Students’ athletic careers threatened by concussions

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Senior Ryan Macke has played sports his entire life — in high school, basketball and volleyball. But that athletic career came to a startling halt when he got his third concussion during a basketball game his junior year.

Macke was playing defense one night when a player made a drive for basket. Suddenly, he was surrounded by a huge mosh pit of players. The other team shot the ball.

He walked away from the mosh pit, his left temple unusually throbbing after the play, so he assumed that he was elbowed in the head. Macke had to assume what happened — he walked away with no recollection of the incident.

He was taken out of the game after that play; that night, he left the final basketball game of his junior year.

That night marked Macke’s third concussion in three years; his first two concussions, also results of basketball, happened in his freshman and sophomore years.

A concussion is a brain injury caused by trauma to the head, or sudden and aggressive shaking of the body and head. And though the severity of concussions can range, athletes and their coaches tend to treat the condition with great caution.

“That was it for basketball. After three [concussions], my doctor and parents said no more. I definitely missed playing [basketball and volleyball],” Macke said.

It was really hard. I was told I could never play basketball again. My friends would all go surfing and I couldn’t surf. I couldn’t do anything. My friends all went to Mammoth, and I couldn’t join them because I didn’t want to get hurt.”

— Hannah Bartolomea

Senior Hannah Bartolomea, also a basketball player, was similarly pulled from her sport after more than one concussion in a short span.

After two blows to the head in two years, one as a sophomore and one as a junior, Bartolomea’s second concussion went unhealed for months. Still hurting a couple of months after she was hit in the head, Bartolomea went to go see her doctor.

As she left the doctor’s office, her car was rear-ended.

Bartolomea’s head injury worsened, and she was forced to stop playing sports immediately.

“It was really hard. I was told I could never play basketball again,” Bartolomea said. “My friends would all go surfing and I couldn’t surf. I couldn’t do anything. My friends all went to Mammoth, and I couldn’t join them because I didn’t want to get hurt.”

For both students, the concussions affected not only their athletic careers, but their academic careers as well.

“Each time I got a concussion, I was out for at least a week in bed and didn’t get back to school full time until a couple weeks after,” Macke said. “My teachers were pretty lenient, but that was a lot of school to make up and although my grades didn’t suffer, it was a challenge keeping up.”

Bartolomea’s academic consequences were far more severe. She missed three months of school due to her concussions, and was therefore held back a year. After the injury, Bartolomea struggled a lot in school.

“I couldn’t go back to school at all. I couldn’t access the information in my head. I would read and it would go straight through my head,” Bartolomea said.

The long-term results were slightly different for each athlete.

For Macke, returning to sports was a challenge. He said that he now tends to be more cautious in his games, holding back a little bit due to the fear of getting another concussion and potentially ending his athletic career forever.

“Even after my first [concussion], I never really played either volleyball or basketball the same. I was also paranoid of getting hit again, so I feel like I held back,” Macke said. “It wasn’t anything traumatizing, but there were definitely negative consequences on my aggression and playing style.”

For Bartolomea, her injury even prevented her from living her normal life.

“I had to lay in a dark room for as long as possible with no screens and no sounds. I had to sit in my room with an eye mask on. No one could come in my room. It was horrible. I went crazy,” Bartolomea said.

The healing process for both seniors was slow and difficult, though their parents both played an enormous role in leading the athletes toward recovery.

I know so many girls on my team that went right back to playing [after a concussion]. You need to take a break. Think about your health a lot and weigh out if it’s worth it. Once you get hit you can never go back.”

— Hannah Bartolomea

“[My parents] were the deciding factor to say yay or nay on [playing volleyball and basketball]. They were pretty scared and not so happy about it,” Macke said.

Bartolomea’s parents were not sure how to proceed after the injury.

“My parents didn’t really know how to handle it. I was very fragile. They were freaked out like I was, but they were great. They did their best even when they were just as afraid as I was,” Bartolomea said. “It took some time for us both to adjust to the situation, but in the end they were my rock.”

Both athletes have attempted to show their resiliency by returning to their sports this year. Macke will play not play basketball this year, but he will play volleyball and Bartolomea will play basketball.

“I’m super excited. I miss the competition a lot, and I’ve missed the team atmosphere with some of my best friends,” Macke said.

According to Bartolomea, her decision to return to basketball was not an easy one. Still, she was excited for the upcoming season.

“I changed my mind this year. I got cleared and that week I started playing basketball again. I am on the team, but it is so risky,” Bartolomea said. “I just love it. I’m so happy; I never though I’d be this lucky.”

In light of her experience, Bartolomea said she urges all athletes to “be careful.”

“I know so many girls on my team that went right back to playing [after a concussion]. You need to take a break,” Bartolomea said. “Think about your health a lot and weigh out if it’s worth it. Once you get hit you can never go back.”

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