I know this is a bit of a departure from the Steelers, but I had to write a feature story for my Media Writing class, and considering the concussion angle, I thought it might prove interesting. Hope you enjoy.
The brain is a fragile object; jostling it can produce the same effects as an egg’s yolk sloshing around in its shell.
Yet in football, hits to the head have become commonplace. “Concussion” is just as likely to be heard on a football broadcast as “quarterback,” as armored gladiators collide into each other at frightening rates of speed.
However, entities like the National Football League have begun taking steps to increase awareness about concussions, as well as designing new equipment to protect its players from these devastating hits. In sports like soccer, this problem remains unaddressed, as players are sent onto the field with little more than some brightly colored shorts to protect these egg yolks that are so vital to daily life.
The problem remains especially acute for collegiate athletes. The average freshman can tell you that college is tough enough without brain damage, but some are forced to endure juggling their studies when they can barely keep track of what month it is. Just ask students like Kelleigh Jio and Charlie Rearick.
Jio is currently a sophomore pursuing a biology degree at Ferrum College, and is a goalkeeper for the Panthers. Although she’s been playing soccer since grade school, her first brush with concussions came earlier this year.
“I don’t remember the actual concussion,” Jio said. “I remember I was going to save a ball close to the goal post, and then nothing until everyone was crowding around me, asking if I was all right.”
Teammates tell her that the back of her head collided with the post as she dove for the ball. She was unconscious for just a few frightening seconds, but began to notice the effects of the injury almost immediately.
“I felt nauseous and couldn’t see straight, so I went to see the team trainer,” she said. “She told me that I needed to go to the hospital, but I can’t remember what happened the rest of the day.”
Doctors diagnosed her with a Grade 2 concussion, a condition normally associated with nausea, sensitivity to light and memory loss. More information about the different grades of concussions can be found at http://www.injuryinformation.com/injuries/concussions.php.
Although the initial symptoms began to fade, she soon noticed the concussion altering her everyday life.
“The following months [after the injury] were pretty much pure hell,” she said. “I had trouble seeing anything, I wanted to sleep all the time, and even sunlight bothered me.
“Going to class became too much for me. Professors would call on me to read part of a textbook aloud, and I couldn’t because I just couldn’t focus on the words on the page.”
A concussion is an isolating injury. With symptoms that family and friends still struggle to understand, it can rob the afflicted from the ability to remain part of their community. For Jio, this meant being removed from both her classmates and her teammates.
“The worst part is that I wasn’t allowed to go to practice or to games, so I was removed from the team for about two months,” she said.
Few can attest to the isolation a concussion can cause better than Rearick. He is currently a sophomore at Virginia Tech, and while his story is similar to Jio’s, it is a considerably more extreme illustration of what concussions can do to someone’s life.
Rearick’s first concussion came in his junior year of high school as he played keeper for the Marshall Statesmen.
“I ran out to make a stop when someone kicked me right in the head as they fought for the ball,” Rearick said. “When I went back to the sideline, I didn’t know what year it was or who was president, so they sent me to the hospital.”
After sitting out for several months, and battling severe headaches along the way, Rearick was eventually able to make it back on the field. However, luck was not kind to him once he did so.
“In just my second game back, someone elbowed me in the back of the head as I left the goal to make a save, in a really similar play to the first time I was hurt,” he said.
Doctors confirmed that he’d received yet another concussion, and that the risk that he’d receive any additional head trauma meant that he’d have to cease all competitive sports for some time. The danger of repeated head injuries is significant, and more information about the risks can be found at http://www.sportsconcussions.org/ibaseline/return-to-play/second-impact-syndrome.
He’d be forced to quit soccer, the sport he’d played for most of his life.
“Soccer was a part of my life for a really long time, so losing it, on top of all of the symptoms I was feeling, was really tough on me,” he said.
He bounced around to a variety of specialists and neurologists; all unable to provide any lasting relief for the headaches and confusion he’d feel on a daily basis. Even the most basic physical activities like jogging triggered dizziness, and school became difficult to focus on.
As his senior year neared a close, applying to college added additional stress. He was able to gain admission to Virginia Tech, following in his brother’s footsteps, but from there the problems only increased.
“I initially thought I wanted to be an engineer, but I had a really hard time with the courses,” he said. “I can’t blame my struggles all on the concussions, but it’s hard to ignore how scattered they made me feel.”
After struggling through two semesters, he was ultimately placed on academic suspension, and forced to sit out fall semester of his sophomore year.
“Now I’m back home working, trying to keep my mind off how I miss everyone,” he said. “I can’t help but wonder sometimes if the concussions were the cause of all this, and how much was my own fault.”
Although it may be rare to hear the stories of people like Rearick and Jio, growing research on concussions in soccer has made it clear that they are hardly alone in their struggles.
According to a study by the Duke University Medical Center, concussions in soccer are significantly more common than researchers had anticipated. Athletes have sustained these injuries after making contact with another player’s head, elbow, knee or foot, and in more rare cases, with the goal post. The study also suggests that due to the lack of equipment, these concussions have the potential to cause long-term changes in brain function.
Similarly, a study in the Journal of Athletic Training showed that concussions in soccer could cause different symptoms in victims of different genders. Women are more likely to notice behavioral changes and light sensitivity, while men are more likely to display cognitive issues. Rearick and Jio’s challenges seem to be in keeping with these findings, but that hardly makes their cases typical.
These injuries have the potential to change their lives forever. Through no fault of their own, they could have permanently changed their personalities, their mental abilities and even their career paths. Such crippling results could cause bitterness, or even disgust for the sport they once loved.
Despite their tribulations, each remains optimistic.
“Obviously this whole process has been no fun, but I think it’s made me appreciate the sport even more,” Jio said.
Rearick, who has more reason than most to be resentful, is still positive.
“What I’ve gone through has been extraordinarily difficult. But it’s definitely made me stronger. I know I’ll be back.”
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