(Photo by: Chandler Elsbecker)

Athletes cope with injuries

October 25, 2014

The blood, sweat, and tears many student athletes pour into their sport is a physical demonstration of the sacrifices they make every day. However, scars and bruises only represent the surface damage that accompanies sports related injuries. At closer look, the effects of sports related injuries are more than skin deep, and just like physical scars, the emotional scars can last a lifetime.

Head volleyball coach Danielle Kading knows the long-term effects of sports related injuries, as not only a dedicated coach but a lifetime player whose career was interrupted when complications with a shoulder injury took her out of the game her sophomore year in high school.

“At the time it was really tough and really hard because volleyball was my life and I had always dreamed of playing in college,” Kading said. “I was depressed when I wasn’t able to play volleyball anymore, so when volleyball was taken out of my life because I physically could not play at a competitive level, I turned to other things to fill that void.”

Kading’s response to the absence of volleyball in her life is extremely common. According to a 2000 New York Times article, post-injury depression occurs in over 50 percent of student athletes with sports related injuries.

Volleyball coach Mary Wendell relates to struggling after giving up her sport due to numerous concussions.

“Once my career ended and I was done, I kind of became a bit of a mess for a while, because I didn’t have that structure I had built my life around,” Wendell said.

Senior football player Rowdy Clark is given a standing ovation by his teammates as he approaches the microphone to speak during a pep rally.
Senior football player Rowdy Clark is given a standing ovation by his teammates as he approaches the microphone to speak during a pep rally. (Photo by Chandler Elsbecker)

The life-altering effects of these injuries weren’t limited to physical and emotional.

“There are certain things I can and can’t do anymore because of the mental blocks,” Wendell said.

The effects of concussions include struggles with short and long term memory loss, facial recognition, depth perception, reaction time and headaches.

“Concussions are pretty scary,” Kading said. “They’re probably the most terrifying sports injury I’ve ever experienced or seen happen, ‘cause it’s your brain.”

Senior Madi Palasota, a concussion victim and player on the varsity soccer team, agrees.

“The first time you have a concussion, you’re more likely to have a second concussion,” Palasota said. “After you have four, you’re done. You can’t play sports ever again, so it’s scary to know that once you have one, you’re more likely to have another one.”

Wendell ended her career after her fourth concussion as a college sophomore, two weeks before nationals.

“They take it very seriously in college, and they’re starting to in high school as well,” Wendell said.

Wendell and Kading serve as examples of the consciousness and awareness that high school coaches now have in regards to concussions and other sports related injuries.

“You see kids that just sacrifice everything,” Kading said. “It’s just a lot of stress and a lot of impact put on your body, so we gotta make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves.”

With knowledge of the physical, emotional, and mental effects of such injures at hand, Wendell and Kading have structured their coaching technique to prevent injuries and their long term effects.

“We do a lot of rehab training,” Kading said. “We try and teach our girls to be proactive instead of reactive. Be proactive about taking care of ourselves rather than ‘now I hurt so now I have to do something.’”

Kading and Wendell admit to feeling the affects of their dedication to their sport years after ending their careers.

“I think as coaches as we get older and as former players, we start to realize that our injuries are pretty severe and they’ve affected my entire life,” Kading said. “I wouldn’t change playing for the world, but I would have taken care of myself better, which is what I try and teach our athletes.”

In addition to rehab training to prevent injuries, Wendell and Kading promote self-motivation to establish a healthy lifestyle for each individual, so that the athletes can maintain athleticism long after the end of their career.

Palasota, who tore her ACL, in addition to having suffered concussions, now takes protective measures with her knee, and regrets not taking care of herself sooner.

“We do a lot of exercises that strengthen our knees to prevent injuries now,” Palasota said. “I feel like if I would have done that before, that injury wouldn’t have happened.”

That proactive well-being extends to the whole student, not just during athletics.

“To me it’s not just right now,” Kading said. “I wanna train these athletes to be healthy. I wanna teach them how to take care of themselves. I wanna teach them how to eat right, how to design an exercise. And so when we run our workouts we encourage them and motivate them and get them to motivate each other and self motivate so that way when they do stop playing, they can still continue to workout.”

The goal is to help student athletes create and maintain that health, long after high school.

“That feels like something that will help our athletes in the long run in taking care of themselves,” Kading added.

We try and teach our girls to be proactive instead of reactive,”

— head volleyball coach, Danielle Kading

Balancing the physical, emotional and mental health strengthens the athlete as a whole. Kading supports counseling to cope with the emotional distress that can accompany the emptiness of not playing, loss of scholarships, and possible ending of a career.

“I think counseling, hands down, is the best thing ever,” Kading said. “I think if it’s to the point it affects your life, counseling is just something you need to get you back on track. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It’s just something to figure out: ‘how do I cope, how do I survive now that something that I love is no longer there?’ Because a lot of people turn to other things like drugs and alcohol, and that’s not good.”

Kading’s solution to preventing depression after developing a sports related injury was clear.

“Find other things to fall in love with,” Kading said. “My whole life revolved around volleyball. Volleyball was my life, so I never fell in love with something else. Have other things to fall back on. I think that probably would have helped when I quit playing if I was actually good at something else.”

Kading reflects on the end of her volleyball career with a gracious heart.

“Coping with losing volleyball was kinda difficult,” Kading said. “But now as I look back it was kinda God’s plan to put me into a coaching position and help me to help other girls not to have a sports related injury.”

Working through an injury now is senior Rowdy Clark, whose position as starting left tackle on the varsity football team was sacrificed when a cyst underneath his kneecap cracked, requiring a bone graft and six months out of the game he’s played for six years.

“It takes a pretty big affect on you, you know?” Clark said. “You’re putting all these years in, your heart’s invested into it, and then all of a sudden, you get injured, and it’s taken away from you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

While missing the opportunity to play his senior year has been hard on him, Clark also exemplifies a gentle, appreciative attitude as he brings attention to his concrete support system: his teammates.

“I really wanna play this year—it’s my senior year, of course—but, I mean, I’ve got all of the support,” Clark said. “You’ve just gotta get over it easily, and support your team as much as you can.”

Clark has chosen to approach his situation with optimism and an open mind.

“You shouldn’t really spend a lot of time moping around about it or anything,” Clark said. “It’sgonna hit you at first for sure. It hits you pretty hard. And then, after a while, you gotta realize you’re still there and you’ve still got everything and you’re lucky to still be around.”

Clark has only missed one practice since his surgery, for a doctor’s appointment.

“You’re on the sideline and you feel like everything’s over, but it’s not over,” Clark said. “You’ve got everything in your life. You’ve still got friends and family. You keep working on healing and trying to earn your scholarships, but if not, you’ve still got your teammates and you’ve still got life.”

Palasota attended every soccer practice and game for the 14 months she was out with her injury, maintaining her position as team captain.

“When you’re sitting out watching your team, it’s really frustrating you can’t be with them and you can’t help your team throughout the season,” Palasota said. “As far as how I coped with it, I didn’t really. Everyday it was a struggle to go watch my team play when I couldn’t.”

Her teammates served as a strong support system.

“Right after I had surgery, I had friends coming over almost every day,” Palasota said. “It’s good to know they’re there, and they care about you, and they support you.”

Regardless of treatments and rehab regimens, the support systems that sports bring are perhaps the best remedy.

“We’re working on becoming a family everyday,” Clark says about his Bronco football teammates. “As much as we’re around each other and we know about each other, we are a family, actually.”

While the scars of sports related injuries are more than skin deep, blood seems to run even deeper.

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