When Olivia Hayward was smacked to the ground during an especially scrappy soccer game, she didn’t worry about her head. It was her wrist that seemed off. A 90-pound high-school freshman playing varsity ball, Hayward routinely drew the attention of sturdier players on the opposing side. “I got knocked around a lot in every game,” she said. Hayward hauled herself up off the muddy field, played until the end of the match, and went directly to a hospital, where x-rays indeed revealed a broken wrist.
Three days later, her head started to throb. Light bothered her eyes, and nausea killed her appetite. The athletic trainer at school insisted that she take the concussion test, the regular protocol after a blow to the head; like all athletes, she had taken the test for a baseline read at the start of the school year. This time, Hayward struggled to follow the shapes and colors flashing across the screen. “I failed!” she recalled. A doctor surmised that when Hayward snapped her head back, she’d suffered whiplash, which had concussed her brain. This was her second concussion.
She spent a fortnight “in sleep mode” and skipped school entirely for three weeks, relying on her parents to read aloud her text and email messages. She eased back into school, starting with one class a day, and sought extra help from teachers who in turn eliminated petty assignments and extended deadlines on missed tests and projects. Her mother warned that one more concussion would rule out any future sports that involved using the head. “This was really scary for me, because sports are a big part of my life,” she said. Hayward had been playing soccer since she was 6.