Her cleats punctured the ground when she first stepped onto the field. This was her safe place, a place where she could be completely free of school and worries, for now.

A sophomore rugby player at Fairfield University, Danielle Hill, eyed the opposing team up and down. They scowled back with vicious faces. The whistle blew and Danielle was off. The ball flew right into her hands as she charged her opposition.

Everything was going great. Hill sprinted down the field, dodging players left and right. The end zone was in view, until suddenly, she was side-checked and thrown into the air. The ball flew past her eyes and then everything went black.

“The world was spinning. It felt like my brain was set free, slamming back and forth against the inside of my head.

Pressure kept building up until my head felt like it was going to explode.”

Like millions of athletes around the world, Hill’s hard hit to the ground caused a concussion. The issue is so common that the NCAA has even provided a video on the problem.

Million-plus Headaches Annually

Concussions are on the rise across the country for student-athletes like Hill. According to Julia Duffy, Director of Student Health at Fairfield, the number of concussions among student athletes at Fairfield has greatly increased over the past several years.

Hill is not the only student athlete at Fairfield to suffer from a concussion this fall. Although Duffy is not able to quantify the exact number of concussions that student-athletes at Fairfield have suffered, she estimates that about 25 students have already seen her this semester and she recognizes the growing problem.

Duffy defines a concussion as a traumatic brain injury that may occur after an individual’s head hits an object or surface. In the United States alone, over 1.3 million sports-related concussions occur annually, according to the NCAA.

Doctors have gone away from the terms mild, moderate and severe concussions and now determine the severity based on how student-athletes clinically perform in the weeks following the injury., “We have come to understand that it is impossible to grade a concussion and rather study how students do over time,” said Duffy.

Most students at Fairfield fall into the middle category of concussions, where they do have signs and symptoms of a concussion, but they are relatively mild, their neurological test is normal, and there is no bleeding to the head.

Don’t want to let the Team Down

Athletes at Fairfield University, including varsity, club and intramural, are extremely competitive and vigorous. For some, concussions do not stop them from trying to continue to play the sport they love.

Student athletes are more concerned with getting back onto the field as soon as possible. Hill explained, “I missed being on the field. I knew that I was hurt, but I felt like all of my symptoms were gone. I didn’t think I really needed full recovery time.”

And it’s not limited to varsity athletes. An intramural soccer player at Fairfield University, Carli Markus ’15, was injured her first semester of freshman year. She took too many hits to the head by a soccer ball, which eventually led to a minor concussion.

Markus said that she didn’t want to let her team down although she knew she was injured. “At the same time, I wanted to play because I felt fine I never really paid any kind of attention to the repercussions of a concussion.”

And it affects multiple sports. With two minutes left in his rugby match, Spencer Everts ’16 charged the opposing team on the goal line and was kicked in the side of his head. He walked to the sideline dazed and confused and minutes later was diagnosed with a concussion.

For Division I soccer player Chris Murphy ‘16, his concussion was treated somewhat differently from the other club and intramural athletes. Chris was playing in his game in the beginning of the season when he sat off to the side to take his boot off. Seconds later, the opposing team took a shot on goal and hit him straight in the head.

Murphy continued to play the rest of his game, but about an hour later his vision became blurred and he was taken to the ER. He got a CT scan and was told to sit out of practice for a few days.

One of the athletic trainers at the Varsity Athletic Center took care of him. Murphy was tested everyday. Murphy explained that “all of the athletes are required to take a baseline concussion test prior to their season, so if they do get a concussion they can compare scores in order to see if you have one or not.”

Division I athletes at the University can take full advantage of the Walsh Athletic Center in order to recover from concussions while other club and intramural athletes need to seek help from the health center on campus.

Murphy has suffered from multiple concussions and claims not to have any kind of effect from any of them. He waited until he passed his baseline test again and then finished out his season.

The student health center on campus provides neuro-cognitive testing to determine how long an athlete must wait to play. Duffy believes that it is very “individualized,” meaning it depends on how their symptoms are and how they are feeling.

Coaches on Concussions

Coaches, trainers, and others who care for injured athletes do not always agree with NCAA guidance about the amount of time required for an athlete to recover before they are able to play again.

Many athletes go back and play before there is any resolution of cognitive deficiency because, until recently, there were no valid tests to evaluate cognitive function during an athlete’s recovery period.

Hill’s concussion took place the first half of her game. After sitting out for a few moments, Danielle realized that there was no way she could enter back into the game. Danielle’s decision to sit out the balance of the game comports with NCAA guidelines.

The NCAA states that, “first, they should be removed from play as soon as a concussion is suspected and evaluated by an appropriate health-care professional, such as a certified athletic trainer, team physician or a health care professional experienced in concussion evaluation and management.”

Schools nationwide are making efforts to reduce the number of concussions among collegiate athletes.
The nurses at the student health center suggest that students do very little mentally and physically after suffering from a concussion, which according to Duffy “does not go over well at all in a college environment.”

Nurses to the Rescue

Students who decide to rest for about two to three days tend to do better than students who try and power through their work by studying for a test and sitting on the computer, explained Duffy.

Duffy recognized that professors at the University are becoming more aware of the increasing concerns of concussions, and they are willing to work with the health center to accommodate the student’s needs. Certain rules such as not going to class or not taking a test are sometimes required by the nurses if the concussion is too severe.

The health center recommends that the best way to prevent a concussion is knowledge. “The most important thing is to educate the players so they know to tell their coaches when they get hurt so they know not to play through it,” stated Duffy.

A New Beginning

Hill walked back onto the field weeks later, fearless. Her hard hit to the ground did not change her view on rugby, but did change her approach to safety in the sport.

“I am not afraid anymore. I am healed and I am ready to play again to my full potential.”

Like the many athletes who have suffered from concussions at Fairfield, especially on the rugby team, Hill was directed to take precaution and also to order a protective helmet to prevent future concussions and risk her safety if another injury were to happen.

Hill ‘cleated up,’ this time with new headgear, and jogged onto the field knowing that she had a support team behind her. “It’s good to know how many people care about you when you are injured at school, I know that I can count on Fairfield.”

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