The Scariest Question I've Ever Asked Myself: who am I without my sport?

Current Occupation: ___________________________

I’m seeing a new specialist for my concussion recovery and, per standard protocol, I was sent a waiver and history form to fill out before our first appointment. I blankly stared at the “Current Occupation” blank space with more blankness than the blankness of its blank space. 

For six years, I filled in that space with a prideful “professional soccer player.” It was a subtle nod, a “you’re damn right I’m still following my dreams and doing what I love, despite my setbacks and squirrel food salary.” 

Now, for the past 6 months I’ve looked at that space with a mango pit in my stomach (I just googled “stone fruits with the largest pits”and based on my intensive one minute investigation I believe mangoes have the biggest pits. Please correct me if I’m wrong). 

What the hell do I write down? I’m taking this season off. I haven’t played in a true professional game in over two years. I haven’t felt like myself playing at the professional level for over 3 years. I straight up just haven’t felt like myself, period. Filling the space with “professional soccer player" doesn’t feel accurate right now.

I’ve seen a lot different specialists since I’ve stepped away from soccer to focus on healing. Hence I’ve had to fill in a lot of “Current Occupation” blank spaces. Sometimes I fill in the spot with “Lyft driver.” I picked up driving for Lyft after I left the Utah Royals halfway through the season to:

  1. amuse myself

  2. feel like I’m a contributing member of society 

  3. make a little extra dough

  4. secretly practice being a therapist. I’ve low-key made it a goal to dive as deep as possible with my passengers during our time together, regardless if (especially if) it’s just a 5 minute drive to Plaid Pantry. Not shockingly, many of my passengers hate their job. They have closeted dreams of dope things like creating a movie theatre that features TV shows.  As their unbeknownst therapist, I always encourage them to make that ish happen (disclaimer: I am not a certified therapist, however my therapy sessions are included with the ride, no additional charge. Tips are appreciated, but not necessary, but like, really appreciated).

Sometimes I put down "soccer coach.” I love individually training determined young girls and boys.  But, that’s just a side gig. 

I plan on writing a book, public speaking, podcasting (consistently) and launching a mentor program for athletes, but I haven’t done any of that yet. 

Writing down “unemployed” makes me feel lazy. And I’m not lazy. 

I vacillate this blank space, the same way I do when someone asks, “what are you up to these days?” 

“Oh ya know, the same ol’, just really trying to focus on healing.”

But, what I’m really thinking is:

you mean what am I NOT up to? You mean what am I NOT up to and what have I NOT been doing for the past three years as I’ve simultaneously attempted to let go and fight for my life to stay afloat as I watch the thing I dedicated my entire life to slip away and I literally feel like I want to die at least twice a week, but not like actually die, just die for like three months so I can shut off the crazy ass thoughts that move at 100mph and filtrate my mind every day and often cloud my ability to to see how fucking blessed I am just to be a living, moving, breathing, being on this beautiful earth, but, like it’s really all good, I know people have it much worse and I’m a privileged, blond, white girl, I think I am just gonna move to a remote island and drink coconut water and eat bananas and float in the ocean for the rest of my life. Thanks for asking. 

I typically go for the more socially acceptable, avoid-my-true-feelings response. 

You know what’s wild? Ever since I was 8 years old, I have had a crystal clear picture of what I wanted to do with my life. You know what’s even more wild? I’ve had the determination, discipline, and good fortune to see actions through and make my dreams come true.  Do you know what’s the most wild? I currently feel like my once crystal clear picture has entirely disintegrated, my dreams are in menopause, and I genuinely have no idea who I am or what the future holds. 

I’m currently receiving therapy because if you haven’t deciphered by now, my mind is a little psycho and I’m totally cool with it (except for when I’m not totally cool with it) because we are all psycho, and if you think you aren’t psycho, then my personal theory is you may just be the psycho-ist of them all. I highly support therapy for everyone. 

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But essentially, I believe I’m dealing with what my therapist deems “post-traumatic sports stress.”  I have currently been participating in this really neat modality called brain-spotting.  I’ll be writing about it more when the time is right. I have literally no idea when that “right time” will be because my ability to actually make things happen right now comes and goes like the Portland sun. If you want to learn about post-traumatic sports stress and brain-spotting before I write about it 9 years later,  I recommend the book This is Your Brain on Sports by Alan S. Goldberg and David Grand. They write all about how unresolved emotional sports trauma, and past emotional trauma in general, can affect your physical sports performance and increase your chance of injury. 

It’s strange because my will to take actions towards my dreams right now has been playing hide and seek with me. But, my passion for my dreams is still there. It hasn’t faded an ounce.

There are days when I am 100% certain, without a shadow of doubt, that all of my aspirations are going to come to fruition.

Dreams are sickkkk!!! Anything is possible! My breakthrough is so close! I’m going to take all the lessons I’ve learned over these three years, apply them to my life to make a full comeback and play the best and most enjoyable soccer I have ever played in my entire life!!!!!

I still fully believe this is a feasible option. But, will my life actually turn out this way? I honestly do not know. 

I believe a large reason for my disappearance of discipline is not necessarily from the physical blow of the concussion itself, but rather how this injury has made me question my entire belief system and the way I have gone about living my life. 

I hear people always say “do what you love and you won’t have to work a day of your life! ” But the thing is, I was doing what I loved. I was following my dreams and doing everything possible to make them happen.  And for my entire life, I had been successful at it. 

For the first 20 years, I was riding on cruise control with my “work really, really, really hard” recipe. I’d face a setback, work hard to get through it, and eventually achieve the thing I wanted. I intended to follow this plan until I made the US national team roster and played in a World Cup. 

Soccer has been my greatest protector throughout my most difficult challenges in life. When I got the call my brother was in critical condition at the hospital from a near-death car crash, when my boyfriend whom I  (naively, obvi) thought I was going to spend my life with broke up with me, when I found out my grandma unexpectedly passed away while I was 7,497 miles across the globe in New Zealand…I committed myself to my sport even harder. 

Yet somewhere along my journey, the lines got blurred between my profession and who I am. 

‘Soccer player’ proudly became my main identity.  But, I didn’t just see myself as a soccer player,  I saw myself as a good soccer player, one who works really hard, one who keeps getting physically better every day, one who achieves their dreams. 

A few years before my big concussion, I experienced energy issues, and it felt like the harder I worked, the harder I ran into walls. My illogical rebuttal was to work even harder, which resulted in many more wall crashes. And then the big bang happened (referring my concussion from my head smacking the ground, not the beginning of the world, but actually it kinda was the new beginning of my world). 

Ever since then, doing what I loved physically, emotionally, and mentally felt like I was pushing a flat-tired semi-truck up an ice-covered hill.  My body wasn’t working the way it had been able to work for my whole career. I wasn’t getting the praise I had received my entire life for my athletic endeavors.  I wasn’t able to use soccer as an emotional outlet. I finished last in fitness drills. I was cut from my team. The single thing I had poured my entire life into turned into a slow-motion eyebrow threading session; almost torturously, little by little, plucked away from me. 

Stepping away from my sport was the first time I have ever examined my existence without soccer. It didn’t take long for me to see that I have NO. FUCKING. IDEA. who I am without it. 

When we identify with our sport so deeply, we often subconsciously believe that we need our sport to feel complete. Consequently, this means that we don’t feel like we are enough as we are without it. 

It makes complete sense then, that removing soccer from my life feels like I’m missing a part of myself. It’s as if I’m frantically (but trying to act like I’m totally not frantic) trying to find out where that missing piece went.

In a way, soccer has been a coping mechanism to hide my insecurities. 

I believe a big reason my concussion happened was to force me to stop hiding behind my accomplishments; to stop basing my happiness on if I start in a game or not, if I finish first in fitness testing, or if I play well. 

I am no longer able to cover up my flaws with more drills, more long balls, more sprints, more…anything. 

My athlete cloak has been taken off. I am naked. And when I first looked in the mirror, I hated what I saw.  I felt like a toddler who was learning who I was all over again. But I have committed myself to showing up every single day. Even days when I literally feel like I’m trapped in a heavy load, hot water, extra wash, washing machine cycle, filled with a months worth of my dad’s sweaty workout clothes, somehow I always make it through. And I’m starting to see that the “missing piece” was never actually missing, but simply covered up by false narratives about my worth being tied to factors outside of myself. Step by step (with a lot of assistance from therapists, specialists, and my people ), I am standing a little bit taller on my own two feet. I am looking in the mirror and staring at the core of who I am. Without the awards. Without the notoriety. Without anything or anyone, but me. 

I made this old childhood pic of me my phone screen saver to remind myself who I’m returning to.

I made this old childhood pic of me my phone screen saver to remind myself who I’m returning to.

If you ask me “what are you up to these days?” my answers will vary on any given day from “(insert some short, generic BS answer that I’m well)” to “I have no idea” to “I’m making my come back bitchezzz.” But, really, none of those answers matter to me.

I am not and will never be defined by my career,  even if I am an out-of-this-world, Lyft driving, therapist, inconsistent-podcasting, mentoring goddess. 

I am enough. Exactly as I am. Right now. In this very instant. I will continue to remind myself of this truth until I feel it in every fiber of my being.  

Until then,  if you need a Lyft ride and/or therapy sesh and/or soccer coaching,  and/or know of any great podcast guests and/or are interested in being mentored by me, don’t hesitate to hit me up. 


Sincerely, 


Kendall, Current Occupation: ______naked_________







Dear Soccer, FUCK YOU, I Love you, Do I Have to Let you go?

Dear Soccer, 

I went shopping for avocados the other day to concoct my new lunch obsession: toast with mashed avocado, sliced cherry tomatoes, chopped basil, aged balsamic, olive oil, and a dash of salt and pepper. The colors, textures, and flavors are like a game-winning goal celebration in my mouth. 

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At the store, I intimately groped each avocado to find the perfectly ripe one. I found it and drove home, salivating at the mouth. When it was time to create the masterpiece, I pulled out the cutting board, surgically sliced around the pit,  un-hugged the halves, and the avocado was …brown. It tasted like solidified dirty bath water. 

I immediately thought of you. Because it reminded me of our last two years, eight months, and fourteen days together. 

I have soooo many things I want to say to you.

First and foremost, Fuck You.

Secondly, I love you. Please forgive me. Take me back. I need you. I want you. Do I have to let you go? 

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“Have you ever heard of something called MS?” the doctor inquired. 

“Ya.” I muttered back. 

“Now again, I’m not saying that’s what it is, but when we see that we have to check it off the list.” 

“What could other possibilities be besides that?”

“Lyme disease, hypertension, sometimes diabetes…there’s something going on that’s quite unusual for someone your age…but if we never got this scan, we might never have caught it.”

I just completed an intensive 5 day concussion rehab program at Cognitive Fx in Provo, Utah. The program is intended to balance out the blood flow in certain areas of my brain that got out of whack from my concussion.  I’m in the conference room reviewing my results with the head doctor. My structural scan revealed that I have white matter changes on my brain, that sometimes indicates a demyelinating disorder. 

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Dear soccer,

When the doctor was speaking, all I could think of was what this meant for you and me. 

“What would you recommend in terms of playing soccer?” I asked, fearing the answer. 

“I would wait until you know more about what’s going on. The great news is that with a lot of these things like lyme disease, and MS, and hypertension…getting the most blood to your brain is only going to help you. The healthier and more balanced the brain, the better it will deal with some of these other issues.”

I thought only old people developed Multiple Sclerosis.  And even if younger people could contract it, Kendall and MS don’t go together. This wasn’t meant to be my battle. It wasn’t my plan. 

I was meant to represent my country and play in the Olympics and the World Cup. Ya, people don’t know me now, but I don’t care. That’s how all the greats start out. As nobodies.

But, you know who I am. Our game plan. We promised each other. 

At the presuppose of our relationship, we were inseparable. We held hands (mostly feet), danced until the sky’s curtains closed, and then, we climbed under the covers, and dreamt of our future together. We had the wildest aspirations. We weren’t the kind of couple to settle. 

You were my safe place. I could run, compete, and push my body to its limits with girls who also lived to run, compete, and push their body to its limits. Not much else mattered to me. When I was faced with a painful challenge, I didn’t see any other option than to keep moving forward. For you. For me. For us. 

We knew we would encounter obstacles, but we always two foot slide tackled them. Get cut from a team…two foot slide tackle. Tear my ACL…two foot slide tackle. Hospitalized for a week in a foreign country…two foot slide tackle. Until we were back in the game. 

We were promiscuous, secretly escaping to racquetball courts, abandoned side allies, and recreational baseball fields. We put in the work. And then we got rewarded. It’s how I helped my high school team win its first ever state championship, how I got recruited to my dream college, played in a U20 World Cup, and was drafted to the pros. 

You + Me + Work Harder Than Everybody Else= Get $$$ (not actual money, because it’s women’s soccer, and we get paid diddly squat).

What happened to us? When did our system stop working? 

I think October 16th, 2015 was our tipping point. 

It was gradual and sudden all at once. 

Sudden, in the sense that I was instantly bed-ridden. The concussion was gnarly. For months, I couldn’t ride in cars, read, walk in crowded places, listen to music, let alone play soccer

But even then, I had no doubt I was going to get back to you. 

For the first year and a half, my comeback was clear as Crater Lake. It wasn’t a matter of can I??, it was simply when? I knew we were going to reunite.  Each setback would make the return that much sweeter. We were going connect on a deeper level. One that could only be experienced by those who’ve gone through the ringer. I was going to play the best ball of my life, and inspire others who were struggling in the dark. 

I feel like there are two distinct “Me”s: Kendall-before-her-concussion and Kendall-after. 

Pre-concussion Kendall was narrow-minded. I think you have to be with such ambitious goals. It was you and me until the end of time.  Post-concussion Kendall, felt like someone silly stringed my body with so many challenges that I didn’t have a choice to change, unless I wanted to be miserably trapped in neon green netting for the rest of my career. 

The physical symptoms were difficult enough, but then I got depressed. Wow. I didn’t know it was possible to feel so low.

Depression is very different for everyone. For me, I knew something was off and was desperate to get out of it. But it was like a vampire broke into my soul and sucked out any ounce of motivation. I felt trapped in between a myriad of polar opposites. 

I wanted to make magic happen in the world, and yet I felt this force field around me (like the girl’s from The Incredibles’ superpower) that prevented me from making any forward movement.

I wanted someone to hold my hand and walk me out of this emptiness, but I had an even stronger desire to get into my car and drive and drive and drive until I found an isolated cave in the depths of the forest for hibernation. 

I was sad, confused, lonely. Intensely uncomfortable. The scariest was when I started feeling nothing at all.

During my lowest low, I wanted to resort to you. For you to be there for me, like you had been the past 20 years of my life. But you weren’t. Or couldn’t. 

Fuck you, for that. I needed you.

I was mad at you. Really mad. Why couldn’t you just accept me for who I was? 

When I got released from the Portland Thorns, I was upset, but felt it was exactly what we needed. To say goodbye to our past, and welcome a fresh start.

I decided to move to Utah to tryout for the new NWSL team. For the first couple months, we were jiving. Things were hot and heavy. It felt easy. That fairytale kind of love. 

But it was naive of me to think that a location change could fix all of our problems. My symptoms crept back up. Even at my best, it was always mind over matter.

Nearly every training session, my eyes were more glazed over than a Krispie Creme donut fresh out of the oven. Energy-wise, it felt like I had eaten one-hundred of them. Exercise took 10 times more effort than it used to. 

My whole life, training was about improving our relationship. How can we be our best? Ever since my concussion, it felt more like survival.

I am an all-in kind of person. 100%. I never bought into that “110% work effort” bull crap.  That’s not physically possible.  When it comes to the things I love, I’m not a half-asser. 

I pride myself on controlling the controllables. I was always one of the fittest people on my team. It was part of my success formula: You + Me + Work Harder Than Everybody Else = Get $$$. 

Now, whenever I toed the line for sprints with my teammates, I finished in last.

I used to always do extra ball work before or after training. Now, I was too emotionally and physically drained to put in extra time. 

Playing wise, I hung on. I don’t think I was at the level for onlookers to be like “ohhh that girl sucks, she doesn’t belong here,” but I fell way short of my standard. I constantly compared myself to pre-concussion Kendall.

That’s often the hardest thing for people to understand. From the outside, I look fine. I’m able to live a normal life, even train at the most elite level. But I’m constantly living with this feeling that something is off. Like I’m sinking in quicksand while everyone else appears to be walking on water. I try so hard to hide the feeling though, because I yearn to be Bruce Almighty.

Dear soccer,

You really did me dirty. 

Sometimes I felt like you found great joy in taunting me. I entered the league starting every game, incredibly optimistic about my future. Over the past 6 years of my career, almost systematically,  I slid back to a “practice player.” 

You full on chucked my ego into flaming barbecue coals. You made me question my worth as a human. You used to be the thing that let me forget about my worries. Now, you are the thing that reminds me who I am not.

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When I signed up for my intensive week of concussion rehab at Cognitive Fx. I felt this was going to be the thing that set me free. I think it was, but not in the way I anticipated. 

After the doctor informed me of the white matter on my brain scan, she left to give me time to process the news. I hyperventilated-ly cried for a few minutes. I was crushed and confused. Yet, in the midst of my meltdown, I felt something shift deep inside of me.

This entire recovery journey my mind has taken the driver’s seat, and my body, slammed in the trunk. Whenever I thought about throwing in the towel, my mind piped up: you’ve got this Kendall! You are so much closer than you think. How amazing is it going to be when you step on the field and feel like yourself? All this suffering will be worth it.

But this current feeling was so subtle, yet so distinct-too powerful to be coming from my mind. It was that inner-knowing that unexpectedly shows up to guide us in inexplicable ways. The one that makes no sense to you or me or anyone else, until one day it does. And it implored me to get out of my head.  

In that moment. I asked my body “body, what do you want?” 

Without hesitation, I heard ”Please. Please. Please,  give me a break.”

When you’re a lifelong athlete who’s sole love is your sport, life can get skewed pretty easily. Your sport isn’t just something you do, it is a part of your identity. It’s your most intimate relationship. 

Letting it go, feels like betrayal. 

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Dear soccer, 

I said I hate you. You know that’s not true.

How could it it be?  You made me feel things I haven’t felt with anyone else ever before. You introduced me to lifelong friends. You took me to places I never knew I’d venture to: Guatemala, Spain, Germany, Peru, Australia (hot damn, I love you Australia) and several others.  You allowed me to access parts of myself I didn’t know existed. You taught me (I’m still learning) that I am so much more than you and everything else external. 

I truly feel like I’ve given you every part of me. I put you before school, family, and my wellbeing. 

But something isn’t working. I wish it were. I’ve tried and tried and tried to get back to the way we used to be. I can’t ignore my body any longer. It’s exhausted.

The Universe is clearly trying to speak to me and I think it’s pretty selfish to keep plowing through. 

It doesn’t make sense to me because I want you so badly. But this sensation is beyond logic. 

I needed a permission slip, this brain scan raising concern, to step away. I’m too driven and stubborn (and mostly afraid) to walk away from the game on my own.

They say losing your first love stings the most. Isn’t that the truth.  I dream about you. More than I ever have. Almost every night. Sometimes nightmares, other times glimpses of hope. I’m not sure what it means. But I’m tired of trying to figure it all out. 

I need to breath. To let you go. So you can do you. And I can do me.

 I don’t know if this is the end for us. It’s scary as shit. A little bit exciting. I feel both confident and lost. Confidently lost. 

 I sincerely hope our paths will cross again. If not, that’s okay too. What’s meant to be, will be.    

Just please know, you are the ripest avocado I’ve ever known. 

I’ll always love you,

Kendall 



The Tackle that gave me 3 years of Debilitating Concussion Symptoms (why we need to redefine what it means to be tough in sports)

Scrambled eggs with pickles drenched in Tobasco sauce, coffee, half and half, 10 packets of sugar, and a spoonful of salt and pepper. 

“I bet you won’t eat that!”  My friend chuckled, as she shoved the bowl of mushed up post-brunch leftovers onto my placemat. 

Growing up, I was surrounded by mischievous, hyper-active kids eager to turn anything and everything into a “who’s the toughest?” competition.

Who could eat the most repulsive leftover restaurant food creation? Who could submerse themselves naked in the 30 degree river the longest? Who could smack a ping pong ball against each other’s bare backs and produce the biggest welt?

I attacked such dares with the hesitation of an adult asked to tie their own shoes; easy peasy.    

One of my favorite games involved holding hands with an opponent. On my turn, I used my free hand to slap my competitor’s forehand as hard as my adolescent fingers could possibly slap. My opponent would then return the favor. 

The point of the game was simple; who could endure the pain the longest. 

I always won. Ask my brothers, and they will say I’m lying, but that’s their competitiveness talking. They craved victory, but not as much as I did.  

I wanted to be the best, the strongest.  And in most of our made-up games, showing emotions and revealing pain? That’s a sign of weakness.

And I am not weak.  

This “rub some dirt in it” mentality was further etched into my personal hard drive through sports teams. I witnessed teammates sit out because of a rolled ankle, a kick to the thigh, a stomach ache… 

To me, scrapes and bruises symbolize resilience. 

And I am resilient. 

The higher the athletic level, the more the fragile ones are weeded out. By the professional level, only the strongest remain. I am surrounded by the toughest cream of the crop; the reigning champions of their own trivial childhood hand-slapping games. 

Every injury I endure, I am determined to be tough and overcome it as quickly as possible.

When I got my concussion, I tackled the injury with the same mentality. 

In the following months of recovery, a series of events, one by one, gradually piled up, until one day I hit a tipping point, and experienced a brutal awakening that my preconceived definition of toughness was fatally flawed.

I stumbled upon a new level of bravery. One that few experience firsthand, but deserves, and needs, attention. 

I am telling my story in hopes that it will encourage individuals to discover this toughness and harness it to intentionally stand up for the well-being of themselves and their teammates. 

My Story

After I was diagnosed with a concussion (My whiplash heat stroke FIFA ’94 Concussion),  I was told to rest for a week. I set out to be the best rester that ever rested.

Six weeks of resting later, I progressed at a dehydrated snail’s pace. I was not where I wanted to be.

I was over laying around. I wanted to get back on the pitch. I wondered why I was still feeling this way, and looked back at the footage of the initial tackle from my first game. 

We often reflect on our past and wonder, why on earth did I do that? In my case, why did I keep playing?  If I would have known that this tackle would give me debilitating symptoms for three years, of course I would have subbed myself out.

But I didn’t know. The referee issued my opponent a yellow card, but the team physiotherapist never came onto the field to assess me, so I thought the tackle couldn’t have been that bad. I felt out of it, but it always takes a few strides to collect oneself after a collision. I did what I have programmed myself to do and played on.

Once I watched this footage, I decided to take matters into my own hands and sought out a vestibular physiotherapist. This physiotherapist performed some manual tests, and concluded that I was dealing with vestibular migraines and no longer had a concussion. My brain was fine. He then referred me to a highly touted migraine specialist who confirmed his analysis: my concussion was in the past, these were just migraine symptoms. I was safe to play soccer. 

I was pleased with this news. The specialist gave me some medication to take when I experienced nausea and headaches. She believed my symptoms would clear up rapidly. I took the pills and performed the vestibular therapist’s prescribed rehab exercises. 

I felt better and ramped up my physical activity quickly. 

After just one week, I passed the team’s return-to-play protocol of jogging and heading a few balls. I trained in three sessions, with only mild nausea from change of direction.

I was cleared for my first game back!

I spoke with the team doctor and physiotherapist and, since I was out for eight weeks, the plan was for me to play 30 minutes to ease myself back into the strenuous demands of a game situation.

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Game time arrived, the whistle blew, and I was in my zone. As the scoreboard ticked, my body increasingly fatigued. By the thirtieth minute, I glanced over to the sideline to see who was subbing me out. Nobody was even warming-up. 

I anticipated that I would be kept on the field a bit longer than 30 minutes. 

Typically, coaches share athletes’ drive to win. Externally, I looked fine and functioning, so what was the harm of playing an extra 5, 10, 15 minutes? 

The halftime whistle blew. With the break, I figured I could recharge and contribute 10 more minutes. 

Ten minutes passed, and my emotional and physical energy tanks were entirely depleted. At one point, the opposing team attacked towards our penalty box. My mark was at the far post. I knew it was my responsibility to track back and guard her. But my body and mind were checked out. Instead, I stood at the halfway line and watched as my mark easily tapped the ball into the goal. 

Any other game, I would curse at myself for my lack of effort. In my current hollow state, all that filled my mind was how badly I wanted the game to end.

The final whistle blew, and rather than shaking hands with my opponents, I bee-lined straight to the bathroom stall, and broke down in tears. 

I was mad at myself for feeling so deflated. I questioned if I should have subbed myself out, but I rationalized my decision to stay quiet: Why would I sub myself out if I was just tired?

A few days later, my nausea, headaches, exhaustion, and dizziness reemerged. 

I explained my frustrations to my teammate and friend, Keelin. Why didn’t my coach or physiotherapist take me out? 

As an honest friend who’s experienced her own lack of proper treatment, Keelin told me something that has stuck with me since: 

 “You have to speak up. You can’t expect other people to, you have to look out for yourself.” 

She was right. Despite how badly I wanted to be “tough”, I had to swallow my pride. I had to be my own advocate. 

I spoke with the team doctor and he was surprised I played the full game. He wasn’t sure where the miscommunication occurred. He prescribed me an even stronger migraine medication.

The rest of the week, I didn’t train. I stayed at home, avoided car rides (which induced intense nausea), and rested. 

I was standing up for myself. 

A week later, we had our most important game of the season. Playoff implications were on the line.  A night before our game, I messaged our coach telling him I was feeling a bit better, but would have to see how I felt after the long bus ride up to the game. I made it clear that if he wanted to start someone else, then he should. 

On the way to the game, our physiotherapist encouraged me “you got this, be tough.” 

In our warm-up, I felt a little off and fatigued, but I didn’t know if that was a result of the long bus ride or if it was concussion related. 

I performed a few quick change of directions sprints. I felt mildly nauseous, but, not terrible. The symptoms were just enough for me to question if I was being over-dramatic. 

The migraine specialist said my brain is fine, that it’s just a migraine. I can play through this then, right? 

I knew I COULD play through the pain, but that method didn’t bode well for me last time. It wasn’t worth feeling crappy for another 6 weeks. 

I decided to compromise. After prematurely playing a full 90 minutes, I believed I could safely experiment with 20 minutes. I informed my coach that if he wanted to start me, I would play 20 minutes maximum. 

I started. 

Twenty minutes passed. I felt off. 

I didn’t get subbed out, but I knew that we had a water break at the 22nd minute mark because of the high temperatures. 

During the break, I locked eyes with our trainer, drew a horizontal line with my hand across my throat and muttered “I’m done.” 

Our physiotherapist smirked at me and responded, “you didn’t even do anything.” 

I’m not sure if she was referring to my contribution to the team or that I didn’t get caught up in a tackle, but a ravenous lion roared inside me. 

I stared sternly into her eyes, “I don’t fucking feel good.” 

I walked off and sat on the bench. 

The following week I changed my flight and flew back to Portland to seek proper treatment. 

I tell this story not to point fingers. I do strongly believe we need to raise the standards for concussion prevention and management. But, I take full responsibility for putting myself in each situation. For playing more than I should have, for not speaking up earlier when I didn’t feel right.  

However, I don’t blame myself either. “Toughing it out” is embedded in sports culture. It’s the dogma we, competitive athletes, have fed ourselves our whole career.

I attribute a large amount of my athletic success to this steadfast determination. 

But sometimes life hits you with circumstances far too great for this modality. Sometimes, the harder we try to “tough it out”, the further we’re pushed away from our desired result. 

Concussions require an even deeper kind of bravery.

One in which you understand there will be coaches who want to speed up your recovery, teammates who can’t comprehend why you aren’t playing, specialists who offer expertise in their own respective fields. 

It’s important to respect these people’s opinions and intentions, but know this: 

there is only one YOU in this entire world. Therefore, YOU are the only master of YOU.

No one else knows you better than you. No one can see when you are feeling mentally clouded,  nauseous, anxious, or just not yourself. 

This is when you have the opportunity to rise to next-level toughness and be your own advocate. 

One of the bravest things I have ever done, was to speak up and take myself out of the game. It took multiple failed attempts before I found my voice. I had to learn the hard way (18 months of debilitating symptoms and diligent recovery), that no game or situation is worth jeopardizing my well-being.

Hopefully in speaking up, I will prevent someone from taking the long road. 

You have a chance to change the narrative of what it means to be strong in sports. 

There’s a time and a place to fight through pain. But when it comes to your brain and health, it’s simply not worth it. 

When you stand up for yourself and your teammates, when you listen to your body, when you sit out despite the immense peer pressure to play on, you are not weak. You are resilient. You are an entirely different breed of tough.

And I’d challenge you to a hand-slapping contest any day.