My banger experiences and impactful advice as a three-time concussed athlete

February 6, 2023 — by Anika Kapasi
Photo by Anika Kapasi
Me after finding out that turf isn’t soft! 
John has 20 watermelons and Tim has none. John throws a watermelon at Tim’s head. What does John have? 19 watermelons. What does Tim have? A concussion.

After suffering three concussions within two years (one major and two minor), I have ingrained in my memory the extensive list of symptoms on the daunting form at the doctor’s office. There are 22 main symptoms of a concussion and I’ve had the absolute privilege of getting to experience all of them!

From almost being cut from my club team when I was 10 to becoming a captain and a starting player, I have experienced many of the ups and downs soccer has to offer. At its best, the sport has been my escape from reality: All the academic pressures and my everyday problems vanish every time I step onto the field. I never imagined I would need to consider my life without soccer, but after three concussions, heavy conversations in my household regarding this matter often crowd my everyday thoughts.

 Soccer is ranked among the top five sports for causing concussions. For women, it is the No. 1 concussion-causing sport and female athletes are at a much higher risk of head injuries than male athletes.

My first concussion occurred October 2021 during an opposition’s goal kick in my club game. An opponent was blocking my line of sight while putting pressure and leaning against me. I attempted — “attempted” — to head the ball and, well, things didn’t go as planned.

I hit the ball and the next thing I know, I’m on the ground, confused where I was and what I was doing. I had blurred vision, dizziness, the worst headache of my life and I couldn’t walk off the field without help. When I came home, I had trouble falling asleep, and even after I was able to, I slept more than usual.

 Two weeks later — three days before I was supposed to get cleared to play again — I was having a bad dream about a doctor refusing to let me go back to playing soccer. I restlessly turned in my sleep and accidentally hit my head on the wall, waking up in shock. Because of the second impact, I had to wait another two and half weeks and the slight fog in my head became a full overcast.

That concussion took a large toll on my mental health, with relationships with my family and school friends stretched thin. My first reaction to everything was hostile and I became numb toward the important people in my life.

Along with being unable to play my sport, my daily schedule was ruined, increasing my mood swings and lack of emotional control. I hated my new normal: I attended one or two classes a day, had piles of missing assignments, could not participate in any of my extracurriculars and was not allowed to look at a screen for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Life was a kind of hell for me back then. 

A little over a year later, in the beginning of November, my teammate tried to kick a through ball during one of our games and her aim was just a bit off! She ended up nailing me right in the back of my head while I was standing less than 5 feet away. 

Stumbling forward, I sat down calmly and recognized the pounding headache that had immediately flooded my brain. That headache was preceded by a fun little snazzy panic attack where I couldn’t breathe and felt my heartbeat racing at speeds it couldn’t keep up with. I was in disbelief that I had gotten hit in the head again as tears stained my face. 

Fast forward to my next concussion three months later. During a high school game vs. Palo Alto, my legs got tangled with the opponent, and I slipped on the ball and fell forward. The right side of my head bounced on the turf. I ended up with scraped elbows and a bloody knee while trying to break my fall.

I had similar symptoms to my first concussion — yet not as severe — with an addition of nausea, horrible short-term memory, a stiff neck and difficulty with coordination and balance.

The first games back have been the hardest for me. After each concussion, it became exponentially more stressful and scary to step back onto the turf. I understood that fear would always linger after any athletic injury, but after numerous blows to the head, I had taken so many steps backwards that I felt I was nowhere close to where I hoped to be.

Concussions are the most frustrating injury for an athlete. You can suffer one extreme head injury and end up needing to quit; or you can be like me and have three concussions, and still be able to play your sport, unlike the myth people believe of “three strikes and you’re out”.

But with each one, my recovery time increased along with the severity of the long-term effects: I would randomly get pounding headaches, nausea or feel a heavy amount of pressure build up while in class.

Over the past two years, I’ve learned three valuable lessons in the road back from head injuries: First, take it slow. Do not rush back into playing your sport, no matter if you feel like you’re letting your teammates down or fear you will fall behind everyone else. 

It is not worth it.

Second, be okay with not being okay. It sound’s dumb but don’t pretend that you are completely fine and can keep up with all that is asked of you, whether it be your assignments, the suggested timeline your doctor gives, or anything that puts you under a substantial amount of stress. 

Don’t lie to yourself when your head has been aching all day and you can’t concentrate on what the teacher has been lecturing about for the past hour. 

And most importantly, listen to what your body is saying to you because only you know when it is time to push through or when it’s time to call it quits. No doctor, family member or friend can tell you otherwise. As much as you love your sport, I’ve learned the hard way that your health and well-being matter the most. 

Do not forget that.