If I knew then what I know now, I would have acted differently.
On Nov. 12, 2015, my life changed completely. Helmet buckled, skates laced, and stick taped I rushed out on the ice for what should have been my last shift of the game. The faceoff was in our defensive zone. I won the faceoff with ease, slipped past the first three defenders and dangled past the last two, flying down the ice at full speed. I could hear the wind in my ears, I could feel the rush of adrenaline increasing my distance between the other players, I could feel the wave of excitement overcoming me as I raced towards the goaltender. I shot the puck with full power.
The next part is a little bit fuzzy.
After I woke up, I remember being knocked off balance and hitting my head on the cold, metal goal post. I was dazed, spacey, and my head hurt. Yet, I remember feeling like I had to fight through the pain, and skated to the bench. I knew something was wrong, so I sat out my next shift. That was the smart thing I did. But I went back out later, despite feeling like I was in a fog and that my skull was compressing. This is when I should have stopped.
Too many high school athletes, like me, return back to the game instead of stopping and getting medical attention. It is a group responsibility between parents, players, and coaches to ensure the safety of the players.
According to the Brain Injury Research Institute, there are an estimated 1.6 to 3.8 concussions a year in high school sports, seeing a 200 percent increase within the last decade. Unfortunately, only less than half of these incidents are reported, leaving many athletes vulnerable to second hit syndrome.
According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the most common reason athletes abstain from reporting head injuries is because they believe the incident is not severe enough to warrant medical attention. Additionally, athletes also face pressures from their parents and coaches, scholarships, and the need to win at all costs to continue playing.
We need to change this by educating athletes on the importance of reporting incidents when they happen. The medical consequences prove detrimental to unreported concussions as athletes leave themselves at high risks of permanent brain damage and long-term effects. Athletes need to learn to stop playing and immediately report incidents to their coaches, parents, and doctors. They need to learn to play it safe.
It was not until hours after the game when I reported my symptoms and incident to my parents. I had not told my coach in fear that I would be prohibited from playing in the future. I should have told him the second I woke up.
Although coaches get concussion training, they need reminders in the moment to value their athlete over the score. In turn, coaches need to train and educate their players on recognizing the symptoms and causes of concussions. Many of my fellow classmates have asked me questions like “how do you know if you have a concussion or what does it feel like?” How can they possibly protect themselves if they lack the basic medical knowledge behind concussions? Concussion protocols should not only educate players on how to prevent concussions but also on how to recognize and report them.
There seems to be inherent animosity between coaches and doctors in sports. Coaches want to do what is best for the team and win games at any cost, while doctors neglect the outcome and focus primarily on the players’ health. Although coaches often try to maximize their players’ potential, you can never be too safe when it comes to head injuries. It’s not just about the score.
Fast forward two years later, I have grown a couple inches, my braces are off, I am a junior in high school. Yet, my headaches still remain. They come every day. Morning. Afternoon. Evening. In the car. During exercise. They are still there.
Let me serve as your reminder to stop playing and report.