a message from a concerned mutual friend (a Nationally #1 Ranked BMX Racing mutual friend, at that) saying, “Hey, she popped up online and doesn’t sound real good- you should try to get in touch with her right away and encourage her to get checked out/rest/etc.” –  which I did right away. Despite that, Sara is now writing her story for us and has unfortunately become “one of us”.  – Jay }

By Sara Dooley

saraApril 14, 2013. This is the date I will always remember, my life now separated out to “before” and “after.”  If you lose a limb, the disability is tangible to the general population but when it is internal, people chose not to believe. It was the Sunday main even at the Great Northwest Nationals. I had gate 4, my favorite, and knew I had it in the bag to podium.  The gate dropped and off we went, Girls 36-40 Cruiser class. The riders to my left and right were trying to sandwich me in, and I was not giving up my line. I never saw the rider from the outside cut over to the inside until it was too late. I hit her back tire as she passed and off I went, head first into the dirt. About 2-3 hours later is when my memory came back. While I did not pass out, I did have amnesia. My memory came back when the arena was clear and the vendors were taking down their areas. No matter how hard I try, that time is not coming back to me.

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Sara: Out Front in Oregon

After much pushing and prodding from my friends, I went to the Emergency Room that night. It seems I had broken my helmet where I hit and they were concerned there could be bleeding on the brain. The Doctor ordered a brain scan and thankfully there was no bleeding. They referred me to see my Doctor as soon as I made it back home and explained the severity of a concussion.The next morning I made the 12 hour drive home. Little did I know that my life had transformed.

After seeing my primary Doctor I was put in “isolation” as I call it for a week. No work, phone, TV,  lights, loud noises, or reading-just sleep. I thought this would be hard, but with my head hurting so bad, I wasn’t complaining. I literally slept for a week and then went back to work. This is when I realized something wasn’t right. I had a hard time concentrating, jobs that I could breeze through prior, were now difficult. The more I thought of how to process something, the more my head hurt. I still had a black eye and part of my head was bruised so people understood. Also, the injury was “new” so it was understandable and they accommodated the injured me.

As time went by and the bruising healed, my productivity reached the normal level, my personality came back (for the most part) people expected me to be back 100%. What they didn’t/don’t understand is I am not. It has been almost 4 months since my accident. I have to sleep more than most. Everything I do-no matter how simple, tires me out. Most just a little, but sometimes it takes me a week or more to recover. My brain is fried and sleep is the way it heals. It is like being drugged, no caffeine or anything will keep me from having to sleep. People don’t understand that sometime just a day at work wears me out, or spending the day at the track. Simple things that now leave me needing a day worth of sleep to get back to the new normal. My body can no longer regulate heat like it should. I have to use the air conditioning or drink gallons of ice water if I am going to be in higher temperatures. I have a hard time concentrating. I forget words and how to do things I have always known how to do. I have what I call “the wall” when I am trying to explain something. I can see it-and then the wall comes up and I cannot put it into words. The ability is just not there anymore. If I am tired I slur my words, or have a hard time pronouncing them. I can’t handle bright or flashing lights, they are a circuit overload and short out my brain and stop the ability to think in a logical way. I can’t track fast movement, like in action movies. If the music is too loud, it makes my head hurt. I used to listen to my headphones daily at work, but now I have a hard time listening to music and working at the same time. It feels as though it is too much for my brain to process at once. While these all may seem minor issues, they were not how I was before the accident, and people don’t understand there is a valid reason I cant explain something, can’t remember how to do something simple.

In response to my new shortcomings, people sigh, they roll their eyes, they tell me to knock it off. I’m to the point where I don’t explain anymore, I just apologize-for not being the person I was. This is never something someone should have to do. I find I don’t go out much, beyond the obvious of loud music and bright lights I just don’t want to have to explain myself or why I need to go home early because it was too much. I avoid conversations because I know I am lousy at participating if they become detailed. It has changed my life and trying to accept that, and learn how to live with the changes is hard. Every time I go to the Doctors they move my recovery date. It started out as 1-2 months, then 2-3, and now 6-12. They say what hasn’t come back or healed by the 12 month mark is most likely going to be permanent. They want me to accept this and be prepared for it. Every day I think of what might stay and what may heal-which I think I can live with more than others. I wish I didn’t have to think this way. I wish I could express myself and gain understanding from others, not impatience. But again, I look normal…so how can anything be wrong?

 

An Athlete’s Story of Re-ordered Expectations in The Wake of Multiple Concussions

By Kate Parhiala

kateshotIn 2010, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup announced that it would have an event in the United States, at Windham Mountain in New York. This same year was my first as a professional mountain bike racer and I had the opportunity to participate in the four-cross event at this race. Four-cross is a downhill event where four racers at a time go head-to-head down a track with flat and banked turns, jumps, rocks, drops, and whatever obstacle the course builder decides to throw in. In each round the top two racers move on and the third and fourth are eliminated. To determine groups everyone takes a timed seeding run.

containerdropSuccessfully navigating the jump where I ended up having problems later on.

I never got that far. Before the race there is an allotted time during which riders can take practice runs on the course. Everything about this course was huge, especially the jumps. I had been carefully inspecting and attempting the course bit by bit. By my third practice run I attempted to string the whole thing together. As I approached the big step-down jump I was much farther left than where I had been hitting it previously. There were two landings to this jump: I had been aiming for the closer one, same as in the other runs, but was carrying a bit more speed this time around. I ended up landing on the flat area between the close landing and the far one. All that I remember as I began to fall off the back of the bike was thinking “Wow, this is embarrassing.” About an hour later I woke up in an ambulance.

windham_crash

The big crash at Windham. The medics are trying to free my leg. I don’t remember any of this.

There is a considerable chunk of time that I don’t remember. I have been told that I was physically unconscious for about 30 seconds but mentally I was completely blacked out for at least an hour. The medics were asking me questions to check on my cognition. I knew my name and what my bib number was but couldn’t remember signing up for the race or how I had gotten there. Apparently my left foot had not come unclipped from the pedals and my left leg had become pinned between the rear wheel and the seat. The medics had to let the air out of the tire to extract my leg, which they thought was definitely broken. I was carted down the mountain and into ski patrol where they put an IV in and eventually an ambulance came to bring me to the trauma center in Albany, about an hour away. We were almost there when I finally came to, strapped to a backboard and very nauseous.

brokenhelmet

 My helmet after concussion #2. I should have bought a new one instead of just replacing the visor.

I remember very little of my stay in the emergency department at Albany Medical Center. I think they got me in right away for a brain scan and x-rays. Luckily no bleeding in the brain and only two badly sprained ankles. I don’t believe I was given any instructions on how to care for a concussion after I was discharged because I spent the next few days doing things I shouldn’t have been doing. With two more days booked at the World Cup, my boyfriend (now fiance) and I wanted to stick around and watch the races. I was hobbling around the mountain on my crutches in the bright sunlight with the loud crowds drinking the occasional beer.

jumpThe day after the crash – concussed and sore in front of the jump that took me out.

It took until going to work the Monday after for me to realize what a mess I was. I just remember sitting at my desk staring blankly at my computer not being able to think. It hurt to think. I couldn’t remember a lot of things that I had previously been working on. My speech was a little slurred and it was difficult to come up with words. By mid-day I finally told my boss that I had to go to the doctor. After taking the subway and the bus home I got in my car to drive to the doctor’s office. Very quickly I discovered that I could barely control the car. My reaction time was so delayed that I kept almost crashing every time a car was stopped in front of me. The doctor told me that I needed to take it easy for a while after a bad concussion and should take at least a week off from work. I left my car at my parents’ house so I wouldn’t try to drive it.

It took at least a month or two for me to start recovering from the most acute symptoms. It was such a relief when I could finally concentrate for most of a workday. I still have trouble remembering anything from that general timeframe. In addition, something strange happened with my memory: things got rearranged. Memories from 10 or 15 years ago were suddenly vivid like they had occurred yesterday while more recent events felt like the distant past. I began having extremely vivid dreams as well (more so than usual) and started remembering little things that were long forgotten. These strange memory issues are still affecting me today.

This was not my first concussion, it was my third. My first happened during a BMX race in 2003. I crashed going over the first jump and hit the left side of my head really hard. There was a bright flash of light and an immediate headache. This was described to me as a mild concussion and I did not notice any residual symptoms. My second concussion actually went undiagnosed. I didn’t realize that I had one. In July of 2010 I was at a downhill mountain bike race and crashed during practice. It was one of those crashes where I went over the bars and the first thing to hit the ground was my face because it happened way too fast to get my hands off the bars. My full-face motocross helmet actually dug some rocks out of the dirt as my head plowed through. I hit so hard that I felt like I should have blacked out. I was definitely out of it and a little confused but I chalked it up to being shaken by the crash. I didn’t think this was a concussion because there was no loss of consciousness and no flash of light. In retrospect it definitely was. I just did not feel right for weeks afterwards but I replaced the shattered visor on my helmet and was back in action the next weekend. This was only a little over a month before the big crash at Windham.

Fast-forward to the 2011 season: I ended up suffering a fourth minor concussion over the summer and a fifth in October, both practicing for downhill bike races (even with a new helmet). The cumulative effect of this, in addition to the memory changes that I still deal with, includes mood changes and migraine headaches. I became significantly depressed and anxious after having 4 concussions in 15 months. In addition I started getting migraine headaches so bad that I would throw up (luckily only a few times a month). Still, it was difficult for me to realize how all of this fit together but I finally decided that I needed help when none of it was improving during the 2012 season.

I began seeing a new doctor who referred me for neuro-psych evaluation. Most of the testing done was negative but a brain MRI actually revealed mild atrophy in the temporal and parietal lobes of my brain. It was strongly suggested that I quit anything that put me in significant risk of further head trauma because further injury could be devastating. This especially meant no more downhill and no more BMX. This was very difficult news for me. I had focused my life around these things for quite some time and it was hard to go from thinking about what World Cup races I wanted to enter the next season to selling my downhill bike and letting my sponsorships expire. I really miss that life but I had no other choice.

It’s a very strange feeling to have an injury that I can never recover from. Even though the symptoms are somewhat managed with medications the physical damage is irreparable. Even before the doctors advised that I stop racing downhill I knew that things weren’t quite right. It is always difficult to get back in the saddle after a bad injury because you’re shaken and anxious. But with time one can usually overcome this. Because I’ve injured the very part of me that controls those thoughts and emotions I was never able to recover my confidence in the two years before I finally quit. I was getting faster and developing better technique but becoming more and more scared and anxious. I know that before continuously landing on my head this wasn’t the case but it’s hard to remember what that felt like.

Since the brain scan results I’ve had to dial the excitement back a quite a bit. Being an adrenaline junkie causes my happiness and sanity to be dependent on doing active and exciting things. At this point I’ve tried to create a balance between acceptable risk and not being bored and miserable. I continue to alpine ski and still race (while wearing a great helmet, of course). While there is still risk, I have not suffered a head injury in the 26 years that I have been skiing (and I hope to continue this trend). On the biking side I have been doing more cross country mountain biking and have started racing cyclo-cross. In addition I am becoming more involved in mountain bike coaching. I still do easy jumps and drops but try to stick to a controlled environment and will not ride beyond my ability.

When it comes to mountain biking I firmly believe that fewer injuries of all types would be sustained if people sought professional instruction, specifically on bike handling, rather than the trial and error method. This is part of the reason I have become more involved with coaching. If a rider learns solid fundamental skills before attempting larger obstacles he or she will be able to more safely progress. Many riders, including myself, did not have this opportunity. To paraphrase my friend and fellow coach, former pro Karen Eagan, if you feel lucky that you just landed that drop DO NOT go bigger; Practice it again and again until you are completely comfortable and then you can progress to the next one. Mountain bike instruction has only recently become more widely available and is something that this sport has been severely lacking. Downhill racing can never be made completely safe, and it shouldn’t be (that’s part of the allure), but riders can at least be equipped with the skills to sufficiently tackle any course they are confronted with.

Having this experience has caused a significant change in mindset. I’ve become comfortable with backing down from certain challenges like drops or jumps if I don’t feel completely comfortable. I can always try another day when the conditions are right. Why go for it now? Is it really worth it? Some things I will probably never attempt and now I’m ok with that. I would rather be riding my bike and skiing for many more years than possibly risk it all because I couldn’t tell myself no. As written of world-renowned steep skier Andreas Fransson in a recent issue of Powder Magazine, “He is most proud of the runs he didn’t take, because backing off is harder than dropping in.”

Mental Toughness: The Role of the Athletic Mindset in Perpetuating the Concussion Crisis

By Jay Fraga

raceConcussion is a funny thing. As an “invisible” injury, the odds that it will be dismissed by any number of people in a position to do something about it, including the player, are high. It’s difficult to quantify a concussion visually. It is not difficult to quantify a compound fracture of a leg. A concussed person can look you in the eyes and say, “Hey, I’m fine to play. Put me back into the game” and many people will believe them at face value because they don’t have much visual evidence to the contrary.  A player with a compound fracture of the leg could look you in the eyes and say, “Hey, I’m fine to play. Put me back into the game”, and you would instantly know that they’re out of their mind. “Uh, apparently, you didn’t see the gore that is your leg. Forget it”.

So, why is there a difference in reactions among players, coaches, and even many medical personnel between the two injuries?

In terms of long-term ramifications, I’d take a compound fracture of the leg over a concussion any day. Before someone calls me a maniac, I should point out that I’ve suffered badly broken legs as well as multiple concussions and the aftermath is not even close. Brain injuries of any kind need to be avoided at absolutely all costs. This is coming from a man who once thought that learning how to walk again after breaking both legs was the toughest thing that he ever had to do and would ever have to endure again. I was wrong on that one.

On top of the strange denials that invisible injuries like concussions evoke from society at large, the condition also has to contend with athletes who have been trained, many since an early age, to prevail over any obstacle. I’ve read many articles recently where the authors can’t seem to comprehend why players can’t grasp the enormity of concussions and they express shock at such instances. “Football players? They knew what they were signing up for. How could anyone not know that football is a dangerous game?” Right?

Not so fast.

Why can’t athletes grasp the severity of concussions, pull themselves from games, and allow themselves to be properly treated? Take money out of the equation. It’s still pretty simple: Athletes are conditioned mentally to succeed. Successful athletes understand that mind over matter isn’t just a cliché; it’s truly the Law of the Land. Mental toughness is probably the most important ingredient to success in sports. Could there be any other reason why professional team franchises employ sports psychologists to build up their players?

Mental toughness, the very same ingredient that is essential to success in sports, is responsible for the majority of pervasive denial by athletes of the severity of concussions.

As a young, impressionable amateur athlete, the mental toughness that was ingrained in me by my Mother afforded me success. As I won more, the more ingrained that concept became in me. Putting in more effort than my competitors (along with the belief that I was just plain faster than they were) created a little boy that believed that he could surmount any obstacle in front of him simply by willing himself to succeed. That little boy grew up to be a man, and he carried that ethic with him. It served me well in athletics, and it served me well in life; right until the point where I denied the obvious severity of my concussions. To me, they were an annoyance; just another hurdle to get over so that I could prepare for the next race.

Digging into it, I never was consciously aware that there was a problem, or that I was injured beyond something minor. I feel that my mindset allowed me to gloss over details that were serious warning signs as opposed to knowing full well that I was hurt and making a conscious decision to go out and race hurt, further imperiling my health. My friend Kevin Saum wrote about his blurred vision (on top of a host of other symptoms) in a football game where he convinced himself that sweat running into his eye was responsible for it. Further that, I’ve had situations where I’ve been completely knocked out and woken up surrounded by EMT’s who ask, “Are you OK?”, and I’ve reflexively blurted out, “Yes, I’m fine” without even knowing what planet I was on. What’s important is that I wasn’t making a conscious effort to deceive anybody in any of those cases, but there was absolutely some mechanism that was leading to me to speak authoritatively when I had absolutely no clue what I was talking about.

Instances like those lead me to ask the question: As motivated athletes, are our brains tricking us?

As concussion awareness advocates, our mission is two-fold: Along with raising awareness of symptoms and ramifications of concussion, we must also find a way to address the mental toughness conundrum with regard to dismissal of concussion symptoms.  We can’t look expressly to coaches, because coaches were once players too. As such, they’re wired the same way as the athletes are.

It is incredibly hard to teach new dogs new tricks. It’s even harder to teach old dogs new tricks.