It was the fourth one that had the biggest effect.
For senior Mack Bolen, the first two concussions were considered minor. The third a bit more serious, but not as bad as the fourth one.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), sports-related injuries with a diagnosis of concussion rose 57% from 2001 to 2009 in children aged 19 and younger. A reported 53% of high school athletes have had at least one concussion before the conclusion of their high school career.
Bolen was a sophomore goalkeeper for the Lady Cardinals soccer team in August 2014. As she dove for the ball, her opponent slide tackled and knocked her unconscious. Bolen was out of school for about two weeks.
Nearly a year later, Bolen was was back on the field. While blocking a shot, she was punched in the face and shoved to the ground; the force of the impact whiplashed her head, resulting in a severe concussion. She missed seven months of school, only able to attend classes for a few hours a day.
“It affected my path a lot. I definitely would have played soccer at a small college, and now I’m not,” Bolen said. “Since the age of 5, I had been playing soccer. I was on three teams and that took about 15 hours of my week. Without that outlet, I didn’t really know what to do. It definitely changed my path in the fact that now I’m looking at different outlets.”
According to JPII’s Return to Play protocol, athletes may only play if they have received written clearance from a physician, are attending all of their classes without adjustments, have no more symptoms, and if their Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) scores have normalized to baseline level.
“I can never play in a game again just because I’m very susceptible to concussions now. I would basically not be able to finish my education if I got another concussion,” Bolen said. “I came back [to school] our spring semester of 2016. I didn’t really have a break. I basically did schoolwork from January 1 to the beginning of this school year just to make up for last year and I’m still a little bit behind, but I’m going to graduate on time.”
Senior Jack Mason received a concussion Aug. 6, 2015 while playing football, one of the most concussion-reported sports.
As a linebacker, his chances of being concussed were significantly higher according to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA). Players in this position are the most commonly concussed on defense.
Similarly, Mason also suffered brain impairment because of his concussion. However, unlike Bolen, Mason did not miss a significant amount of school.
“My concussion was long, but I never had big symptoms, so I was able to do more than most people [with concussions],” Mason said. “I never really felt the impact of being concussed.”
According to the Brain Injury Association of America, people with concussions should not use the computer, text, or engage in other cognitively stimulating activities while recovering.
“Outside of school I was very limited on what I was allowed to do. I read more because I couldn’t do anything else,” Mason said. “I guess I never realized how bad [the concussion] was until the doctor told me what I could and couldn’t do.”
Bolen said it is difficult adjusting to the social scene after going through a serious brain injury.
“It was really hard, socially, to come back into a conversation when it seemed like people were talking so fast,” Bolen said. “I definitely felt like an outsider especially the first week, just because I was looking into the school from a different lens. I wasn’t part of the school. At that point, I had been the kid that had missed an entire semester.”
Mason echoed these sentiments.
“I guess people didn’t know what to say, because it’s not every day that you hear about someone getting a big concussion,” Mason said. “[Everyone] thought I was different [after my concussion], but personally I didn’t see it.”
Bolen said how she was treated by her peers varied because they could not see her injury as opposed to someone with a broken ankle or arm.
“A lot of people didn’t understand how serious it was, and that was both my fault, and them not understanding what a brain injury really entails,” Bolen said. “I didn’t want to be the kid that was like ‘Well I have a brain injury, so I can’t do this.’ There’s such a bad rap about concussions and people overusing it and making it sound worse than it really is.”
Bolen explained that in comparison to her peers, it now takes her triple the amount of time to complete her homework. Reading 100 pages takes her nearly three hours, whereas the average student can read this amount in about an hour and a half.
Bolen said that her teachers understand the circumstances of her injury and she has no problems regarding school work or absences.
“I never had an issue with any teacher. I have heard of peers who have had issues with teachers, and the only reason for that is they don’t communicate well,” Bolen said. “That communication is key for making sure that you can get healthy as fast as possible.”
Bolen said that her family was tremendously supportive and did everything they could to help. Her mom drove Bolen to doctors’ appointments five times a week.
“And my dad basically was there any time I needed it, to support me,” Bolen said. “When you get a concussion that damages your vestibular lobe, your reflexes get really bad, and you don’t really respond to things. So my dad, for hours, would just throw tennis balls at me, and I’d catch them with one hand, and then catch them with the other. It was really hard at first. Most of the time I wouldn’t catch it. It was kind of frustrating because as a goalkeeper I had been really good at catching stuff and I had really fast reflexes, which is what I’d trained to do for about 13 years.”
To cope with being homebound for a long period of time, Bolen started painting canvases and she opened an Etsy shop.
“It was definitely a great outlet to have that didn’t cause migraines, headaches, or issues. I could only do it for about 30 minutes at a time, but still, it was that outlet that I really needed,” Bolen said. “When you have a severe concussion, you can’t do anything and it really messes with your mind.”
Choosing other sports that did not require head-to-head contact was Mason’s outlet.
“I realized it wouldn’t be worth it to play football again because the risks were pretty high,” Mason said. “So I just accepted that and decided to try new sports like track and cross country.”
Mason said he doesn’t look back on “what could have been” if he never suffered a concussion.
“I don’t regret the concussion because everything worked out,” Mason said. “I wish it never happened, but it’s okay because I was able to try and experience new things because of it.”