To the Athletic Trainer Who Helped End My Basketball Career
To the person who helped end my basketball career,
Let me, on behalf of athletes, coaches and parents everywhere, be honest about how many of us feel about athletic trainers. Because this letter needed to be written. We take you for granted. We try to avoid you at all costs because you hold our seasons, and in my case, career, in your hands. Yet, we come running to you when it’s convenient for us. How messed up is that?
When we athletes get an injury, our hearts start to race in fear you might not clear us to play. So, our coaches might send us to our primary doctors because in a lot of cases, they’ll clear us to play quicker than you will. This is what happened to me after my first, second and third concussion.
Being the typical, stubborn varsity athlete, I didn’t want to answer any of your questions. So, when I had to, I lied to make everything seem better. I did anything I could to look and act fine so I could get back on the court. Basketball was my life since I was a little girl. It’s how I made friends, how I spent my summers and what I did when I needed to clear my head. Food, oxygen, water and basketball were what I needed to live. Doesn’t everybody see it that way? But you saw through my act. You saw the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and realized I had post-concussion syndrome.
As athletes, I believe we unknowingly abuse our bodies. While we may be “healthy,” many of us regularly go to extremes to get our bodies to perform in a certain way or to prove ourselves. How many times do we “push through the pain?” How many hours do we actually sleep? How many times do we say we’re OK when we’re not or do weird things to cut weight? I’m not pointing fingers, because I was no different.
I was ignoring the major symptoms of my post-concussion syndrome to play basketball. I had a constant migraine, I was depressed and sometimes didn’t sleep for days straight. I had memory loss, anxiety and I was always tired. Even though this was affecting not only my athletic performance, but my academic performance too, nobody said anything to me. Until you. You saw the wheels falling off the bus and demanded I tell my doctors about my concussion history when I went to get a sports physical for the new season.
Because of you, my doctors sent me to a neurologist, then to a neuropsychologist. I couldn’t get a single doctor to clear me to play basketball again. I cried and cried for weeks. I hated you. I wished you had never said anything, I felt like I needed basketball to breathe. It felt like half of me had died.
Growing up, at the end-of -the-year banquets, my coaches would say they loved coaching my teammates and they were all good. But then, in front of everyone, they’d stop and tell me I was special. That I could be great. For so long I blamed you for taking that away from me. Because nobody ever told me there would be life after basketball. I couldn’t fathom the idea of my life without it.
Surprisingly, I want to say thank you to my high school athletic trainer who helped end my career. Because one day I had a doctor put it all into perspective for me. After how bad my concussions were and the amount I had, I couldn’t afford another one. I needed to be off the court for my brain to heal and the chances of my head being hit by a player or a ball were too great. Most people brush off concussions because we don’t talk about their severity. We don’t talk about what concussions really are. They are traumatic brain injuries and they can end lives. Another concussion could have ended my life. So even though I’ve shed many tears over the biggest part of my life being over, its nothing compared to what could have happened if I got hit again.
I want this letter to let athletic trainers know they are appreciated, but I also want to spread awareness. Concussions received through sports collisions need to be taken just as seriously as concussions received in car accidents or other accidents. And your brain isn’t fully healed just because your symptoms go away. If you or someone you know has received a head injury, please seek professional help immediately.
From the girl who thought she lost it all, it does get better.
Getty image by MadamLead