Taking Concussions Seriously

By Guest Contributor

During my junior year of high school, I hit heads with another player during a soccer game, resulting in my first concussion. Two weeks later, I was watching a game when a ball from another field hit me in the back of head. Concussions, I had previously thought, were not a big deal. Fight through the pain; get back on the field. Ignore that part of you saying that something isn’t right. I completely understood this mentality; just the year before I had finished the season on a torn ACL. But I soon realized that concussions were different — that they are a big deal. You may not be able to see a concussion the way you see a cast or a brace, but the injury can be even more serious.

Over the past few years, largely thanks to the National Football and Hockey Leagues, awareness about brain injuries has exploded. Athletes like Chris Nowinski, Dave Duerson and Jim McMahon show us the tragic long-term effects of multiple concussions, and Javhid Best of the Detroit Lions has become an example of how long it takes to return to play. But we know that concussions don’t just happen to professional athletes. According to the Center of Disease Control, sports and recreation related traumatic brain injuries in children and adolescents have increased by 61 percent over the past decade; football, soccer, cycling and basketball are the biggest contributors.

With 27 percent of the student body participating in varsity athletics, and many more playing club and intramural sports, we at Middlebury must continue to be cognizant of the effects — physical, psychological and emotional — of brain injuries. Concussions can be isolating, both by the nature of the injury and the public’s perception of it. With this in mind, Emma Kitchen ’14.5, founded Concussions Speak, an outreach and awareness program designed for people with concussions to share their stories.

At Concussions Speak, we gather stories from people with concussions to let those suffering in silence know that they are not alone. We talk about how concussions physically affect different people, the emotional and social strain they cause and the psychological recovery they necessitate. Because having a concussion is much more than a physical injury, it can be hard for our uninjured peers to know how to sympathize. There have been times when people thought that I was “moping” or gave me skeptical looks when I received extensions in class. With the community created by Concussions Speak, those working through their recoveries have the support of people going through the same process.

The culture surrounding concussions also has to change. Opening up about concussions will hopefully spur further discussion and prevent multiple concussions. Athletes wanting to return to athletics may pretend that they are feeling better to start playing again, leaving them vulnerable. Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson said about getting a concussion, “It’s part of football, you get concussed, you gotta keep on playing. You can’t get afraid to go across the middle any more than you were at the beginning.” This attitude is expressed too often. It is too dangerous for it to continue.

If you are recovering from a concussion, you don’t have to go through the process alone. Reach out to your dean and faculty heads, speak with your adviser and coach and communicate with your professors. There are accommodations in place to aid the healing. What the Middlebury community wants for its family is for it to be well.

It has been four years since I’ve played soccer, and I doubt I’ll ever play again. Even if my brain fully recovers, it wouldn’t be the right choice. I would give almost anything to get back on the field, but I hope I know better. Protect your brain, and don’t underestimate how much a concussion can affect your life. It takes a lot to recognize that you are not okay. But 20 years from now, you’ll be glad you did.

If you have a story you would like to share, please feel free to contact me at [email protected].

Written by SIERRA STITES ’14 of Kansas City, Miss.