Idols, Identity, and Fears

It was the fifth in six years. Another concussion. Most professional athletes don’t get anywhere close to that number in such a short time span. But somehow, I pulled it off. The night after I got the concussion, I went out with some friends to give him the PAX badges I ordered for them. I had other things on my mind, however.

Sports isn’t a thing that happens in my family. My mother and my sister never played sports. My father only played table tennis, and that was because he played when he was young. Yet, somehow, I was given this love and ability to play sports. It never made sense to me, but I didn’t let it stop me.

My love started out when I saw the Blazers for the first time. Clyde “the Glide” Drexler. Jerome Jersey. Kevin Duckworth. Buck Williams. Terry Porter. I had this love for them. I wanted to imitate and be like them. My dad made a basketball court, with lines and all, in our garage so that we’d play together. I would just drive past him, steal the ball when he got it, and just score tons of points. There was photos on the wall of those guys near the mini-hoop that we had. It progressed from there. My mom offered me the opportunity to learn to play tennis. I saw Pete Sampras play. His aggressive serve-and-volley play was simple yet effective. Michael Chang was also someone I admired as well. He was small, but had a huge heart for the game. It showed in his French Open win when he was young. I’d take lessons or practice with friends or people my parents wanted to play with.

Whenever there was an opportunity to play sports, I jumped at the chance. Basketball, tennis, swimming, baseball, football, ultimate frisbee, and most recently, soccer. I didn’t care about whether I was too small, too weak, or too late to learn the game. I wasn’t afraid to take on the challenge. I was willing to prove people wrong and that I was more than capable of taking on the task, even if I didn’t look the part.

It wasn’t until just after I graduated from college that things began to change. I was in the middle of a soccer game and tried to jump for a header. But somehow, I came down on another player. I came down hard and landed on my head. I was left dazed and confused from there. I was driven back home by one of my teammates soon afterwards. Months later, I suffered another mild concussion while I was playing as a keeper. I went to clear a ball just outside of the 18-yard box and an opposing player ran through me. I dropped like a rock and was knocked unconscious for minutes. A ER visit later and I was forced to take some time off to recover. I managed to get back up and continue playing.

It wasn’t until after my fourth one that I had to stop and think for a second. Could I continue playing sports with the risk of getting another concussion? What would happen if I did get the fifth? I spent some time thinking about it, but the thought of not playing sports ever again was just too much to ask for. I had spent some much of my life devoted to sports that it became a part of my identity. It was a part of who I am.

I got in touch with a doctor for medical advice. I knew I had to go through the regular precautionary measures. Take several weeks off from sports, go to the ER if headaches continue, and so forth. But then he said one other thing, “Given how many you’ve gotten, you need to see a neurologist.”

I didn’t see that coming…

The next twenty-four hours I spent thinking about that line: “You need to see a neurologist.” For the first time, I really had to reconsider everything. Those questions that I had popped up again. While I may have been in self-denial that I was okay, in reality, I wasn’t. With each head injury and concussion, I was slowly getting worse. My memory was getting worse. Each concussion was a huge risk. Even regular headers were giving me headaches.

My stubbornness was hiding me from the truth. Playing sports were my idol. It was more than just playing it for the love of the game. It was how I could leave a mark on the field or court and in people’s minds. It was my way to prove people wrong about me. It was my way of feeling superior and better than her when I beat them with my skill and wit. The knowledge that teams needed me to complete their goal was always satisfying. As a result, it just inflated my ego and made me become prideful.

Like all idols, the thought of letting go of playing sports created this fear. What would I do if I couldn’t play soccer? Or basketball? Whenever I was injured because of a concussion or another injury, it left me frustrated having to sit on the sidelines, unable to help the team. Sometimes I’d try to rush my recover just so I could play again, only to get hurt again. To have to leave sports for good was just unthinkable. Incomprehensible. Sports were a huge part of my identity as a person. People would always ask me about sports because that was the first thing that they thought of when they saw me.

I know that I’m more than just about sports. But this was a lot of me to ask of even myself. While I still wait for my appointment with a neurologist for further advice, I know that I may have to face the music and realize that I have to quit for good. And even if they say it’s cleared for me to continue playing sports, is it worth the risk of my own well-being for something that’s ultimately for recreation and fun? In the end, regardless of the neurologist’s advice, I’ll have to decide for myself and for my well-being.

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