The Emotional Road to Recovery

As the basketball flew through the air, Adrianna Russell dove to grab it before the Winsor point guard could snatch it before her. As she accelerated, the girl’s hand flew up and hit Russell between the eyes. At first she went a little light headed, and then she was mad that the girl had beaten her to the ball and was now running full speed down the court. Russell played the rest of the game, unaware of the pain that was to follow such a hard hit to the head. Little did she know that for the next few months, she would have to deal with the consequences of a concussion, many of which she did not expect to have to face.

Adrianna Russell, a Varsity Basketball captain, had this experience in December of 2012. Because of this injury, she was not able to play for the rest of the season. Having played basketball since a young age, Russell was extremely disappointed that she could not play for the majority of her last year of high school. “It’s the worst feeling in the world,” she said, “it’s been really tough dealing with it.” But that’s not all. She explained that being injured and having to watch her team from the bench has taken away a big part of who she is. “Playing basketball has always kept me grounded. It’s how I’m able to keep everything in balance,” she said, “since we spend all day in school.” Loosing this time off and opportunity to release some energy has had many effects on her everyday life. Schoolwork, socializing, and staying a part of the team, have all become much harder for Russell than they used to be.

According to Janna Berger, one of two athletic trainers at Dana Hall, between seven and ten percent of students playing sports at Dana get a concussion each sports season. That’s ten to fifteen girls out of roughly 150 girls playing sports. On top of that, another ten percent of players acquire acute injuries. There are even a few chronic injuries that can take players out of their sport for the whole season. Not surprisingly, most of these injuries come from contact sports, including soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. The fewest injuries tend to be from swimming, and golf. Berger believes that possibly the hardest injury to cope with is a concussion. In addition to the physical recovery, “concussions have an emotional recovery and a psychological recovery too,” she explained. She also said that, although Dana Hall does a good job at dealing with these types of cases, a student’s schoolwork and grades can be greatly affected by a concussion. This added stress makes the recovery process even more difficult.

Since her injury, Russell’s life has become very challenging. Not only does she have lots of catch-up work to do after missing so much school, but it’s also hard for her stay focused and get all the work done. “It’s a very difficult challenge because I have trouble concentrating on assessments, and I get massive headaches if I work for too long,” she said. Thankfully, the teachers at Dana are very understanding. “Teachers have responded really well and have been very accommodating,” she said. “I worked really closely with Mr. Mather, Janna, Ms. Sharp, and my advisor, Ms. Teng, to figure out my schedule for making up things.” Without this support, it would have been much harder for Russell to recover, especially when having to deal with the stress of being behind in school. Without the opportunity to participate in sports, she is also loosing a great tool that student use to relieve some of the regular stresses that school and work can bring.

The Mayo Clinic, a “leader in medical care, research and education,” states on their website that exercising regularly can help with mood, self-esteem, confidence, and even improve depression and anxiety. It is described as “meditation in motion,” because, by purely thinking about the task at hand, sports help you to clear your mind and forget about the stresses in daily life. Staying active also increases the brain’s production of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters in the brain that help to make you feel good. All of these reasons show that playing sports makes a big difference in everyday life. Injured players can have trouble feeling both mentally and physically healthy without this opportunity to let their brains produce these vital endorphins.

Everyday athletes risk injury because of the huge benefits team sports provide. Dr. Doll said that while playing a team sport, “you really see yourself grow.” He loved playing sports at school because it was a great place to make mistakes and learn from them in a safe environment. Russell, a competitive person, finds that sports are a great way for her to channel that competitive energy and strive to improve her skills. Mr. Suby thinks that a major benefit of playing sports is learning how to accept losses and move on, using the loss as learning experience. “You’re not going to win all the time,” he said. By viewing losses as a lesson in how to improve, athletes can apply this skill to other areas in their lives, for example, learning how to improve study skills after getting a bad test grade.

While injured players suffer multiple losses, teams can grow in new ways during their recovery period. “Everyone has a role on the team, and taking out a piece is hard because the role has to be filled,” Dr. Doll said. Though a team’s success can be changed when a player is injured, it can also work to the team’s advantage. “If a star player is out, the others don’t wait for them to score the points,” Dr. Doll said, “It really brings the team together because suddenly these empty roles have to be filled.”

Injured students can forge a new kind of connection to their team, even when they can’t play for the rest of the season. Whether they are cheering on the bench, or taking part in a team huddle, their participation is very important. “Coaches can also help injured athletes by giving them tasks,” Dr. Doll said, “ even if it’s just handing out pinnies, filling water bottles, or running the clock during games.” Staying connected also provides great learning opportunities., an “authoritative expert [on] diet, nutrition, fitness, wellness and lifestyle,” explains that being part of a team can teach players how to create and help to contribute to achieving group goals, rather than focusing on their own world.  Injured students often feel that staying connected is their obligation and the only way to support their team. “I don’t want to disappoint anyone on the team, my teammates or coaches, by not playing,” Russell said, “that’s why I always come to practices and games when I’m well enough.”

Despite the downsides of not being forced to the sidelines, the upside for injured students is the creation of a small, unexpected subculture. Everyday they meet in the training room in the Shipley Center. The regulars know what to do. They take a seat on the blue shiny benches, where their shoulders, knees and ankles are wrapped with heating pads in preparation for an hour and a half of sports practice. While Berger helps a member of the fencing team whose knee started to hurt after a tournament, Mike White is wrapping up the knee of a basketball player who hasn’t been able to play for the past two games due to dislocating her knee. Being injured can be particularly difficult for team members, but this supportive mini community helps to get them back on their feet and do everything they can to be a part of their team again. Injured players work as hard as they can, both on and off the athletic field to gain the benefits of being on a team, even if they aren’t playing.

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