As a young athlete, you look ahead at your future and see endless opportunities to be great and to achieve your dreams. The older you become, the more you begin to realize and recognize your potential and the effort it will take to achieve those once seemingly infinite opportunities. College athletics isn’t for everyone; it takes a dedicated and passionate person willing to give up a portion of their college experience to be able to play at this level. I knew that I would be playing colligate soccer towards the end of my high school career; the only question that remained was where I would choose to go. Ultimately I decided to attend a NCAA Division 2 University, Notre Dame de Namur. When I signed my national letter of intent to play I made a promise to myself that I would work hard and earn my spot on the starting line-up and live out my dream for the next 4 years; unfortunately my fairy tale ending never came.
Just about halfway through the first season of my freshman year, I managed to secure my spot as the starting goalkeeper and played each game with my whole heart; until I couldn’t any longer. 72 minutes into the match against Dominican University I collided with an opposing player, and I still haven’t fully remembered the events that followed.
After collecting stories from teammates, coaches and my athletic trainer it turns out that the hit briefly knocked me out and all that I can seem to remember is the trainers leaning over me telling me not to move and a massive headache that has never really gone away. I was taken to the emergency room and told by the physician that I had a grade 1 sprain in my neck and a pretty serious concussion; he sent home to rest and recover. Under the care of my athletic trainer I was prevented from playing for a few weeks and once I saw the team doctor he advised that we wait until symptoms stopped before I was able to get back on the pitch. 6 weeks after the event, I still wasn’t feeling better, and was referred to a neurologist to shed some light as to when I would be able to play again. At this point, the season was pretty much over and since I was only in my first year, my sports medicine team advised me to just sit tight and get back out there next season after plenty of rest. I was fortunate to cultivate a deep relationship with my athletic trainers and they watched me like a hawk through my recovery. Even though I didn’t report my headaches and my lack of concentration in class, they were able to observe differences in my personality and the way I acted, and kept me off the field probably saving me from more brain damage.
Sadly not every athlete has a sports medicine team that is able to keep them safe. As we have seen in the article Pressure on Sports Medicine Clinicians to Prematurely Return Collegiate Athletes to Play After Concussion, athletes will not report symptoms in the hopes of being cleared to play or coaches will pressure clinicians to clear their “star players” so they can win the season. This problem needs to be resolved by the sports community and the health of players needs to be put in the forefront; unfortunately it isn’t such a simple fix. Recently, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), the American Neurological Association, and the Child Neurology Society have joined together to produce a document on the legal and ethical implications on the evaluation and management of sports-related concussion. Medscape’s Sue Hughes wrote a discussion on the publication and notes about the issue in which athletes visit numerous physicians until they get the result they want. To deal with this situation, the new document suggests that physicians ask athletes and their families to sign a waiver before the consultation stating that the information can be shared with the athletic coach or school. An idea like this could make huge strides to help protect the future well-being of athletes.
Fast forward two years and two more concussions later and I’m getting my Master’s degree in Kinesiology learning about the damaging effects of concussions and trying to understand my own disabilities. I’m thankful that I am still able to learn and achieve great things at this point in my life, but I’m also terrified of what is to come of my cumulative brain injuries. Boston University’s CTE Center discusses the dangers that are caused by mild traumatic brain injuries and I can’t help but feel panicked at the idea that one day I might be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. I have no way of knowing what will come from my injuries, but for now I am determined to understand and make some sort of impact on the sporting community and raise awareness of the dangers of concussions, especially in youth sports. Information sheets from the Center for Disease Control and the NCAA both are a great way to teach players and parents of the signs and symptoms of concussions. From my experience the player needs to be aware of the severity of the long term effects concussions can have. If I could go back and tell my younger self that my soccer career wasn’t worth the constant struggles that I face today I would in a heartbeat, and I know many other concussed athletes who would too.