Head Injury Game-Changer for Star Football Player
Story by: Joelle Tomlinson
Katie Miyazaki is all too familiar with what being hit in the head feels like. It’s not pleasant, it’s a danger in sports and it can have lasting consequences.
“Diagnosed concussions? I’ve had five that put me out for a few weeks each time,” said Miyazaki, all-star alumni of the University of Saskatchewan women’s basketball team and a former Valkyries football player. “The first one I got was when I was 12 and playing hockey. I ran into a girl. I got up, saw stars and had no idea what was happening, so I just kept playing. The next was one was about two years later in net, the third one was playing dodge ball in physical education. I got blindsided by a ball . . . and the list goes on.”
Miyazaki almost always kept playing after the constant hits to the head. She has experienced headaches, dizziness and nausea, and only stopped playing tackle football last year after her worst concussion ever.
“This last one was in our Prairie Conference final against Regina, and I knew exactly where the hit was, and that I most likely had a concussion, but I just didn’t want to come out of the game. So I kept playing and I got hit again later in the same game,” said Miyazaki. “I was pretty sure I was concussed, but then the next day I woke up and was like, ‘Oh, I feel good!’ Then, the following day I woke up and I had never felt that sick before. I couldn’t leave my room, everything felt like it was spinning, I was nauseous, but yet part of me still wanted to play that week. If my trainers hadn’t said no, and if my coach hadn’t said no, I would have played, which is a pretty bad idea in retrospect.”
Dropping out of the game wasn’t an easy decision for Miyazaki. A star athlete, Miyazaki led the Huskies to a second-place finish in the CIS championships in 2011 and a sixth-place finish in 2012. After that, she transitioned into football, where she shone as a defensive back with the Valkyries, helping them during undefeated runs to the 2011 and 2012 Western Women’s Canadian Football League championships. Miyazaki also was picked as one of 92 players to attend the training camp for Team Canada. Those selected at the camp will represent Canada at the 2013 women’s world tackle football championships in New Brunswick.
“That’s definitely what hurt the most, and what I cried over the most. I had debated not playing football last summer, but then there was the whole Team Canada thing,” said Miyazaki. “When I found out about Team Canada, that’s what my whole summer was geared toward. I wanted to make it to that camp and make that team for this summer. It bummed me out when I knew I couldn’t play at the first camp, and I thought that dream was over. Then, I was invited to the second camp, and I was still wasn’t quite better by then. It sucks because it feels like you’re giving up on a dream, but at the same time you’re like ‘This is real life. I have a lot of other things.’ As cool as it would be, it’s life or death.”
Sometimes it is death. Last week, 17-year-old Rowan Stringer, a female rugby player in Ottawa, died after receiving a severe head injury in a game. Miyazaki says that lack of awareness is one of the biggest issues for young athletes, parents and coaches in cases like this.
“Athletes, they just want to play. The kids I coach, they always want to play and unless you tell them no, they’re going to keep going,” said Miyazaki. “Now, looking back at it, I think about how dumb it is, but in the heat of the moment you don’t think about it.
“There’s something called second impact syndrome. So if you get hit and you get a concussion— and this is very rare—but if you receive another blow and your head hasn’t fully healed, especially if you’re an adolescent, then you can die because there’s still so much swelling. That’s what happened in Ottawa. They’re saying she didn’t report any of her headaches or symptoms to her parents, but she had told some of her friends. There’s nothing they could really do in that case. It’s very sad.”
Now Miyazaki works to raise this awareness through working with the Saskatchewan Brain Injury Association (SBIA). She is part of Take Brain Injury out of Play, a campaign within the association that strives to educate young athletes about the dangers of head injuries.
“We emphasize that if you’re going to respect your own brain, you’ve got to respect the brain of your opponents, too. Part of that is playing by the rules,” said Miyazaki. “My job is to try and promote that program and go out and make people aware of concussions, because I think a lot of people don’t realize how big of an issue it is. They don’t take it as seriously as it needs to be taken because you can’t see it, right?
“You look at someone and they look fine to you. If someone had a broken arm, you would never tell them to get back in the game, but if you look at someone and they just have a headache, people pressure them to get back in the game. This is something we need to stop as peers, coaches and parents.”
Miyazaki knows her football days are likely over. It’s not a guarantee, but neither is life.
“I decided not to play this year because it wasn’t worth it. Some days I still occasionally feel dizzy, which could be the concussions or my neck injury. It’s a hard thing; I know my parents don’t want me to play, and the thing is, they say once you’ve had one you’re so much more susceptible. That’s not good news for me.
“There are so many other things that I want to do in my life that to risk that and have to sit out for months again, just for one sport, isn’t really worth it to me.”
June is National Brain Injury Awareness month and Miyazaki hopes that, with the added education and conversation about head injuries, athletes start to realize the importance of protecting their brains. To learn more about Miyazaki, the SBIA or Take Brain Injury out of Play campaign, email Miyazaki at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the SBIA website at www.sbia.ca.
Story from The Saskatoon Express