For the love of the game

With training camps, practices and high school sports underway it is hard to shy away from a topic that has been on every mind at one point in their sporting career.

This topic left me with multiple sleepless nights, arguments with my parents and a sense of failure.

The gamble that is waged when weighing the pros and cons of a decision regarding this topic is asinine, but can be understood if you have been in the same position yourself.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, the topic of choice most popular in the sporting world of today is head, neck and spinal cord injuries.

One of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make in my life was continuing to play the sport I love after multiple concussions. Now, nearly eight years later, I can honestly say I most likely made the completely wrong decision, but as a 17-year-old kid I wasn’t able or ready to give up my first true love; something I put upward of 15 hours a week into since I was in fourth grade; my second home; my second family; my life; soccer.

Against doctor recommendations, requests from my parents and the small voice in my head telling me to stop, continuing to play was the wrong thing to do; however, I decided the best thing for me was to go through rehab, work on gaining my balance back, fight to not let my teammates of eight years down and continue to play the game I loved.

As a 17-year-old kid I didn’t have many cares in the world. I went to school, was a member of the school newspaper, got decent grades and played travel soccer in one of the most competitive leagues in the state of Michigan.

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I wasn’t half bad at soccer either. I played goalie, which I loved, and forward, which was cool too besides the fact that I was pretty slow (the intellect I had for the game made up for my lack of speed).

Everything in life seemed like it was going the way it should be; great family, friends and extracurriculars. It all changed during one game.

As I went up to head a ball my opponent jumped with me. She missed the ball and got the back of my head, and in that moment I know I lost a lot of my talent, passion and desire for the game of soccer.

While sitting on the bench and watching the rest of the game, my parents came over to check on me. How frightening it must have been for my mom to hear me slurring my words like I was inebriated, and answering my question about how many points my team had (points, really)?

For me, it was just as scary. Going to a neurologist, knowing I was no longer the student I used to be and definitely no longer the athlete I had been. Coming back from any injury is difficult, but when it is something as serious as your brain, it is a bit different.

Having fought my way back from a concussion from August of 2006 to August of 2007 I felt comfortable enough to be back on the field. I’m positive some of my aggressiveness was taken from me, but I was almost as good as new after rehabbing from my first issue with concussions.

Then, lightning struck twice. While practicing in August of 2007 for my final season as a member of the travel team Midland Atletico, a team I had been a part of since 1999, it was my luck to be hit again. While sharing a field with another team, I was lined up at centerfield with my teammates to get ready to run a drill as the other team scrimmaged horizontally on their half of the field. Standing amidst at least twelve other girls, the back of my head is what received the blow from a stray ball. At that point I knew I was done playing travel soccer, and I only had one final season of varsity soccer to hope for.

After walking around in a haze for months on end it was time to begin conditioning for spring season. I went to the sessions in the high school gym as often as they were held. As a senior I wanted to be able to develop a leadership role, but as the time came to run, jump, cut and kick my hopes began to dwindle.

Having been fairly inactive for almost half a year these preseason trainings were too much for me to handle. I immediately felt dizzy and unstable I either had a dazed and confused look about me or a small, creepy smirk on my face as if I had been drinking.

I had countless MRI’s, CT scans, word memorization tests with a neurologist and even an EEG and I was cleared to play with the declaration if I took another hit to the head I was done for good.

At this point, as an 18-year-old I understood how foolish it was to continue to play, but even that didn’t stop me. I played my senior season, but was not as strong, fast, agile or aggressive as I should have been. I knew I had college to look forward to; classes to lead me down a path for the rest of my life, and it just seemed stupid to risk getting hurt again by heading the ball or playing the caliber of soccer I knew I was capable of.

I was constantly dizzy, my attention span was gone and I didn’t feel like the same person and I definitely was not the same athlete. I was afraid. I knew something even worse could potentially happen to me if I kept playing.

Looking back on it now, I can see that my decisions to continue to play were selfish to my family, my team and most importantly myself. Who knows what could have happened if I got hit one or two more times. I already felt significant personality changes and did not feel like me. I don’t think it was until September of 2010 that I returned to myself. The process of recovery takes so much time that rushing yourself to get back into the game is not worth it.

With a final concussion count between five and seven (no this isn’t a memory joke, I really don’t know how many I have had due to a handful going undiagnosed) I am proud to be an advocate of finding a safer, better way for people to enjoy playing sports. After my first couple of concussions I was forced to wear a protective headband whenever I played soccer; it was a requirement of my parents in order to allow me to get back on the field.

It has been said that clinical depression is present in about 5 percent of the general population, but throw in head trauma and that jumps to nearly 40 percent. Early signs of Alzheimer’s can be detected, and effects that come with depression or post-concussion syndromes.

With the amount of risks coming with repeated head, neck and spine injuries it really does not seem beneficial to go on.

— Michelle Meunier

Staff Writer