For many high school athletes, the cost of a concussion can sometimes be overshadowed by the need to play.
Alice Hiebert, who is going into her junior year at Bellingham High School, suffered a concussion during a preseason game in Seattle last fall. Hiebert missed a week of school, and dealt with headaches for the first few days after the incident.
Hiebert can recall multiple times where she chose to keep playing through some particularly painful moments.
“I’ve taken a couple headers. It’s those ones from the goalies, that get drop kicked and then come really high, where instead of hitting my forehead they hit the top of my head or somewhere else,” she said.
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She’ll feel dizzy for a couple of minutes, she said, but continue to play, the spinning fading as she follows the ball up and down the field.
“It’s my stubbornness that makes me play through it,” Hiebert said. “And a pride thing maybe, that I have.”
But for Hiebert, who wants to play Division II soccer in college, realizes it also comes down to playing time.
“I know in college, once you come out, you can’t come back in during that half,” she said. “If I’m in that situation, I don’t want to give up any of my playing time unless I absolutely have to.”
Across the city, another athlete is also dealing with head injuries.
Meridian girls’ soccer goalkeeper Sydney Gospodinovich, who is entering her junior year has had knocks to her head twice in the past year.
During the fall soccer season, Gospodinovich and her Meridian teammates were battling Ferndale.
“This was an important game for us all year long,” Gospodinovich said. “We were right behind them in the standings and needed this win.”
During the game, Gospodinovich was diving for a ball and hit her head on the post. The referees stopped the game, and her coach examined her. She said that she felt OK, and the coach thought she was so she continued playing.
“I felt like I could play through it,” Gospodinovich said.
Before that incident she had hit her head before after falling down during basketball.
But soccer players aren’t the only ones dealing with the decision to risk further injury for more playtime.
Fomer Mount Baker football player Izaiha Schwinden understands the situation well.
Schwinden loved football. He loved playing it, he loved his teammates, he loved his coaches and he loved the thrill to be on the field on Friday nights.
“I love everything about it,” Schwinden said. “I breathed football during high school.”
Schwinden was an all-state running back and defensive back at Mount Baker High School in 2013, his senior season. He rushed for over 2,300 yards in his career while scoring 34 touchdowns.
During his third game of his senior season, Schwinden felt his knee tweak after being tackled by an opponent. He came out for a couple of plays, but went back in and continued to play that season.
“I played through it because it was my senior season,” Schwinden said. “I couldn’t miss my senior season.”
Schwinden said that after his injury he didn’t want to go to the doctor, because he knew that if he did he wouldn’t be able to play. He instead went to physical therapy and continued toughing it out. His knee continued to bother him during the year.
Mount Baker football coach Ron Lepper said, “he wants the kids to be honest him and the coaching staff.”
“We want to make sure nothing serious happens after an injury,” Lepper said.
Even though his football career is done, Schwinden can still feel the occasional pain in his knee and says that it clicks when he’s doing physical activity for work or fun.
“I don’t regret playing on it now,” Schwinden said. “But 30 years from now I might, but we’ll see.”
It’s a problem many coaches around the league are trying to fix and all coaches are required to take a course on how to notice concussion-like symptoms and address head injuries, which are a different animal to tackle than other injuries.
“Playing through injury or playing hurt is a part of sports. In every sport, kids play through some pain,” Blaine football coach Jay Dodd said. “We definitely try to treat this (concussions) completely different from something else. ... We’re still learning about everything when it comes to this topic and addressing that with kids and being honest with them, just telling them this is something we don’t mess around with and if you feel one of those things you need to be truthful to yourself and to us and your teammates. Let’s address it, let’s get you healed up and see how things go.”
For now, though, “toughing it out” is still a part of the game.
Additional reporting by Joshua Hart and Katie Heath