Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, May 21, 2015

On Being Invincible....

"I might have gotten a concussion ... have a headache again."
"How was your game?"
"Well I smashed it on the ground and then got kicked in the head."
"Doesn't that happen every time?"
"Which is why I probably have a concussion."
"Ya well. You need to stop dying. Are you still going to play on Wednesday?"
"Yeah. Nothing can stop meeee! Unless I'm dead."
"I'm sure you'll be fine by then."
"Unless concussion!"
"Are you going to get it checked?"
"Nope. Just see if it gets worse. Meh, what's some brain damage gonna hurt?"
Rowan Stringer, 17, Ottawa high school rugby captain; email exchange with friend Michelle Hebert

Rowan Stringer, seen here playing rugby, suffered two concussions in less than a week that led to Second Impact Syndrome. (Family photo)
"Rowan wasn't the sort of kid who would talk about how nasty other teams were. But she complained one team were pulling hair, elbowing, stepping in ankles with cleats and swearing."
"I don't know whether she would have told me, [had she asked her daughter directly about her headache], but (maybe) it could just take one question."
"What you need to do [is not restrict children participating in sports] is to find ways to prevent it [concussion during sports] happening again."
"You have to look after your brain. Without it you're nothing."
Kathleen Stringer, mother of Rowan Stringer

"I tried to hide my injuries all the time. My parents were worried what football would do to me. You try to get up and be as normal as possible [if you're hit and hurt your head], so you don't get taken out of the game."
"I wasn't smart enough to stop."
Matt James, high school football player, friend of Rowan Stringer

In early May of 2013, when Rowan Stringer played her very last game, she was captain of John McCrae high school's rugby team, a young woman who loved sports, excelled at what she enjoyed, and was proud of her position as team captain, utterly committed to her lead role for her team, and her high school. In the last few years the issue of head injuries with relation to sports like boxing, like hockey-playing, like football, has come under greater scrutiny.

Players no longer active, but once leaders in their field of sport, having suffered one too many hits to the head now attempt to lead normal lives, but suffer fallout from the physical injuries they sustained over time, re-injuring themselves constantly until they retired from the game that they played with pride and passion. Team managers focus on scores and wins, not on the condition of their players.

It's like that in professional sports and it's like that in amateur sports, and it's like that in sports played at public schools. Coaches may be exposed briefly to safety issues, but the emphasis is on training the players, coaching them to win. An inquest is being held in Ottawa to examine the issue of hard and potentially dangerous physical contact in some sport activities.

And it has focused on the death of 17-year-old Rowan Stringer, who suffered one concussion after another, until she finally succumbed to the grave damage she sustained. "If she got a bruise or something, she would wear it with pride -- a warrior wound", a friend who played alongside Rowan in her last game.

"There was a hit" recalled Judy Larabie, "I got tackled and threw it off to Rowan, who ran a few yards before she was tackled. She was still lying there. She sort of raised up and then dropped back down", explained Judy Larabie, speaking of her friend, a tough competitor and a natural leader. Rowan Stringer, treated at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario never recovered consciousness.

"Second-impact syndrome"; a pre-existing brain injury from a previous game, added to an additional insult to the head causing further brain injury signalled her death knell. It is considered to be a relatively rare event. But it certainly killed Rowan Stringer. "It was a fluke accident. There aren't a lot of deaths in rugby. It isn't a violent sport. I sustained more injury playing soccer", said Judy Larabie.

Rowan's coach at her high school, Zachary Logue, testified that he had been required to take a mandatory three-hour Safe Rugby course before embarking on his coaching stint with John McCrae high school. Rowan had, shortly before her death, played three games in a tournament. She had complained of a headache after the second game, asking her mother for an Advil before starting on the third game.

"I didn't think too much about it", Kathleen Stringer testified at the inquest, of her daughter continuing to complain of a headache, which her mother, at the time, had attributed to playing all day in the sun. Her daughter hadn't shared with her parents the complaints about continual headaches that she spoke of to her friends.

Rowan exchanged text messages with her friend James, who had expressed his concern that she might have a concussion. "Once you get one it's easier to get them that's the only concern you should have", he evidently advised her. "Yay! Well, I'm not sure if I do so let's hope not", she responded, informing him that because of her headaches she would prefer not to play that final game.

He speculated in hindsight, that she had decided to play that last game after all, since she was team captain and obviously believed that she had an especial responsibility, as a result. A team player, particularly one in a lead position of captain, doesn't let down the team. A decision that cost her dearly; the last game she would ever play in her young life.

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