The GrovesLine

just a place where i hang my thoughts out to dry

A Concussionary Tale

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It is a coincidence, really, that my one-year concussionniversary happens to be on the same day that The Sydney Crosby is slated to make his much anticipated and ballyhooed return to action in the NHL. It’s serendipitous enough though, that I have had to re-write some sections of this blog post to account for what can only be considered the highly dramatic events surrounding Sid the Kid’s celebrated departure from the Pittsburgh Penguins injured list.

Today, November 21, 2011, marks one year, to the day, that I fell and hit my head at a World Cup in Berlin last season. What a calamitous circumstance I found myself in at that moment, concussed, confused and already considering retirement. Some difficult months ensued as I slowly navigated through a long recovery and eventual (but unrelated) decision to retire.

Now, almost simultaneously, I’ve ended up on the other side of both a long, wonderful career in sport and an unfortunate, unwelcome (of course) head injury. Obviously I would rather not have experienced eight months of feeling lousy but the only acceptable conclusion I can make is simply that life has its ups and downs and I’m thankful to have made it through.

Interestingly, much like the symptoms of concussions themselves, the issue of head injuries and their enduring repercussions has remained prevalent, albeit somewhat quietly, in the media for some time now. That the topic came to light at all is surely no mystery given the number of high profile hockey players and athletes who have fallen prey to an ill-fated knock on the head. Its staying power, though, has been remarkable, and oddly encouraging, in that the significance and impact on those affected are slowly gaining mainstream acceptance and establishing widespread concern among those capable of doing something about it.

But the announcement that Sidney Crosby will return to action tonight has sparked a new flurry of commentaries and opinion pieces in the media about whether the concussion issue really has led to definitive change and action on the part of the powers that be to crack down on headshots and malicious hits. I’ve followed these stories with the kind of interest that only those who have lived through a head injury can have: the natural desire to never think about or experience one again tempered by the inescapable connection to all those who have ever lived, or will live, through one.

One piece I read lamented the usual ‘slippage’ that said crackdowns invariably face as tough talk and action slowly recedes and things simply return to normal (read: dangerous). Brendan Shanahan sure made some harsh calls in the pre-season but where is he now? I’m sure Daniel Alfredsson and Ryan Miller would like to know. Historically this is the way things are dealt with in the NHL and somehow no matter how many times the issue returns it always seems to slip away again without any sense of meaningful change.

Alternatively, other commentary I’ve heard is convinced that the recent concussion debate has led to concrete change for the better and an increase in awareness that just wasn’t there before. Maybe this is true, maybe it’s not. I’m certainly not deep enough in the know to make any sort of informed declaration one way or the other. But based on the ongoing media reports I’m encouraged that there is heightened awareness, education and action regarding head injuries throughout all levels of the sport community. Unfortunately their frequent, ongoing recurrence and subsequent ignorance at the top is akin to a nasty wart that just won’t go away.

But who am I to spoil a party? Sydney Crosby’s return to the field of play is certainly a moment that will be long remembered as the heralded homecoming of one of the game’s greatest. We will all, undoubtedly, hold our collective breath and brace for that first check into the boards, and hopefully all sigh with relief as he goes on to spin some miraculous play, the very kind he is especially known for.

I don’t claim for one minute to understand the weight of expectation that now sits heavily on his shoulders.  I can however empathize, along with everyone else who has ever been through it, and probably even those who haven’t, with those inevitable enduring thoughts he will have about what might happen if he ever has to go through it again. That lingering risk is not something easily forgotten.

I am particularly aware of the issue on this day, it being my one-year concussionniversary. I find myself thinking a great deal about the past several months and the impact the injury has had on my well-being. It would, however, be un-human of me to despair.

Concussions are indeed a tough blow and have inflicted silent suffering on far too many. But human beings also have a great capacity for recovery and are inherently driven to succeed at that which conspires to inspire them. If Sidney Crosby, and anyone else who has ever overcome a time of great hardship, should forever be remembered for anything, it is most certainly that.

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