On the Outside Looking In By Aaron (Age 16)

For most of my life, kids I have met must assume I have everything. I make friends easily, naturally excel at sports and earn good grades. When I entered High School, most of the other 9th grade students were nervously and understandably trying to adjust. However, I already felt confident. Having begun playing hockey when I was nine, I was already known as “the hockey kid.” From the first day, I loved the feeling of stepping on the ice, feeling completely carefree. Each year I played with new teammates and as the seasons progressed, my friends and coaches on my hockey teams became like a second family to me. I played exceptionally well year after had year throughout Middle School. As a result, the Varsity hockey coach and players had high expectations for me as my freshman year approached.

Within the first few days of High School, I was not shocked that upperclassmen were introducing themselves to me in the hallway. I was immediately accepted and always had a seat saved for me wherever I went. This type of attention turned me into someone who didn’t only feel great playing hockey, but it made me feel confident no matter who I was with.

However, this picture-perfect experience didn’t last. That same year, my hockey season was cut short because of an accident on the ice during the state’s country semi-final game. Not only did I experience a MCL tear in my knee, I discovered in following months that I had also suffered several traumatic brain injuries due to the same accident.

I finally reached my breaking point during a Wednesday night practice when I got tangled up in a battle drill, and fell to the ice. Everything seemed to be normal until I tried to stand up but stumbled back down to the ice. The collision was not very forceful, but my brain had been so rattled from the previous couple weeks of intense games against some of the most elite hockey players in the country that it resulted in a severe concussion. There were also many negative side effects such as major headaches, sensitivity to light, fatigue, and mood swings.

My life as a student changed for me dramatically too. I would go every morning to school as normal. However, as the day progressed, my attention span would quickly diminish.  By 1:00 pm, I was literally ready to fall asleep. Even after seven weeks I still felt the effects of my concussion, so my parents decided that it was best for me to leave hockey for my personal health. I was in utter disbelief at their decision, and refused to agree. Eventually though, especially since the physical effects continued impacting my everyday life, I began to fully understand the potential consequences. I also began to finally accept how having another concussion could seriously alter my life completely, even beyond my current experience.

As my sophomore year progressed, everything seemed to change. Because I no longer played hockey, my identity had been turned upside down. Instantly I was no longer the “big man on campus.” I stopped receiving the special treatment from other students that I had previously experienced. I was even scorned by former teammates for deciding to quit. For the first time in my life, I appeared to be on the outside looking in. I was no longer instantly invited to parties and people paid less attention to me.  Students also no longer asked me how the latest game went and if they could wear one of my jerseys to the next game. Finding myself experiencing social regression was a very tough pill to swallow, causing me often to feel very aggravated with my new circumstances.

But most importantly, I felt that I had lost my identity. Hockey was what had defined me most both personally as well as with my friends and peers.  Without it, I feared that that I would soon be forgotten about since I no longer had what I perceived to be my most valuable quality. During this year’s hockey season, when all of my friends went to the High School hockey games, I remained home. I feared that I would be derided for not playing if seen at the games. People assumed that because I wasn’t going I was being selfish and didn’t care about the team.  The reality was that being there would have been torture. Even the thought of it hurt and protecting myself was necessary. Although I didn’t think anyone could really understand, I was just trying to isolate myself from a game that I had practically devoted my entire life to protect myself and get through it.

After roughly three months of slow progress, although the major side effects had finally vanished, it took me closer to seven months for my mental stamina to return to normal.  One day I had had enough. I convinced myself that my ongoing “pity party” must finally come to an end. And so, I decided to join the track team. At first, on my way to practice each day I found myself hiding behind the track team as we passed the hockey team bus to avoid having contact with my old teammates. Eventually though, I fortunately began to embrace being a member of the track team, and proudly told other students including my former hockey teammates of my new passion without fearing their disapproval.  As it turns out, I was grateful that my athletic abilities translated to also being an asset to the track team. Early on, I worked very hard and experienced success. By the end of my sophomore season, I became a Varsity sprinter. I also proved to myself that despite all the adversity that resulted from my injury, I was able to make many new friends on the team and enjoyed being a part of many funny and memorable moments.

These days I feel like myself again but also things feel different. For example, my new friendships feel different in some ways. My teammates value me not only for my athletic abilities but also for my sense of humor and loyalty. This overall experience has changed me. I now view people I meet in a less superficial way, focusing on someone’s character and personality rather than their looks or “resume.”

Above all, my greatest area of growth from this experience has been learning that my worth is not determined by how many goals I score or how fast I can run across a track, but who I am as a person and how I treat others.

 

 

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