Sunday, March 3, 2013

Head Games

Earlier this week, I watched a documentary about brain injuries in sports called Head Games. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. It’s very interesting and sheds light on a common, although under-researched and recognized, problem in sports- concussions. Mom, if you’re reading this, stop here. As someone with first hand experience with concussions, some of which I remember myself and some that people have relayed, several times, to me, it scared the shit out of me. Please pardon the language. The documentary reports research currently being done at Boston University and is focused on contact sports like football and hockey but concussions can happen to anyone, in any sport. Research indicates that multiple head injuries can lead to dementia and a slew of mental health issues not to mention regular forgetfulness and irritability.

Two years after pile-driving my head into the asphalt there are still lasting effects of the concussion(s) and yet I’m still pedaling. I started a race then woke up lying in the street unsure of what exactly happened. A smashed helmet did its job and saved my life. The biggest concerns at the time were my torn favorite knee warmers, scuffed brand new shoes, torn favorite knee warmers, scuffed brand new shoes, torn favorite knee warmers and finally my scuffed brand new shoes. Both were lamented the entire afternoon after the crash. Later, in the drug store- after leaving the E.R. due to a ridiculously long wait- I professed my undying love of Easter candy, which is obviously the best candy, then shared with the store how I hated that nutritionists said never to eat candy. Seriously. Add in several phone calls and conversations with people at the race that I have no recollection of and it’s not a pretty picture.

Is something like that enough to make an athlete stop? Well, that seems to be the million-dollar question that everyone has a different answer to. I don’t exactly know what mine is or when the time would be right to pull the plug. Most athletes could be certified insane and playing through injuries is routine. A brain injury isn’t a simple rolled ankle or blister on your pitching hand though, it’s a serious, complicated thing. Sure, I should’ve done things differently, and hope the decision-making people would’ve made different decisions in the above example but hindsight is 20/20.

Just this morning there was an article online about some of the most gruesome sports injuries. The list included a football player who exploded a pinky in a collision between players’ helmets, allegedly cut the mangled digit off in the locker room, and kept playing; a hockey player whose jugular was sliced open by a skate, used his goalie glove to stanch the bleeding before skating off the ice himself, then was at practice four days later with 300 stitches in his neck; and a soccer player with a genetic heart condition who had a heart attack, died on the field, was resuscitate by his implanted defibrillator then tried to keep playing. None of these athletes stopped after their injuries and went on to continue successful careers. Insane? Maybe, maybe not. There’s a love of sport that is indescribable. It often transcends logic and reason and drives us to do the things we do whether they’re smart or stupid. It’s a completely different type of head game that we play with ourselves that only we know the rules to, and we have the final vote.

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