By Caroline Dubois-Webber
“If you ever want a shot at becoming a doctor, you’ll quit lacrosse right now” That is exactly what I did.
A college lacrosse player and a doctor. These were the only two things I was ever sure I wanted to be. Everything else in life was subjective. I never thought I would be placed in a position where I would have to choose one over the other.
Concussions will do that.
Nearly every athlete has experienced the agonizing pain of having to place their sport on hold for an injury to heal–sometimes even permanently. I had been out of lacrosse for eight months with a brain injury when doctors finally confronted me with a harsh reality. The hit that I had sustained my freshman year of high school in a pick-up 7 v 7 tournament was bad enough to risk jeopardizing any future dreams or aspirations if I got hit again within the next few years. It was time to close the chapter of lacrosse for the rest of my high school career, which meant no possibility of playing in college.
ACL tears are absolutely horrible.
Broken bones are as well.
Concussions, however, will take the cake every time. I would have traded my concussion for any physical injury because one that messes with your mind is unlike anything one would ever want to experience.
The chemicals in my brain had been thrown out of balance, and I had completely lost touch with who I was. One more hit, and who knew what kind of position I would be in.
I had already lost my ability to perform well academically, dropping from a straight-A student to B’s and C’s. That was just one of the visible effects of my injury. Internally, on the other hand, I did not recognize myself at all.
I decided to pour all of my efforts into sailing competitively.
This was all to push lacrosse back to the furthest corner of my mind. I had lost one of the biggest parts of my identity, and I was determined to occupy myself with whatever else I could.
I had grown up racing sailboats, but it had always come second to lacrosse. I now lost myself in hours of sailing practice and studying to get my GPA back up.
This time taught me to appreciate everything that was so monumental to who I was outside of lacrosse. I was so much more than my sport, and that was a lesson I had to figure out for myself.
Fast forward four years, and coincidentally, my freshman year dorm was right next to the lacrosse field. The pain of watching girls walk to practice together, their sticks in hand, was excruciating for me. I could not help but think to myself, “that was supposed to have been me.” I would equate it to a bad breakup.
One where no matter what you do, you just cannot seem to get them out of your head.
The truth, something I hated admitting to myself, was that I missed it so much. I told myself I would show up to just one practice. Just one practice to hold the stick in my hand and toss the ball around.
That one practice turned into one week; then one month. I became determined to go back to the sport–whatever it was going to take. I changed my position from offense to defense to minimize the risk of taking a hit. I also began wearing a helmet when I played, so that if I did get hit, the helmet would hopefully absorb the majority of the impact.
Enough time had passed between my injury and now that my brain had fully healed. I talked to my doctors and parents about the risk vs reward and finally, decided to continue playing.
I was whole again.
I am blessed enough to have spent the last two years at the University of Texas at Austin. I am studying neuroscience, in the hopes of one day becoming a doctor in the concussion field, treating athletes, and working to make their game safer.
Meanwhile, I have had the opportunity to sail for UT, even recently qualifying and competing for a national championship. Due to covid, I have only had half a season of lacrosse, but am looking forward to what is to come in the spring.
This experience has made me realize how important each facet of myself is; not just my identity as a “lax bro.” Lacrosse is great, but so is a functioning and healthy brain. All that you can and will achieve outside of your sport is just as important, if not more so than a Saturday morning game.
Sometimes you will have to make sacrifices, but at the end of the day everything works out the way it’s supposed to. The person and athlete I am today are strongly influenced by what I had to go through with my concussion.
Having gone through that trial, I understand that I am so much more than an athlete. This is a lesson I hope all athletes know. There will come a day when, unfortunately, you will not be able to play your sport. For some, it comes sooner than others, and it could happen without any warning. It is important to realize that there is so much more to every person aside from their sport. I struggled to learn this, but having had this experience, I cherish each second I spend on the field now and know that this will help me become a better doctor when that time comes.