Without sports, I truly do not know what I would be doing in any part of my life. Growing up, I played hockey all winter, soccer all summer and any other sport in between for leisure. I have been a die hard NHL fan since birth watching Don and Ron on Saturday as my friend and I played mini-sticks on the floor in front of the TV. As I grew older, I was introduced to NFL football and I fell in love with another sport taking part in fantasy leagues and watching the pre game show on sleepy Sundays with college roommates.
Upon graduating, I was able to turn sports into a career being involved with hockey on a day-to-day basis. Sports gave me so many opportunities, friendships, and memories. For that, I am forever grateful. I was fortunate enough to play four years of junior hockey for the same organization. This was a special part of my life as I was able to play the game I love and feel at home with management and my teammates. In November of 2013, my third year of junior, I experienced a concussion that would alter my life for years to come. We were on the road and it was the first game of a double header. Playing junior, we had a trainer who looked after the well-being of our players. However, it wasn’t by any means the attention I needed. At the time, I thought nothing of it. I didn’t lose consciousness, I didn’t forget anything, and I definitely didn’t think it was a concussion. Sure, I had a headache, but I had just been punched in the jaw. I went back to the bench, had a shot of water, and got back out there.
That night, like many junior players, we made our way to the local drinking hole and had a few celebratory beverages. There was no quiet room and it certainly wasn’t a night for rest and recovery. The next day we were back on the ice for game two. Halfway through the game, I was hit from behind into the boards. My head snapped back and similar to the first incident, I experienced a headache without any other symptoms. Again, I went to the bench, took a shot of water, and got back out there. Tired, dehydrated, and sitting with a throbbing headache, I hopped on the bus for the three hour ride home.
The next few days were some of the toughest in my life. I went for a beer with a classmate at the campus bar. There was an illuminated light at the end of our table as we sat and drank our tankards. I remember looking at the light as I thought about some irrelevant matter. Next thing I knew, I had fallen halfway out of my chair. I recovered and the boys had a cheap laugh at my expense. I thought nothing of the incident in the bar until two days later. The school day was over so my roommates and I were sitting in the living room firing up the gaming system to play a game of hockey on the console. I picked up my controller and began to play. Minutes into the game, my vision blurred. I got a splitting headache and could no longer focus on the television, but this was no ordinary headache. I couldn’t handle it. I quickly apologized and headed upstairs where I was sick for what felt like half an hour. Exhausted, I went to my room and passed out.
The next 7 months followed a very similar pattern. I would wake to start my day and within an hour would feel sluggish and dizzy. I would attempt to begin my day and complete medial tasks. The first hour was usually manageable, however beyond that point was a battle. Focusing on a screen or projector in class was nearly impossible. Simple things like looking at a digital clock or display would cause headaches and would be challenging to focus on. My eyes were constantly moving even when they were closed. My brain scrambled to make sense of bright lights and moving images. Now, what you’re likely assuming is that there is no way I could possibly be playing hockey. But you’d be wrong. The opportunity to play out my junior career with the same team was too enticing to pass up. I sat out for two weeks before returning to the ice. My symptoms weren’t much better but I went back all the same. I made it through the year and returned to Ottawa for the summer.
After a month of work, it was clear I couldn’t function. I was weak, fatigued and incapable of making it through an 8 hour shift without headaches and blurred vision. I left work and spent the next three months with specialists. I got to know Martin Trudel particularly well and spent numerous mornings doing rehabilitation with him and his staff. He worked on my neck and back muscles through various techniques including acupuncture and active release. My main symptom at this time was an inability to focus and after about an hour of being awake, every day for a year, these rapid eye movements would cause fatigue, headaches, and dizziness. I should tell you that almost as difficult as the symptoms was the frustration. Frustration that I wasn’t getting better despite all of the treatments. I remember a particular day where frustration was most prevalent. I was feeling better to the point that I would be reintroduced to physical activity for the first time since the season ended. I rode the stationary that morning at physio to test my response. After five minutes, I experienced nausea and dizziness. My anger and frustration was at it’s peak. This is where the professionalism of Martin truly came forward. He kept me focused and over time, my symptoms subsided. I could never thank him enough.
With concussions, there is no immediate fix though and my symptoms, subsiding slowly, lasted with me for parts of three years. To this day, I’m not sure that I have returned to 100%. There were bad days and good days. Days that I struggled with depression and days I thought I would never be the same again. It is at this time that support from friends, family and professionals is so crucial. Concussions are invisible. Mental struggles are invisible. Symptoms show through but society has trouble accepting these people at times. I was lucky. I have great friends and a supportive family that got me the help I needed. It’s those that don’t have these support systems that I worry about and who are the inspiration for this article.
I make a living working in the sport I love and while these three years were the toughest of my life, I wouldn’t trade the friends, memories and opportunities since that I have made through sport. For anyone reading this article, I hope you never have to deal with a concussion and the residual effects. However, if you do, I hope you talk about it and get the support you need. I hope you also reach out to those battling with mental issues and be their support system.
With the prevalence of CTE in football and other sports becoming more and more prevalent, we are already too late for some. Let this generation make a change in the way we look at concussions so that more people don’t have to suffer. Thanks for reading.
– Lino Dixon
Lino Dixon, the male hockey coordinator for Notre Dame and scout for the Seattle Thunderbirds. An Ottawa native, Lino played sports throughout his youth and continued to play Junior hockey in university where he was affected by concussions. Lino, a family friend, is not only dedicated, passionate and confident but he is also an incredibly talented writer who writes for The Ocho