A month had passed and it was still happening.
The pain, the pounding in her head that shifted her focus from biology class to the pulse in her brain. If someone found out that her head still hurt, she may never touch a ball again. She looked back down at her notes — this time, nobody could know.
Freshman Libby Frye got her first concussion in fifth grade.
A tackle at soccer practice led to a mix of arms and legs and a whiplashed head, which would later be examined in the E.R. Her next concussion was a launch off of a playground swing, proving that she could in fact jump the farthest. Her prize: a face full of wood chips and a second concussion.
With her fourth came warnings of an end to her soccer career, and yet she still played with the same tenacity, jeopardizing her health for a win. Headaches remained a secret, dizziness a hush. She refused to let a bump on her head keep her on the bench.
What she didn’t know was the long term consequences she could have faced. She could have faced the inability to complete a full day of school or read a passage out loud in English. She could’ve had to spend most of her day in a dark room trying not to think too hard, so she wouldn’t permanently damage her brain.
“Your brain has to heal just like any other part of your body,” Principal John McKinney said. “Until you stop and take it easy, your brain can’t begin to heal.”
As a high school athlete, head soccer coach Jamie Kelly didn’t make his injuries a main concern, either. He was the player who prioritized his desire to play over his health, he too, ignored the aches and migraines.
“The hard part for athletes is being honest with [themselves], because [concussions aren’t] something we can see,” Kelly said. “We can see a broken arm, we can see a hurt knee, we can’t see inside the head.”
Without equipment to officially see inside her head and diagnose a concussion, the state of Kansas’s standard for concussion treatment had her in a five step road to recovery. Phase one: a mile on the track. Phase two, 2 miles. Phase three, squats and push-ups. Four, practice with little to no contact and five, all in. But if the headaches, dizziness or nausea flared up again, it was back to square one.
Yet even after her recovery process, continuing to play was risky.
It’s like standing on train tracks, her mother Amy Frye explained. Maybe she won’t get hit, maybe she will.
And on Aug. 5th of last year, that train hit Libby.
She was sitting criss cross on the ground when a friend tripped behind her and slammed her knee into the back of her head. An accident, but this blow would prompt her dreaded visit to the doctor’s.
“My mom came home crying that night, she just wanted me to talk to her about it,” Libby said. “And I didn’t want to talk to anyone.”
Libby would never play soccer again, her doctor told her. He also told her that her parents had no say in the decision either, that his choice was final.
“The worst part for a parent is the helpless feeling that there’s nothing we can do about it,” Frye said. “Usually when you attack a problem you can come up with a plan as a family and fix it. But theres no way I can fix it for her. And so I have to watch her just be sad.”
Sad that she would never again feel the glory of a game-winning goal, sad that her Monday and Wednesday nights would now only consist of biology homework and sad that she would never fulfill her dream of being a four-year Varsity player.
“I was very excited to see her potential to do great things here and help us out,” Kelly said. “And even though she can’t help us out on the field, she has other options to be a part of the team.”
But with those options comes reliving the daunting questions that already run through her head. Why me? Why am I not out there? Why am I not playing?
While Libby may never know those answers, she’ll still be rooting for her teammates. Only, this time, by setting up goals and shagging balls as a manager for Varsity.
“You’ve got one brain, and we need to take care of it,” McKinney said. “Because we’re not just talking about right now, were talking about the rest of your life.”