Head trauma leads to cultural shift in sports

Ryan Boddy couldn’t stay awake.

For a week, the Olympic High School graduate dozed off during his morning Advanced Placement World History class. When his eyes were open, the classroom lights felt uncomfortably bright.

“It was like driving down the highway, on a sunny day, without wearing sunglasses,” said Boddy, 21.

Boddy was not wearing a helmet on that winter day in 2006 when he pierced the fog at the Whistler ski resort in Canada, failed to land a snowboard jump and hit his head on the ground.

This was more than a ding, it was a concussion.

“I didn’t think much of it because that happens,” he said. “It’s snowboarding.”

But a dull sensation overcame Boddy’s head shortly after the tumble, and it didn’t go away. He struggled to retain information when he returned to school, having to read material more than once at a slower-than-usual pace.

As the days wore on, Boddy still felt worn out.

“I just didn’t feel right,” he said. “It wasn’t like I felt like I was going to throw up, but I just wasn’t feeling good.”

Boddy’s story illustrates why school administrators and coaches are becoming increasingly concerned about the consequences of sports-related concussions and the affect they have on student-athletes. Permanent brain damage can result from concussions, a head injury resulting from trauma, but they also can be treated with proper rehabilitation techniques and education. Although football has drawn the most attention to the dangers of repeated concussions, sports beyond football have their own dangers, and doctors say awareness about the injuries will change the way sports are played.

“One of the questions we need to ask is, ‘Will there be a day and age when everybody is wearing a helmet when they are playing soccer?’” said Dr. Gregory Duff, a sports medicine specialist at West Sound Orthopaedics in Silverdale. “I would hazard to guess that, in youth soccer, that’s a distinct possibility.”

Research has shown those who suffer a concussion are more susceptible to additional, and more severe, concussions following the first incident.

Experts say young athletes, whose brains are still developing, are at greater risk of more serious injury if they sustain repeated concussions. Regardless of age, people are vulnerable in the minutes and days following the initial jolt.

Olympic High School athletic trainer Scott Peck said the best way to recover is to wait three or four days before resuming school work, video games and anything that exerts the brain.

“It’s like having surgery,” he said. “You need to give your body some time to repair itself.”

Boddy, a three-time postseason wrestling participant, took his case to Peck the day he returned to school. He was concerned with lingering headaches, persistent fatigue and the fact he “just didn’t feel right.”

Peck has been the trainer at Olympic for 19 years and knew right away Boddy had a concussion. The junior wrestler was sidelined for more than a week, easing back into physical activity until Peck cleared him to grapple.

“He wasn’t one of the kids who was pressing to get back out there,” Peck said. “He wasn’t as pushy as some athletes can be.”

That “pushy” mentality — perhaps a result of not understanding or knowing the severity of a concussion — can lead to devastating results.

Zackery Lystedt, a former student at Cedarcrest High School in Duvall, suffered a concussion in the first half of a football game in 2006. He returned to play in the second half and sustained additional head injuries, leaving him in a coma and causing permanent damage.

The Zackery Lystedt Law was passed last year to prevent such scenarios. Now players may not return to play unless they are cleared by a certified trainer.

“The old adage of, ‘Shake it off’ is gone,” Duff said.

Peck said he has diagnosed 14 concussions at Olympic over the past three years. The majority of those concussions occurred during football games.

But over that time, Peck added, there also has been at least one concussion in volleyball, fastpitch, soccer and basketball.

Peck estimated those numbers are on par with the national average, but more importantly, they indicate concussions are possible in all sports — not just football — and they need to be treated properly.

It is unclear whether Boddy would have sustained a concussion had he been wearing a helmet during his snowboarding incident. But properly used equipment serves to prevent concussions and reduce their frequency and severity.

Peck said Olympic replaces football helmets every 10 years. He checks them weekly during football season to ensure the protective padding inside is properly inflated.

The national concussion rate per 1,000 athlete-exposures in high school football was 0.47 in 2007, according to the information from Peck. Girls soccer was a close second at 0.36, about 60 percent greater than the boys soccer rate of 0.22.

Peck theorizes females may be more willing to admit the possibility of an injury, meaning there are more opportunities to diagnose concussions in females.

“When in doubt, sit out,” Peck said. “It’s as simple as that.”

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