It’s Not Worth It

by | January 14, 2015, 6:42am 0

Several years ago, back when I voraciously consumed every ultimate blog I came across, I read an entry from Jim Parinella about his neck injury, the following surgery, and his recovery. In reading those posts, the progression of his injuries seemed fairly mundane: an attempted layout block here, a layout for an errant disc there, some tingling in the arms, some numbness in the fingers, and then, after playing around on the beach, an inability to get up or to move.

The idea that something like this could happen to me loomed in the periphery of my everyday college-age worries. I already had nagging problems in my shoulder following a hard landing after a layout, and I had only been playing for a year. I read about ACL tears, shoulder surgeries,concussions. I saw the various ways in which layouts could go wrong, with heads hitting the ground, legs “scorpioning” over backs, knees hitting the ground first and causing the torso to whip violently into the ground. For a short period, I worried every time I got off the ground after a layout.

But my concerns never stopped me from playing or from throwing my body around on the field, and with time they faded.

Fast forward to the Emerald City Classic tournament in August 2013. Riot’s last game of Saturday was against Vancouver Traffic, and there I stood, on the line for an offensive point just after half. We caught the pull, centered the disc, and our handler, near the middle of the field, tried for an IO flick around my defender that started out with an angle toward the deep space just beyond my sideline. The disc started on the IO trajectory, bending around my defender, then began to fade away from me, back toward the middle of the field. I cut hard toward the disc with the vague awareness that a poaching defender was coming in from the deep space.

I watched my hand reach for the disc, and then I didn’t know where I was. I couldn’t breathe.

It was the feeling of uncertainty that comes with waking up from a deep mid-day nap. I had no idea what had just happened, but I knew it hurt. I remember rolling onto my back gripping my face and making some horrendous moaning noise that I’m not sure I could recreate if I tried. As I became aware of the fact that something had gone horribly wrong, I rolled onto all-fours and saw blood dripping onto the turf from my nose. The left half of my face had that puffy, tingly sensation that usually accompanies the shot of lidocaine during a cavity-filling at the dentist.

Mike Lawler filmed the game, and when he uploaded the footage several days later I went back to the video to see exactly what happened. Every part of me wanted to blame the other girl for being careless, reckless, dangerous. I didn’t see her. How could it possibly be my fault? My search, however, proved disappointing. From the footage, it seems like both myself and the deep defender should’ve seen each other. In the moment that I turn and accelerate toward the disc, she’s loping into the space at the exact same time. It seemed like an avoidable accident. What’s scary to me is that, in the moment, I didn’t see the impact coming. As I reached for the disc, I had no idea where that deep defender was in relation to my position and we collided at full speed.

Sitting there on the hot turf, I tried to gauge the extent of my injuries by watching the reactions of the people around me as they saw my face (pro tip: don’t do this). With each face that came into view of my right eye (my left was so swollen that I mostly kept it closed), my worry increased. I’m not sure I’ve ever been flat out scared after an injury, but this time I was. I wanted an ice pack. I wanted someone to tell me what was wrong. I eventually moved off the field and headed to the trainer’s. Two of my teammates came with me to provide moral support.

(Sorry, team appreciation moment: I barely tolerated the trainer’s questioning and eye movement test, and when he left I felt like I wanted to yell at him. He didn’t do anything wrong, I just felt the need to let him know that this was a horrible situation. I think I must’ve looked confused, because CO came up and patted my arm. I’ll never forget the feeling of relief that came over me when she asked me if I needed to cry. I nodded and immediately burst into tears. Sometimes teammates just know.)

I came away with a swollen face, nerve damage, and a pretty brutal black eye. Fortunately, I passed all of the concussion tests and there was no lasting damage, save some lingering numbness in my face. It could have been much worse.

The rest of the 2013 season passed without incident for me. I took a few weeks off, waved away the suggestions that I wear a protective mask (“I’m fine. I passed all of the concussion tests!”), and finished out the year with a decisive loss to Scandal in the semifinals of Nationals.

With the offseason came weightlifting and fun tournaments, and I went to Lei Out, looking forward to the soft, safe, sandy beach. During my team’s last game of the day, I poached off the handler I was defending into the lane. The handler with the disc didn’t see me and threw it. I happily layed out for the block and remember grabbing the disc.

Then suddenly I had that waking-up-from-a-nap feeling again. I heard people talking around me but I wasn’t sure where I was. My cheek pressed very comfortably into the sand. I sat up. People were in front of me, talking to me. I realized I couldn’t hear out of my left ear. The moments before I blacked out slowly came back to me. The intended receiver and I had collided, and some part of her body had hit me in the head.

I gathered that I had briefly been unconscious, that my ear was bleeding, and that I needed to go to a hospital.

My luck, as it turns out, is pretty solid sometimes. The impact ruptured my eardrum, but I had no cranial damage and showed no signs of neural deficiencies (I wasn’t losing consciousness, I knew where and who I was, and I didn’t have a persistent or severe headache). I again passed all of the concussion tests, and only had some odd soreness in my lower back.

But it was another blow to the head in less than six months. It was another impact that I didn’t see coming.

I’m confident in my field awareness. Even when I was young, spry, and laying out constantly, I never experienced injuries like these two. My mom told me that my uncle, a doctor, thought that I should stop playing entirely. Though quitting ultimate was the furthest thing from my mind, it did make me realize that another blow to the head might end my career.

As I eagerly await the start of the 2015 club season, I can’t help but wonder again about that phantom injury that could get me this year. But that worry is only vague in its nagging, and there’s no way I’ll stop playing because of it.

But still, I can’t help but think about Jim Parinella pushing through his recovery, or the women who have torn their ACLs time and time again. I can’t help but think about the teammates recovering from surgeries, the teammates nursing nagging back and shoulder injuries, the teammates who can’t afford to get hit in the head again, and I wonder if it’s worth it.


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