Get Up: A Letter to a Young Person Recovering From a Concussion

{Editor’s note: I am thrilled to share Lindsey’s piece today on The Knockout Project. In the fog of post-concussion syndrome, it is easy to lose one’s way. Lindsey’s words are a most important compass for anyone who considers themselves lost in this journey. They also serve as a pertinent warning to those who might unknowingly venture down this path.  –Jay}

By LB Carfagna

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Even if you can’t get up physically, get up in your mind. Stand up straight. Look the world in the eye. Even if you’re wearing sunglasses. You matter. Your life isn’t over. It’s just different now. You’ll have a chance to mourn what was, trust me. Right now might not be that moment, if you’re anything like me. Crying makes the headaches worse. (It’s ok to cry though.) Right now, you just have to believe.

Keep going.

The only way out is through. You probably haven’t heard this yet. You’ve probably heard to turn out the lights and lay in bed. That’s ok. Stay there if you need to for now, that’s important. Listening to your doctor is important. But promise yourself that you’ll try to sit up soon. You’ll take visitors and learn to be ok with quiet. You’ll try that mindfulness stuff your therapist told you about. Your strength will become your endurance through these hard times. Practice that. Practice your resilience. These moments will be gifts one day when life gets hard. Other people don’t know what hell you’re in, but one day you’ll make a hard day look like the best day. Learn your new perspective. It will save you now and serve you later. It’s going to hurt sometimes, but you’ll learn the difference between hurt that will take you down and hurt that will make you stronger.

Find a way.

I wrote this on my white board in my home gym after my last concussion. Every morning I got up and practiced my balance, stretched my back and neck, and then would take a walk around the pond by my house. At first, I couldn’t go 100 yards without needing to stop and sit down. Each day I tried to go further. I enlisted friends in my goal. We’d walk until I couldn’t, then we’d sit and talk or be quiet or just be. One day, I walked around the whole pond. It’s only a little over a mile, but that was a huge deal. Huge. Now, I’m at Crossfit and holding my own during WODs, even if only barely. Even if there’s stuff I can’t do yet. It’s ok. Six months ago I couldn’t walk around a pond.

Let me say that one again: Find a way.

At school, I was terrified. I’m not far from completing my PhD and I was suffering short term memory loss from this hit. I forgot entire days. How was I supposed to remember theorists and literature and research? I would stop mid sentence and forget what words I just said. It was terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. But I found a way. I turned my current students into brain buddies, and paid a former student to work with me at night. It sounded crazy to ask other people to be my brain, but it was worth a shot. They took notes while I talked, organized things for me, asked questions when I made no sense, and kept my eyes off a screen as long as possible. In meetings they were ready with “you were just saying this” when my face went blank and I started to panic because I couldn’t remember ten seconds ago. I asked for help, and help arrived.

Be kind.

This sucks, I know. Like really sucks. Like might have you questioning if your life is worth it sucks. This is called vulnerability. Not too long ago you were invincible. You were an athlete. You were doing ridiculous things to your body and calling it fun. You had dreams and you could see yourself living them. Now the grocery store makes you lose your balance and you can’t update your facebook without wanting to puke. Everyone is telling you that you have to stop everything fun and awesome and part of you. It’d be really easy to just be a monster. Don’t do it. Be kind. This is part of that perspective thing. In college, I went from effortlessly getting high marks to not being able to read after my career ending hit. I worked with the office on campus that helps students with learning and physical disabilities in order to get through my classes. I met students who never knew what it was like to have school be effortless, or athletics, or their emotional life. I was wallowing in self-pity and they were taking everyday in stride. They taught me so much about seeing the strengths in my struggle and in many ways brought me back to life. When I felt like I was weak because I had to read bigger print or had to take untimed tests or use a notetaker, they taught me that it was just another way to learn, and what a privilege it is to learn. They taught me to look up, to smile at people more, to be kind. To get over myself.

And you know what? When you’re kind, people help you. They say “yes, of course” when you ask them to sit with you because you’re afraid that all the sitting in the dark is making you lonely and will lead to depression. They’ll walk slowly with you to the next bench around the pond and cheer you on when you say that was one bench further than last time. They’ll sit in a Starbucks with you after a full work day while you struggle to form sentences and take notes on your painstaking dialogue. They’ll help you get up. They’ll help you keep going. They’ll help you find a way.

And when you’re about to turn 29 and you’re almost six months out from your last hit, your 10th concussion, or maybe it’s your 15th but you’re afraid to really count how many you’ve had, you’ll remember what it was like to have people be kind and help you out. You’ll remember it when a workout gives you a two day headache. You’ll think of them, invested in you, when you don’t want to invest in yourself. And that’s important, because some days you’re going to want to quit. You’re going to think it’s crazy to get back to school, or work, or working out, your family, your relationship, your church, your friends, your life. You’re going to think that it will never feel good. You’re going to wonder about what they’re saying about those old NFL players and CTE and guys who are suicidal or full of rage or can’t remember their kids names. You’re going to wonder about early onset alzheimers or that car crash you might be in one day that will turn your brain to mush. You’re going to think about these things and wonder if it really matters if you push through that next workout or if you attend that class or if you’re kind to your little brother or if you eat dinner with your family and not in the dark by yourself.

It matters.

You matter. Live like you matter. Train like you matter. Learn like you matter. Love like you matter. Be kind like you matter. You matter.

And if you’re not sure, find me. Find someone. Go on twitter and search for all the young people with concussions who are reminding each other that they matter.

Get up. I know you can do it.

Get up.

(And thank your parents or siblings or teachers or whoever is helping you through this – you scared the crap out of them and they really love you. Don’t take their vigilance as annoying. They’re your biggest allies. Let them be scared for you – because right now, you need to be brave.)

A Concussion Photo Essay: This Is My Story

By Jay Fraga

Once, there was a little boy. The boy loved to ride motorcycles with his Father. The boy was transfixed with speed and g-forces and devices with two wheels.

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The boy dreamed of two-wheeled heroes; of men with nicknames like, “Hurricane”.

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The boy pestered his parents until they allowed him to race BMX bicycles.

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Once he realized that belief and effort equaled success, the boy began to win. Through sports, he learned that formula was necessary everywhere in life.

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The boy grew and became a man. He still loved bicycles. He loved competition.

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The boy built a business around BMX bicycles. He built a team. Together, they had so much fun and great success.

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The boy loved to coach. He believed that it was important to forward to others the lessons that he learned along the way.

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And then this happened. This was just one of many crashes, but it was the last one.

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This one felt different than the rest. The boy quietly cried on the way to the hospital. He knew it was over.

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There was a lot of this…..

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And some of this…

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But, the boy didn’t need any of it to prove how terrible he felt. Every day was difficult. Every day was a struggle. Every day looked like this- suffocating, choking, and overbearing. Insurmountable.

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The boy was alone. He suffered, and his thoughts were dark. He couldn’t remember things.

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The boy had a family. He knew that come hell or high water, he had to pull it together. He loved them.

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He began to work on it. There are so many specialists for concussion. It was draining.

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Sometimes, the boy would throw up afterwards. But he pushed on.

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He began to speak out. He did not want anyone else’s sons or daughters to experience this.

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Somehow, people started to listen.

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The boy struggled a little bit with this aspect of things. After all, he was just a boy who liked bikes.

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But, he pushed on, and he was able to meet great people in the world of concussion.

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And this story isn’t over yet. The boy knows that a lot of special people have helped to tell it and to get him here. He knows that the message has to reach many, many more before things will change and we can protect those who are the most important to us. However that has to happen, it’s alright with him.

This man once said, “”Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

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We believe that our experiences serve as the ultimate warning to those who might follow in our footsteps.

Best wishes and be smart,

The Boy

 

The 504 Plan: School Accommodations and Protections for Your Concussed Student Athlete

By Alicia Jensen

After student athletes suffer a concussion, the first thing that pops into their heads is, “When can I play again?” What many might not realize at first is that the effects of concussions are way more than just physical in nature. Concussions mentally and cognitively impair that athlete either along with the physical symptoms or even after they have been cleared to go back on the field.

Many student athletes like me who are diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome may notice some cognitive symptoms as they return back to school. Symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, a short attention span, and the terrible list goes on and on.

Cognitive impairments can hold back students with PCS from their true potential. They are no longer normal students. They can’t handle the same workload that every other student in their class might be able to handle. They can easily become mentally fatigued or “brain foggy” after doing what might seem like a simple and normal school task such as reading and writing. Most student athletes just keep going on and push through their symptoms because they don’t really know what else to do about the work load. The doctor’s note they get every 3-4 weeks that states “No gym, extra time on tests and assignments- Please excuse their absences as medical” can only get them so far. They feel bad and like a burden on their teachers and everyone around them if they ask for help.

I know all of this because I was one of those students. That was, until I finally got help through a Medical Accommodations 504 Plan. A 504 plan is an official document that is created by administrators and guidance counselors at the student athlete’s school which entails details of their condition and what accommodations they will need in order to be successful in the classroom. In all public schools, 504 plans are protected by federal statute and school compliance is mandatory.

A few weeks ago, someone found The Knockout Project by searching for answers for their 6-year-old child who had been diagnosed with PCS and needed help with attaining a 504 Plan. After speaking to The Knockout Project founder, Jay Fraga, we decided that we needed to place emphasis on the importance of a 504 Plan for a student athlete returning to the classroom. With the green light from Jay, I decided to ask the person on the front line of 504 Plan management a few questions: my Assistant Principal and 504 Officer of Cherry Hill High School West, Ms. Rebecca Metzger.

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Alicia, left, and Ms. Rebecca Metzger

Since I was placed on a 504 Plan back in October 2012, I have seen first-hand the work this amazing woman has done for not only me, but other students with PCS. I sat down with her and asked her some questions to help everybody better understand the process and seriousness of Post-Concussion Syndrome and easing some pain through a 504 Plan.

I first asked her what she would say to other school administrators who do not currently offer a program to their students who have been diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome.

“School districts and staff need to be made more aware of the research that is demonstrating serious long-term side effects of Post-Concussion Syndrome. Both physical and emotional,” Ms. Metzger said.

Ms. Metzger has also recognized, through working with PCS students, that they can be successful in school with the right supports. This could go beyond just making a 504 Plan. The US Department of Health and Human Services along with the CDC wrote in the piece “Returning to School After a Concussion: A Fact Sheet for School Professionals”: “It is normal for students to feel frustrated, sad, embarrassed, and even angry…Talk with the student about these issues and offer support and encouragement.”

Ms. Metzger played Rugby at the collegiate level and for the US Women’s National Team, along with competing in Gymnastics when she was younger. During her time as an athlete, she sustained 3 concussions. She reported post-concussion symptoms such as “Headaches, vertigo, nausea and ringing in my ears.” This experience gives her a better insight into what a student-athlete with PCS is feeling at school.

Many students with PCS seem to need the same accommodations in the classroom: “Additional time, flexible scheduling, assistance with organizing and prioritizing assignments, and empathetic/understanding teachers and staff.”

Another major accommodation that many may not address is the need for “half day schedules and homebound tutoring.” These things provide the student with less classroom exposure for a little while which in turn gives them more time to rest, the most important healing measure.

High school is hard enough, but when you add 24/7 physical and emotional pain to the mix, you could get a complete disaster. When I asked how important a 504 Plan is to a student with PCS, Ms. Metzger did not hesitate to give me an answer. She said, “If symptoms are long lasting and pervasive, students will need a 504 Plan to meet the demands of high school.” For me, I was taking Honors and AP level courses, so I often felt the stress high school could bring. As soon as my physical symptoms became worse and as school went on, I knew I needed help. Once I was placed on a 504 Plan, I felt the immediate attention and care from my teachers. Some better than others, but at least there was an official document stating my problem and the help I would need to achieve academic goals.

Before I was diagnosed with PCS, I had no idea that what I was suffering had a name. Even worse, I had no idea that these accommodations were available to me. “Post-Concussion Syndrome students are more common than many people may think, but ultimately, not every concussion results in PCS,” says Ms. Metzger.

Other factors in the 504 Plan process include: “How much time is the student putting in to completing work? Are there teachers who can speak to student performance prior to the injury? How many days was the student absent/will the student be absent?” she said.

According to Ms. Metzger, I was the “third student with PCS and the most serious” she had seen. When she first read my documentation (neuropsychological testing report and doctor’s notes), she said that she “was hoping you weren’t faking and that I could help.” Neuropsychological evaluation (NPE) is a testing method through which a neuropsychologist can acquire data about a subject’s cognitive, motor, behavioral, linguistic, and executive functioning. My grades were very good, which surprised her and the rest of my 504 team because of how low scored my neuropsychological evaluation was. When asked about the effects that concussions had on me, one of my teachers that had me in class before, during, and after my concussions told my 504 advisor Ms. Metzger that, “She was like a different person. I could see flashes of her from before the concussions, but I couldn’t believe how much she was struggling with basic things like word recall and writing in an organized fashion. I was blown away by how hard it was for her to do things that had once been so easy.” Hearing that really made me more grateful for my 504 Plan. It is now something that I am realizing has helped me get to where I am today academically.

504 Plans are meant to help the student succeed and ultimately help them with laying down the groundwork for their future. As a student with PCS, I can tell you that it is an everyday struggle, but I would not be succeeding to the best of my ability right now if it weren’t for my 504 Plan. It is so important to get student athletes with Post-Concussion Syndrome some type of accommodations.

Through my personal experience, I have come to realize that I can achieve the same amount as I could’ve if I did not have PCS, but I am not sure if I could do it without my 504 Plan. If you are diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome and are having trouble in school, reach out to your school’s 504 Officer or guidance counselor. Every school district follows different guidelines, so it doesn’t hurt to ask if you are eligible. A 504 Plan could change a lot for you – physically, mentally, emotionally, and most importantly, academically. A 504 Plan can be vital in the success of student athletes with Post-Concussion Syndrome, they and their parents just need to be made more aware that the help is available.

Special thanks to Ms. Metzger for helping me out with all of this. You are one of my biggest cheerleaders in this Post-Concussion Syndrome fight and I am very much grateful for everything you do for me. You are more than my 504 Plan Advisor; you are a mentor, a supporter, and a friend. I would not be able to do any of this without you! Thank you.

A Rising Tide Floats All Boats; A Falling Tide Drops Them All On The Rocks

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We’ve all taken our eyes off the ball

By: Jay Fraga

While the sports world stands trivially transfixed with Richard Sherman’s NFC Championship post-game interview, lawyers on both sides of the recently-denied-for-preliminary-approval NFL Concussion Settlement scurry around in relative obscurity. With the sheer outrage mustered toward Sherman’s antics, one would think that America’s Game is being threatened. Once again, we’re proving as a nation that we are easily distracted.

America’s Game IS being threatened- but it’s not being threatened by Richard Sherman’s interview decorum. America’s Game is being threatened by a sub-par settlement, chiseled out by the bean counters and face savers at the NFL as well as a handful of plaintiff attorneys, who will take a sizeable sum of the bounty for their own coffers rather than forward it to deserving players. Worse yet, the settlement is based on troublesome language that calls to question just which players might qualify for medical benefits under it (for more detail on that, Patrick Hruby’s January 14th article is good reading).

America’s Game is being threatened by the National Football League’s sleight of hand; their propensity to speak and act out of both sides of their mouth in terms of past, present, and future player safety. America’s game is being threatened by a disingenuous settlement that allows for the clean wiping of a very dirty slate. It also allows for the wiping of the future slate.

In short, America’s Game is being threatened by the very people who run it.

What’s worse is that a significant majority of fans view the Concussion Settlement in a detached fashion. Reactions range from, “Those guys knew what they were getting into” to outright disinterest. For now, I’ll spare the full diatribe about the fallacy of believing that id-driven professional caliber athletes in their early twenties somehow have crystal balls that enable them to look into the future, see themselves kneeling in front of the toilet, and praying for death as they fight off the unimaginable symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. As a BMX racer, I never envisioned that future reality for myself. But, it happened.

Hey, I said that I’d spare the “full diatribe” about that. I didn’t say that I’d avoid it completely.

What if I told you that how the NFL approaches (or, doesn’t approach) player safety directly impacts the health of the American public? Would you consider that?

If the NFL were actually to embrace the fact that, occupationally, a high amount of concussions occur under its watch, they’d be in a position to put all of their clout- financial and otherwise, into treatment methodologies. You might say, “But, wait- the NFL just helped to fund a six million dollar National Institutes of Health grant for CTE research. See! They’re helping!”

Hey, I said they’d be in a position to put all of their clout- financial and otherwise, into treatment methodologies. There’s a big difference between that and digging at the bottom of their pockets for Anquan Bolden’s yearly salary to give to research. In a given year, there are 1,760 players in the NFL. Six million dollars, unfortunately, is chump change in that scenario.

The failure of the NFL to attack this problem head-on is an issue for any person in the United States who will suffer a concussion. It’s not just a problem for players. The lack of emphasis by the League in terms of focusing on new treatment methodologies and proper concussion care for their players produces a significantly negative cascade on public health in the form of doctors everywhere who rely on antiquated and ineffective treatment techniques because of limited knowledge. If I had a nickel for every person suffering from persistent concussion symptoms who has told me that their doctors simply didn’t know how to treat them, I’d be a rich man. It took nine concussions racing bicycles before I found the right doctors who were in a position to help. It also took beating on doors left and right and a lot of work. This type of thing is common and people are falling by the wayside. Our general standards for concussion care are not uniform. And, they’re lacking. Now, I’m not suggesting that the NFL has a responsibility to take care of American citizens. But, they certainly have a responsibility to take care of their own employees. Doing so would pay dividends for all of us.

So, I ask this question: Has there been a better place for significant medical advancements in the last twenty years than on the battlefields of the wars that America has fought?

Wouldn’t the battlefield of the NFL turf, with its frequent collisions, be the best place to hone new concussion treatment technologies for players who put their bodies, and ultimately the rest of their lives, well-being, and their families’ well-being on the line? That answer seems pretty clear-cut to me. And, if the NFL threw their might into it, that knowledge would become common knowledge. It would spread to the doctors that treat all of us- the people who sit on couches and watch America’s Game every Sunday. It would spread to the doctors who treat our kids: our youth lacrosse, soccer, football, basketball, baseball players, and BMX racers. These are the people we hear from in droves who are affected by concussion and the astounding lack of quality care out there. Maybe, I would even see a month in which I didn’t get an email from a high school athlete who has post-concussion symptoms that are so bad that I have to talk them out of taking their life.

Concussions are not just a problem for professional football players. Concussions are a problem for all of us. If the NFL is allowed to wash their hands of the concussion issue with a token settlement, it isn’t just past, present, and future NFL players who will suffer; we will all suffer in the form of persistently antiquated concussion treatment techniques that could, but won’t be, expanded and honed on the football field on Sundays.

Press Release: 2008 US Olympic Bronze Medalist and Three Time World Champion BMX Racer Donny “dR” Robinson Joins The Knockout Project’s Board of Directors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

2008 US OLYMPIC BRONZE MEDALIST AND THREE TIME WORLD CHAMPION BMX RACER DONNY “dR” ROBINSON JOINS THE KNOCKOUT PROJECT’S BOARD OF DIRECTORS.

Belchertown, Massachusetts – January 17, 2013- The concussion education initiative, “The Knockout Project”, announced today the appointment of Donny Robinson to its board, the “KO Roundtable”.

Robinson, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Bronze Medalist in BMX Racing, brings valuable experience, knowledge, and reflection to the table in terms of concussive history. Robinson has suffered over twenty concussions in his two decades worth of racing. Recently, Donny has been speaking out to racers and parents about a subject that he never really thought twice about; while trying to convey the serious nature of identifying concussions, sitting out until healed, and seeking a doctor’s advice before returning to action.

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Team USA’s Donny Robinson on the Olympic Podium in Beijing

“I’m thrilled to add Donny to the fold”, said Jay Fraga, Founder of The Knockout Project. “We’ve been friends for a long time and have had many talks about injuries, symptoms, etc in the last few years. One thing I think we both agree on is that as BMX racers, we just never knew that we shouldn’t be pushing through concussive injuries. We hope to usher in a new era of knowledge and understanding when it comes to BMX Racers and all athletes.”

Said Robinson, “Injuries are an inevitable part of sport and we all have to live with them- most, with no long-term effects or inconveniences. However, as I learn from others, and from my own personal experience, I see that the effects that concussions can have on individuals may in fact be life-altering. I have been very lucky, but in no way immune to the symptoms of repeated head trauma, so the chance to be a part of The Knockout Project to help myself gain more understanding, but also the resources to better share and protect others, is a priceless opportunity.”

ABOUT THE KNOCKOUT PROJECT:

Founded in November 2012, The Knockout Project was an answer to an athlete’s struggles while dealing with the aftermath of Post-Concussion Syndrome. Those struggles manifested themselves in a number of ways, including physically, cognitively, and emotionally. That athlete was determined to educate others so that they didn’t make the same mistakes that he did- in the hope that others would avoid a similar fate.

To know more, visit: http://www.theknockoutproject.org/
Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/knockoutproject
Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheKnockoutProject

Contact:
Inbox@theknockoutproject.org
www.theknockoutproject.org
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Press Release: Impakt Protective, Phoenix Factory Racing, and The Knockout Project Announce Shockbox Pilot Program For BMX Racing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

1/9/14

IMPAKT PROTECTIVE, PHOENIX FACTORY RACING, AND THE KNOCKOUT PROJECT ANNOUNCE SHOCKBOX PILOT PROGRAM FOR BMX RACING.

A chance meeting between two men at a Sports Legacy Institute event in Boston in October of 2013 has paid dividends.

Danny Crossman, CEO of Impakt Protective, maker of the Shockbox helmet sensor, and Jay Fraga, Founder of The Knockout Project- two men who know all too well the sting of head injuries- met at the 2013 Sports Legacy Institute Impact Awards and began to compare notes almost immediately.

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Danny Crossman, Jessica Fraga, and Jay Fraga at the 2013 SLI Impact Awards

“As a person who is immersed in the concussion community, I was previously aware of Shockbox, but didn’t realize that the person I was sharing dinner with was responsible for its development”, said Fraga. “Danny and I had plenty of time to talk about our respective histories with regard to concussive injury before I realized that he was one of the men behind Shockbox.”

Shockbox is a helmet sensor that sends coaches, parents, and team medical staff a visual and audio alert via Bluetooth transmission 325ft (100m) to their smartphones when a player has experienced an at-risk head impact that may result in a concussion. This is an immediate reference point to begin preventative measures in the form of coaching correction, reduced exposure levels, game or race time recovery and potential concussion assessment. The device can be added onto any helmet using a high bonding adhesive tape. Shockbox has been used in peer-reviewed research by POP Warner football and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) for concussion research in 2012 and 2013.

Fraga went on to say, “I relayed my desire to Danny to bring technology along the lines of Shockbox into BMX racing, the sport that I love more than anything, but was forced to retire from due to mounting concussions and their effects. I felt that my experience of not being able to quantify hard hits, take them seriously, and then treat them the right way was ultimately responsible for the loss of BMX racing in my life as well as the poor quality of my health. Both were devastating. I was determined to change that for the people still involved with the sport that I love. To that end, Danny and I began to talk immediately about a pilot program involving Shockbox and BMX Racing. For me, Phoenix Factory Racing was the natural first choice to implement such a program due to their profile in the sport and my connection with Phoenix’s Tony Hansen, who previously ran my West Coast Aggro program.”

Phoenix Factory Racing, which recently finished the 2013 USABMX season ranked third Nationally in the factory team division, will debut the Shockbox sensors January 10th through 12th at the first stop of the 2014 USABMX National Tour: The Silver Dollar Nationals in Reno, Nevada. “With the nature of BMX Racing as a sport, we take head injuries very seriously. Not only do we want to provide our riders with world class equipment, but Impakt’s ShockBox sensor will also give our riders an additional level of support in case of a concussive event. We are a professional team and the ShockBox is a vital tool in keeping our riders safe”, said Tom Floyd, Phoenix Pro Cycles founder.

Phoenix’s Tony Hansen added, “Having partnered with Jay at Aggro Bikes for over 10 years, it was only natural to partner up again with him via The Knockout Project and Impakt. I have seen firsthand Jay’s struggles with Post-Concussion Syndrome, and feel we need to do whatever we can to help prevent any of our riders from having this struggle during their lives due to BMX. We can no longer hide from this topic. We must use every possible tool we have to make sure we don’t put a rider back on the track that is not ready.”

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About Impakt Protective Inc.

Incorporated in 2010, Impakt Protective is a privately owned high‐tech sensor company located in Ottawa, Canada and is the creation of Danny Crossman and Scott Clark. Danny Crossman, a former Army bomb disposal officer and Business Development executive, led the development of numerous life‐saving technologies such as the bomb suit, featured in the movie The Hurt Locker; Advanced Combat Helmet impact pads; roadside bomb jammers used by the USMC and recently the Helmet Sensors used by US Army and USMC to monitor mTBI in deployed soldiers and marines. Scott Clark is an active hockey player, coach as well as hockey Dad, and a former software high tech executive with experience in Program Management, Business Intelligence and Operations. For more information, visit the Impakt Protective website at www.impaktprotective.com .

About The Knockout Project

Founded in November 2012 by Jason Fraga, a former BMX racer who was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome after his ninth concussion, The Knockout Project is a concussion education initiative that counts a number of missions among its obligations. These range from general concussion awareness issues including highlighting the need for concussion identification, proper treatment, and return to play protocol, as well as providing insight from and to athletes who are struggling with post-concussion syndrome. The Knockout Project is headquartered in Belchertown, Massachusetts. For more information, visit The Knockout Project website at www.theknockoutproject.org .

About Phoenix Pro Cycles

Like its mythical namesake, Phoenix Sports was born from decades of learning and trying different disciplines, culminating in the birth of this new entity by founder Tom Floyd. Starting with Phoenix Pro Scooters in 2009, leading to the creation of Phoenix Pro Cycles in 2011, both companies are testaments to years of arduous endeavors resulting in the birth of the Phoenix brand.

Tom was the owner of the legendary Cantina Mountain Bike Shop in San Diego, California and after selling the shop, worked for Haro Bicycles and later FOX Racing Shox. Tom has a long history of working with professional cycling athletes such as Mike King, Brian Lopes, Marla Streb, Scotty Sharples and many others.

Having himself raced BMX, Downhill Mountain Bikes and Roadracing Motorcycles, Floyd is a disciple of speed. Inspired by cutting edge engineering from the worlds of MotoGP and Formula One, every directive injected into our bicycle design is geared towards ultimate performance and top level American craftsmanship. Phoenix Pro Cycles is headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon. For more information, visit the Phoenix Pro Cycles website at www.phoenixprocycles.com .

Fixing Concussions with Band-Aid’s: How Effective is the NFL’s Defenseless Receiver Rule?

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By Kevin Saum

Improving health and safety in football became a passion of mine after I suffered from second impact syndrome while playing in a high school football game and fell victim to the culture of toughness that exists in all sports. Despite the fact that football nearly took my life, to this day I still love the game and I do not regret one play from my 10 years of participation. Many of my fondest memories are from playing high school football and I credit the game and my coaches for making me the man I am today. Because of the intense passion I have for football, I become infuriated when I see professional players undermining the NFL’s attempts to make the game safer by taking cheap shots on defenseless receivers.

The mechanism of injury for New England Patriots tight end, Rob Gronkowski’s torn right ACL and MCL has generated a lot of discussion on the effectiveness of the NFL’s defenseless receiver rule. Rules protecting defenseless receivers were expanded and clarified after several violent helmet-to-helmet hits in week 6 of the 2010 season. These hits included Brandon Meriweather of New England on Todd Heap of Baltimore, Dunta Robinson of Atlanta on DeSean Jackson of Philadelphia and James Harrison of Pittsburgh twice on Cleveland Browns players. On this same weekend, Eric LeGrand of Rutgers was paralyzed while making a tackle on a kick off in a game against Army (I was on the sideline working as a student manager for this game). I’m sure the LeGrand Injury added to the NFL’s urgency to make football safer (or appear safer).

This past summer, I began researching health and safety initiatives in hazardous industries for my master’s capstone project in an attempt to translate best practices to the game of football. Employers in fields with high incident rates of injury (NFL’s rate is 100%) such as those in coal mining, construction and manufacturing utilize occupational health and safety management systems (OHSMS) to comprehensively and continually improve safety at each job site (Maese & Jenkins, 2013). The Occupational Safety & Health Administration often requires businesses in these hazardous industries to implement OHSMS’s. One of the most important aspects of the management systems is the process verification component because it establishes accountability and methods to assess the effectiveness of newly implemented safety programs. In addition, the process verification method is intended to manage any consequential health and safety risks that arise from changes in the safety program. I specifically mentioned in my paper that the NFL’s targeting rules could likely cause defensive players to over-compensate by tackling at the knees, therefore leading to an increase in knee injuries. Nearly two weeks after I submitted my project, Dustin Keller (Miami Dolphins Tight End) sustained a season ending knee injury in a preseason game against the Houston Texans. According to Texans defensive back, D.J. Swearinger, who inflicted the injury on Keller “’With the rules in this era, you’ve got to hit low,’ ‘If I would have hit him high, I would have gotten a fine. So I think I made the smartest play. I’m sorry it happened … Right now it’s just instinct. You see somebody come across the middle, you gotta go low. You’re going to cost your team 15 yards. You’ve got to play within the rules’” (Farrar, 2013). Other defensive players and coaches around the league express similar remarks and use the rules to justify these dangerous and unnecessary hits (Keim, 2013).

Most media outlets have focused on Gronkowski’s ACL and failed to mention that he also sustained a concussion on the same play after slamming his helmet into the turf. Not only did the defenseless receiver rules result in a season ending knee injury, it was unsuccessful in preventing the very injury it was intended to reduce. Gronkowski is among at least 41 NFL players who have had a season-ending knee injury this season, which is a 64 percent increase from 2011 and may be the result of defensive players aiming lower (Matusewzky, 2013). The NFL needs to rip-off the Band-Aid it placed in the rulebook on that fateful October weekend in 2010 and implement some form of process verification to audit existing safety rules because they are obviously not meeting their objectives. Most sports writers and commentators have agreed that hits below the knee (on defenseless players) need to be banned. Although I am not Merrill Hoge’s biggest fan due to his intense hatred for Tim Tebow, I do agree on the potential solution he proposed, which is to establish a target area (or “strike zone”) for defensive players. This target area spans from above the knee to below the neck (Matusewzky, 2013). All discussion surrounding this issue has focused on preventing injuries on offensive players. Fines and suspensions for illegal hits have resonated with defensive players in the NFL and they have altered their style of play. However, I foresee an even greater incentive for NFL players to play clean and hit within the target area. The following pictures show the moment of impact for four of the hits on defenseless receivers that led to knee/leg injuries this season. Pay close attention to the head placement of the defender in all four instances.

bruty(Gronkowski knee injury, Simon Bruty)

decker(Eric Decker knee injury, US Presswire)

cobb(Randall Cobb broken leg, Nick Wass)

keller(Dustin Keller knee injury, Scott Halleran)

As you can see, in every hit the defender has his head down while making the tackle, which exposes them to both head and neck injuries. If you watch football on TV, I’m sure you have seen commercials for the NFL endorsement of USA Football’s “Heads Up” program, which aims to teach young players proper tackling techniques in an attempt reduce head injuries. If you haven’t, here is a link to one of the commercials (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp5HMhEDdt0). NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell is interviewed about the importance of safety in football at the beginning of this particular commercial and he states, “You have to have the right fundamentals. You have to learn how to tackle safely and play the game safely”. The commercial concludes with multiple youth players saying “you have to hit with your head up”! I am obviously all for young athletes learning proper tackling techniques, but the NFL’s endorsement of this program appears to be nothing more than propaganda when their athletes continue to tackle with their heads down. This Washington Post Article provides a step-by-step example of a safely executed USA Football “Heads Up” tackle (http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/sports/wp/2013/10/24/tackling-a-crisis/). Actions always speak louder than words and the players should practice what they preach if the NFL truly wants to save the game. Kids look up to NFL players and try to emulate their styles of play because they are considered among the best in the world. If NFL players continue to make tackles in this manner they will once again be undermining their very own safety initiative.

It is only a matter of time before an NFL, college, high school or youth player sustains a head or neck injury from utilizing this poor tackling technique on defenseless receivers. If defensive players have the accuracy to aim for the head or knees, it’s safe to assume that they also possess the ability to make tackles at the upper-thigh and torso. It’s easy for defensive players to take out receiver’s knees because there is no situation where they can be retaliated against. I would love to see how “tough” these defensive players are if the roles were reversed and they lined up at wide receiver. Football is a dangerous game and it will always be a dangerous game. However, there are injuries that can be prevented, and I am confident that ACL tears coming from hits on defenseless receivers below the knee is one of them. As I have pointed out, it is physically impossible to maintain safe tackling techniques when defenders target at or below the knees. Band-Aids can’t fix concussions or spinal cords injuries, so it is time the NFL take a more comprehensive approach to health and safety rules and hold themselves and their players accountable for executing and promoting safe tackling techniques.

Sources:

Keim, J. (2013, October 28). Brandon Meriweather rips marshall. ESPN NFL, Retrieved from http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/9893116/brandon-meriweather-washington-redskins-rips-brandon-marshall-vows-target-opposing-players-knees
Maese, R., Jenkins, S. (2013, March 16). NFL medical standards, practices are different than almost anywhere else. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/redskins/nfl-medical-standards-practices-are- different-than-almost-anywhere-else/2013/03/16/b8c170bc-8be8-11e2-9f54- f3fdd70acad2_story.html?wpisrc=emailtoafriend
Matuszewski, E. (2013, December 10). Rob gronkowski’s knee injury spotlights nfl’s surge in acl tears. Bloomberg, Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-09/gronkowski-spotlights-nfl-s-60-surge-in-knee-injuries-from-2011.html

USA Football Heads UP:
http://usafootball.com/health-safety/how-to-tackle

Multiple Concussions and Multiple Missed Chances Highlight NJ Soccer Player’s Story

{Editor’s note: Wow, where do I start with this story? It’s wince-worthy from almost the word “go”. I guess there are some things that stand out to me: There just isn’t enough oversight when it comes to recreational (ie: non- HS sanctioned) sports. Far too few of our kids are overseen by qualified Athletic Trainers. Somehow, we must increase awareness of injuries that athletes are suffering in these settings. That comes down to parents and coaches being more aware, since the odds are against our kids speaking up when they need to. Frankly, Haley never should have been allowed to play anything in short order the way that she was able to. Not speaking up and playing hurt took contact sports away from her- there is no doubt about it. Had Haley spoken up, been adequately treated, had time to heal, and observed a legitimate return to play protocol, the chances are much better that she would still be playing sports right now. That’s a tough lesson to learn. Hopefully, someone in a similar position will read her story and think twice about being vocal that they’ve been injured. Playing hurt for just one game can absolutely take the rest of them away from you forever, as Haley’s story clearly shows. –Jay}

By Haley Mahony

haley

As I jumped up to head the ball, I knew exactly what the consequences would be. But, I did it anyway, as I had done many times. Before my first concussion, I knew nothing about concussions. Concussion was just a word in the dictionary to me. I didn’t think that something could be so serious and change my life forever in many ways.

I got my first concussion my freshman year of high school in September of 2011. On that Monday morning, I was brushing my teeth and getting ready for school. As I went to spit my toothpaste out, I sneezed and hit my head on the faucet. Everyone laughs at the story. I guess it’s a funny story, but it changed my life forever. When I tell people, they tell me that I should make up a different story and pretend that it never happened. At the time, I was playing on the freshman high school soccer team and the concussion forced me to sit. Two weeks later when I was able to retake the concussion impact test to go back to soccer, I cheated on it. I did that just so I could pass and get back to play my last high school soccer game. I was cleared to go back, but had bad karma that day as the game was eventually cancelled. Afterwards, I was on the soccer bus and a teammate hit me directly on the forehead and gave me my second concussion. My first two concussions were so close together in time that they seemed to make me prone to many more.

After healing from my second concussion, I went back to my “normal” life, and was allowed back to gym class. My gym class was playing volleyball. I jumped up to hit the ball, and, as I was landing, a boy in my class elbowed me in the head. This was my third concussion, which made three concussions in less than three months. I was out of all physical activity for about 2 months after the third concussion happened. When I was finally cleared again, I went back to playing soccer even though my doctors warned me that I should think about not playing. I thought to myself, “This isn’t fair. I can’t give up my sport. I’ll be fine”, and I went back to playing in January of 2012. During this time, I was on two different soccer teams in the winter. I was on an academy team called NJ Force Soccer Academy and also my town’s travel team. My travel team was playing in an indoor league. The night of the game, I had a weird feeling about it. I knew something was going to happen to me. The goalie punted the ball in my direction and there was no time for me to get out of the way. With a minute left in the game, the ball hit me directly off the head. I continued to play the last minute even though I knew I had suffered another concussion. It was by far the worst one I had suffered to that point. I was out for four months.

It wasn’t until April of 2012 when I was cleared from my fourth concussion. When I got back to playing sports, I was doing outstanding. No one had seen me play like my “old” self for a while and it was an amazing feeling. It was very hard coming back at first. I was scared of the ball and of getting hurt, but I started to gain all my confidence back and played like I had never been injured.

In November of 2012, my academy soccer team was playing in a tournament for the championships. We were playing the 8th ranked team in NJ and we were ranked 21st in the state. The only thought running through my head was that I couldn’t let my team down. I ended up playing my best game since I was back and headed every ball that was too high for me to chest. I had so much confidence going into that game and all of the parents were surprised because they have never seen me play that way before. I ended up taking a free kick and assisting the winning goal in overtime with 10 seconds left, but the bad news was that I got my fifth concussion in that game. I never took a break after that concussion. I just kept playing the rest of the winter season.

On the night of March 14, 2013, my life changed forever. I had a feeling I was going to get hurt, as I walked into indoor practice. I was joking around the whole time at practice and I decided to play goal, when I usually play field, but I just wanted to have fun. My teammate shot the ball so hard that it hit the post and hit me directly in the face. I blacked out for a second and sat for the rest of practice with thoughts constantly running through my mind of what was going to happen. The next day at high school lacrosse practice, I got hit in the head with the stick. These together added up to my sixth concussion. It was a terrible experience.

I went to a neuropsychologist because that was all I could do at the time. I just needed help to get better as soon as possible. She told me news that was about to change my life forever: I could never play contact sports again. I was done with my life of soccer as well as my new life of lacrosse. It was the worst news I have ever gotten. The thought of never being able to play soccer again after playing for 11 to 12 years broke my heart. I was never going to have to think about not jumping up and heading the ball again. I was in tears for days. It has been nine months since it happened and it’s still very hard to deal with. My neuropsychologist made me sit in a dark room on total rest for 2 weeks doing absolutely nothing but sleeping. It helped to get rid of my symptoms a lot, but I had a setback on Easter; which was the “last day” of my two week healing period. We had family over to celebrate the holiday, and as I was saying good bye to my baby cousin, she head-butted me in my forehead. That ended up being my seventh concussion. I was set back very far and knew I wouldn’t be healing anytime soon. I went back to the doctor the next day and my impact test scores were beyond terrible. I failed every section of the test. My scores didn’t even remotely resemble my past scores. I was told two more weeks of rest doing nothing but staying in my dark room.

I was then sent to a neurologist to see if he could help control my headaches. I got put on topiramate for about six months until I was weaned off of it. I missed almost 2 months of school and during the last two weeks I was homeschooled because I wasn’t able to handle light work. Getting back to school wasn’t easy. I was out for a while, but I caught up with my work with my homeschool teachers. I was put on a 504 plan by my doctors to help me get through the school day and to help me to handle my work. The only problem I had and still have is that my teachers don’t follow it, and they don’t allow me to do some of the accommodations, which they are permitted to do. They were very good with letting me go to the nurse when needed, because they saw the pain in my eyes. As of August of 2013, I have started visiting the chiropractor twice a week. I still have symptoms, but they gradually have gotten better since I started. I still get bad headaches on and off, I have concentration issues, and I am very sensitive to light and noises. I feel like I will have Post-Concussion Syndrome for a long time, but I am staying positive believing my PCS journey will end eventually.

Concussions will always be something I will have to worry about and be safe about. I will always be prone to them. My life has changed. I am not the same person as I used to be. It is like starting a new life. Every day is a challenge, but I am willing to take the challenge. The most important thing you have to do while having a concussion is to let others know how you are feeling. For months I kept how I felt to myself and only told my boyfriend. My parents thought I was better, and that’s why I got taken off of my medication. Once I told my mom I wasn’t getting better, that was when I got more help and started visiting the chiropractor. Since then, I have gotten so much better. Never be scared to share how you actually feel; it’s important to let other know exactly how you feel. They cannot read your mind and they don’t know what help you need unless you talk.

All I want is to be 100% better. I want to play soccer, lacrosse and run track again. I want to be able to do physical activity, like go for a run, or do little workouts. But I can’t.

I believe in the words “everything happens for a reason” and I know that something good will come of this. It may take time, but it will happen. During this crazy journey that has changed my life, I have learned so much. I have learned to be patient and enjoy life as much as I can. One thing I learned the most is, when something is thrown into your life, learn as much as you can from it and help as many people as you can that are going through the same things that you are.

As hard as it is to say this, I am glad I have been able to experience all of this. I am so lucky to be surrounded by such great people every day. The people I have met from this experience who are going through the same things I am have gotten me through every day. They are always there for me, as I am always there for them. I am also so lucky for the people in my life that I am with everyday who are getting me through this tough part of my life. My boyfriend has helped me so much; he has been here by my side every day. My family who have supported me so much and have given me all the help I need. I also wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for the concussion community supporting me each and every day, making sure my attitude is also positive and making sure I never feel alone.

I live by these words to keep me positive and to keep pushing through this life changing journey:

“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backwards. So, when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming.” -Unknown

A Wife Opens Up About Living With Someone With Post-Concussion Syndrome

{ Editor’s note: My finger lingered for a while before hitting the “post” button on this piece. It did so, because it’s painful. It was written by my Wife, who I love very much. The physical pain of this fight is equally rivaled by the knowledge that your family is hurting along with you, and that you’re responsible for putting yourself and them in this position. It’s not easy to come to terms with that. But, if we’re truly going to be educational about the aftermath of concussion and ignoring your injuries, then this has to be spoken about. – Jay }

image

By Jessica

I can’t focus today. I have to grade eight more papers and a week’s worth of discussion posts. Yet, here I sit staring at my macbook hoping that it will just magically happen. I’m sitting in my favorite coffee and tea café listening to the chatter of others and the espresso machine. It’s relaxing. I don’t have to worry about anything (other than the fact I’m not getting any work done).

Every day, I wake up with a knot in my shoulders. I’m stressed out before I even leave my bed. I bring a lot of the stress on. I try to do too much. I try to make others happy while often giving up my own simple pleasures (I really want a f’n latte right now but I’m sipping black tea with no sugar).

My husband has PCS: post-concussion syndrome. He has had 10 concussions (on record, I’m pretty sure it’s many more than that). He struggles every single day just to go to work. Why should I complain about anything? He has to fight constant migraines, memory problems, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, spots in his vision, over stimulation from simple sounds and environments, and noise sensitivity. Sitting in this café would probably drive him insane. He fights depression that he can’t control. He has never been depressed before. He has mood swings and outbursts of anger that are so out of character and at times unsettling. He puts on a brave face and fights though every single day.

So, who am I to complain? What kind of an ass am I for feeling overworked, tired, and resentful? What a selfish person, right? I can’t lie- I struggle with those emotions every single day. I fight feeling resentful. I feel bombarded the second I get home. The other night I didn’t even get my coat off and the kids were on me. “Mom where is dinner?”, “Mom, I need help with my homework”, “Mom, my brother keeps touching my stuff”, etc, etc. All while my husband is home- laying down. I’ve created this monster. I want to protect my husband and allow him the time to heal from a bad day- every day. My kids have caught on. They too, want to protect him. The problem is that I can’t handle it all on my own. Well, maybe that isn’t true. I don’t want to.

I’ve come to expect and be able to gauge when my husband will have his truly bad days. Those are the days where he locks himself away in our bedroom with the lights off. I’ve become accustomed to it. I come home- ready for the onslaught. I’m sad before I even get out of my car. The man I married, the outgoing, funny, adventure-seeking man is hidden somewhere inside this other man. He is struggling to break free, but just can’t seem to reach the surface. So, I put on a brave face, I smile, and pretend to the outside world that everything is great.

The truth is, everything isn’t great. Being a caretaker for someone with PCS, or any disability (depression, PTSD etc) is difficult. It is draining. And people don’t understand. PCS isn’t something physical that you can see. People doubt it, even some of our close friends. They don’t see my husband on the days he is in our bedroom with the lights off and with a blanket over his head just fighting to stay here on this planet. I can’t lie and say that I don’t think about the majority of the stories you see about people with PCS or CTE. How eventually, it just becomes too much and the person commits suicide. I bury that fear, but it’s real and it is always there.

I grew up afraid to show my emotions. I was taught that you didn’t cry unless you wanted something to cry about. I am working on learning how to express my emotions now. Writing is the easiest way. I see that I am shutting myself down to my husband. It’s not that I don’t love him- it’s that I love him so much that I can’t fall apart. I have to be strong for all of us. He wants to tell me about his doctors appointments, the progress, or at times- the risks. He wants to share his fears with me and I simply nod my head. Why don’t I just reach out and hold him, let him feel how much I care, and tell him how fearful I am? Why can’t I listen and support him the way he deserves? I hate the closed off person I’ve allowed myself to become, but I also know it’s a survival technique.

Can’t I find a better balance?

I struggle with self-hate, doubt, sadness, and depression. I feel lost and alone. How do the loved ones get through this? How do we support and not lose ourselves? Our relationships?

Long Island HS Junior Speaks About Loss, and Perseverance in the Wake of PCS

By Kate Gaglias

kategThe saying “You will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory” is absolutely true. Many of us athletes take our sports for granted- The grueling practices, running laps for no reason, constant games and tournaments. But the truth is no matter how much we say we hate it we will always have the love for the sport. Until, unfortunately for some of us all of that can be taken away in an instant.

My name is Kate Gaglias, and I am a junior in High school in Long Island, New York. I’ve played soccer since I was four years old, beginning in an in-house league like every other toddler. I joined a travel team when I was eight called the Longwood Twisters (which I am still a part of today) and played on the junior high team, JV team, and in my sophomore year I became a member of our varsity team. But since a young age my life has been changed by concussions. I received my first concussion in 2007 by getting a ball slammed to the side of my head by one of my teammates at an indoor practice. I didn’t feel anything until I got home, and after telling my dad (an athletic trainer) and my mom (a physical therapist assistant), they checked out my symptoms (the normal dizziness, sensitivity to light, headaches) and they all added up to having a mild concussion. I was out of school for a week, and when my symptoms were gone I returned to school like a normal 5th grader.

My second concussion was in 2009, during a travel team game. I was defending a player on the opposing team, and when I received the ball I was pushed/tripped and fell backward onto the ground, hitting my head like a whiplash type injury. I did not lose consciousness; however I was immediately taken off the field due to symptoms of a headache and dizziness, and brought to the hospital where I would get my first CT scan. It was diagnosed as a mild concussion, so like the first time I stayed home from school for 3-4 days until all of my symptoms went away. Once again I was perfectly fine and continued with everyday life.

I received my third concussion when I was a freshman in high school in November of 2011. Again it was during a game with my travel team. I was defending a player by the net, and when she went to shoot I ran towards the ball, which then was shot straight into my head only two feet away. I fell immediately backward and again was taken off the field. I did not lose consciousness, but my symptoms were severe right away. I went to see Dr. Haley Queller at St. Charles Hospital Concussion Management, where I was diagnosed with another mild concussion. I stayed home from school again for about a week until my symptoms went away. Because I was a high school student, I had to complete a concussion protocol (5 stages of different levels of physical activity) so that I could be cleared to return to sports. My parents were concerned about me returning to soccer because it was my third concussion, but since I had a quick recovery it was ok for me to play again. I could’ve started playing again in December, but I waited till January just to be sure. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to play, but then again in the back of my mind I thought “Of course I’ll be able to play again, they can’t say no!” Little did I know that I would not always have that luck on my side.

October 5th, 2012 will always be a date I’ll never forget. That was the day I got my 4th concussion- a day that will forever change the meaning of the word “normal” for me. I can honestly say that I have no idea what my life was like before that day, because of the effects this concussion had on me physically, emotionally, and mentally. It was one of the few varsity games I actually got playing time- my luck right? The goalie on the other team punted the ball, and it bounced a few yards in front of me. After the bounce, I leaned in to head it since that was my first instinct on how to trap the ball. What I didn’t realize was a girl full-on sprinting towards me and the ball so that she could win it first. But instead of stopping, she continued sprinting right into my face before I got the chance to head the ball. I was immediately knocked backwards (which is the part I don’t remember), smacked my head on the turf and again received severe whiplash. People on the sidelines would later tell me that the impact was if I was “hit by a train”. The ref did not blow his whistle and the next thing I remember is getting off the ground and playing for the rest of the half- which was not the right thing to do, however I did not realize how hard I was actually hit. During halftime was when I started experiencing symptoms, including sensitivity to light/noise, extreme headaches, confusion, and not totally being aware of what happened. At first I was worried about my mouth… because of where she hit me; I now have issues with my TMJ. I cannot open my mouth fully without deviating it to the side first, and I cannot talk, chew, or even brush my teeth without a painful crack every time I try to open it.

I went home determined not to tell my parents that I had been hit yet again. This was for a few reasons: 1) like all parents do, I was afraid they would automatically freak out. 2) I was scared that I was just paranoid and overreacting. And 3) I did not want to start the process of doctor’s visits, physical therapy, and no contact from the outside world all over again. But they did find out, and after visiting the high school’s athletic trainer the next day they had to explain to me that I had yet again received another concussion, this one even worse than the other ones. I was upset, but thought “Hey at least in a few weeks I’ll be better again!”

I returned to school a week later, but instead of staying for the whole day I only stayed for half days for about 2 weeks. I was on something similar to a 504 plan, where I was exempt from homework or tests, and basically in school I would just keep my head down and try to block out as much noise as possible. Most people in my classes knew of my history with concussions, so of course when I returned to school I was greeted with the usual “Oh look Kate got another concussion” as if it was a joke. I went along with it, since it didn’t bother me that much because I mean they were right, I was “that girl” who was always hurt. After a while it wasn’t funny anymore, but I also knew that they were uneducated and had no idea of what I was going through so it wasn’t worth it for me to get upset over. A concussion is not a visible injury; just because I don’t have a cast around my head doesn’t mean I’m perfectly okay.

No one would have ever guessed that my recovery would take four times as long than it had ever taken for the past three concussions. I was cleared to do the return to play protocol, but this time I had to take it twice as slow to make sure I didn’t experience symptoms. There are five stages, and after about a month I was still not able to complete stage 2, because every time I would go on the elliptical I would automatically get dizziness, headaches, and not be aware of my surroundings. I went back to my doctor and took a few weeks off so that I could go to physical therapy. There, my main focus was vestibular therapy since one of my symptoms was that I could not walk and turn my head to the left at the same time, or else I would fall or get dizzy. After about two weeks I was able to walk normally without getting symptoms, and in January I restarted the protocol again and was able to finish it. In total, something that should’ve taken me two weeks took me almost 4 months to finish.

January 29th 2013 turned out to be the worst day of my life- The day I heard the words “You can never play soccer or any contact sport again”. In my doctor’s opinion, I had a higher risk of sustaining another concussion, which could be even worse and long term. If I returned, it would be against medical advice which was a risk my parents were not willing to take. To some people, they might just shrug it off because in their opinion there are other things more important than sports. But for me I was shocked and devastated. Until that moment I had never realized how serious my injury was. I would have never guessed that my doctor would say those words, being that in the beginning she had faith that I probably would be able to return to sports again. But then again, I knew that eventually I would realize this was the right decision. I became depressed; I didn’t want to leave my room, I would just sit and cry for hours. I missed school a lot because I had no motivation to get out of bed. I wouldn’t talk to my family or friends, because no matter how much they tried to sympathize they would never be able to understand what I was going through unless it happened to them. I had this mentality that “I had it the worst” because in my opinion I couldn’t get any lower.

Throughout this experience many people didn’t know how to act around me. A lot of my friends would constantly ask me if I was ok or why I was upset. Even some of my friends who played soccer with me didn’t realize how hard this decision was affecting me. During that time, the only people who could somewhat understand what I was going through was my parents and twin sister.

My whole life has revolved around sports, so missing my first spring and summer season of soccer was very hard on me emotionally. I would automatically get upset when someone would talk about a practice or tournament I could’ve played in if I hadn’t gotten hurt. I became bitter towards people who said they “hated” playing soccer or any other sport, because they would never realize how lucky they are that they are still able to play. Telling my coaches and team that had become my second family for 8 years that I could not play anymore was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

To get my mind off of things I joined spring track so that I could somehow still be involved (my only options for non-contact sports are track, golf, bowling, or tennis). As the season progressed, I began to experience my symptoms again. While I would sprint short distance, I would feel nauseous, get headaches, dizziness, and become out of focus. After a month of experiencing this I went back to the doctor where I was told that these symptoms were related to my concussion again. I got more tests done such as an MRI and an MRA to figure out what was causing it. It was determined that when I reached full exertion the auto-regulator in my brain that affected my blood pressure would cause my blood pressure to drop, which was what was giving me the symptoms. The only solution was to try to get myself physically stable and stronger by going on an exercise/running plan, to try and retrain my brain so that I could run and exert myself and not have symptoms anymore.
In early September of 2013 I went for my last doctor’s appointment, which was when finally all of my symptoms had gone away. Although I was still not cleared to do contact sports, finally I was able to be almost back to normal, even though after my last concussion I will never actually be “normal” again.

The hardest part of not being able to play is watching everyone else play the sport that you love. I am now the manager of the varsity team at Longwood, and also one of the captains for my travel team. I’m lucky that my coaches are understanding and try to keep me involved as much as possible. It was a tough choice of deciding whether I should stay away from soccer because it was too painful to watch, but in the end it was impossible for me to be away from the sport that I love.

There have been a few positive things that came out of this experience. I have now realized that I am interested in a career in athletic training, and will hopefully be able to follow in the footsteps of my dad. I also presented a speech to my dad’s athletic training students at Stony Brook University to show how much athletes can be affected by their injuries. This is part of my attempt to promote concussion awareness.

I constantly have dreams and flashbacks about the moment I got hit, and I get anxiety whenever I pass the high school where it happened. Being a sideline ref, I have also emailed heads of soccer organizations to suggest a rule that a player must be taken off the field immediately after getting a head injury. If I didn’t keep playing in the game, maybe my injury might not have been as severe, and I want to do everything possible to prevent this from happening to someone else.

I would do anything to go back to that moment and try to prevent what happened to me. But at least I’ve learned that everything happens for a reason, and to never take anything for granted. I’ve learned that there are so many other people who have it worse than me. I am lucky that I can still get good grades, be able to do physical activities, and even do the simplest things like walking. After reading other stories of people who have still not recovered, I’m thankful for Hayley Queller, M.D, Michele Cordova, ATC, and my family for being my support system through every obstacle I have faced this past year.