Using Her Head
BY TAYLOR EVANS // MAY 8, 2015 //
Abbey Sadlers was the kind of soccer player opposing teams hated going against. She played all out, nonstop, and was a physical presence well beyond her 5-foot-2 frame.
But that style of play came at a cost.
Sadlers, of Somerset, Mass., was unable to finish her sophomore season at Curry this past fall because of the countless concussions she has faced throughout her athletic career.
“I’m sure I’ve had more than six,” she says, noting that only six have been documented. Her first diagnosed concussion happened while playing soccer her junior year of high school. “I hate being hurt. I don’t like showing any vulnerability.”
Perhaps ironically, Sadlers says she didn’t come to Curry to play soccer. Instead, it was because she wants to work in health care.
“I knew from the start I wanted to go to either Curry of UMass Dartmouth because of their nursing programs,” says Sadlers. “I loved Curry’s campus and already had friends here because I had visited and met a lot of people through my older brother, Devin.”
Devin graduated in 2013, and was both a standout soccer player and a nursing major at Curry. He was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association Division III All-New England team in 2011, and was a first-team All-CCC selection his senior year. He is pursuing a master’s degree in nursing at Rhode Island College this fall.
Jason Tassinari has been the head coach of the Curry women’s soccer team for three years now. His office is covered with pictures—of his college days, the teams he has coached, his newborn daughter. But mostly there are pictures of his team here at Curry. A white board on his wall is filled with scribbles of formation ideas, the names of incoming recruits, and current players’ GPA’s. His passion for women’s soccer runs deep. And as any coach will tell you, a big part of the job is overseeing players’ health and wellness.
“Some concussions you see happen,” says Tassinari. “Others…it’s not so easy to tell and recognize.”
Tassinari took a second to collect his thoughts, followed by a deep breath.
“In Abbey’s case, I didn’t notice the first one, and she didn’t tell anyone,” he continues. “That went largely undetected and unnoticed because that is the type of competitor and player she is. She wanted to play and didn’t want anyone to know.
“As much as I appreciate her competitive fire, her health and wellbeing is something that comes first.”
Salders’s mother, Robbin, says it is often challenging to know when a sports-related injury requires extra attention.
“Abbey has always been a tough kid and played through many injuries, so when she complained about a constant headache we knew we had to seek a deeper diagnosis,” says Robbin.
“I have a lot to say about this issue,” she later adds.
The issue of concussions has received widespread attention in recent years as the consequences have become better understood. In 2012, American semi-professional soccer player Patrick Grange died at age 29. He suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as C.T.E. Two years earlier, a group of parents and players filed a lawsuit in California against FIFA. The lawsuit claimed that in 2010 alone, approximately 50,000 high school soccer players had suffered concussions. That is more than the number of concussions in basketball, baseball, softball, and wrestling combined, they reported.
Soccer is the most common sport with concussion risk for females—and third overall, behind football and ice hockey, according to a study by a company called High School R.I.O. The Sports Concussion Institute reports that some studies show female athletes are far more likely to get a concussion than male athletes are, but it’s somewhat unclear why.
Sadlers began to notice her symptoms two years ago. She says her studies suffered, as she once had to miss two entire weeks of classes due to a concussion. Sadlers says her nursing professors were very understanding, though, and she was allowed to make up exams in all five of her classes to stay on track.
“Its nerve wracking and frustrating because you spend so much money to go here, and losing one semester [would be] a big thing to me,” she says.
Sadlers’s family is heavily involved in the soccer programs at Curry. They’re the type of people who don’t miss a game, wear Curry gear to campus, and cheer for everyone. They’re the type of parents players want to talk to after a game because they will only have positive things to say. According to Robbin, passion can sometimes be blinding.
“As a parent, one of our ‘jobs’ is to make sure that our children are safe,” says Robbin. “Soccer is no longer safe for Abbey to play. No one knows what the next off-center head ball or intercepted cross will bring. Yes, I love to watch my daughter play soccer. However, her safety and wellbeing far outweigh the enjoyment of watching her play.
“I will admit that I was sad and disappointed to think that she will not play again, but the reality is she should not continue to play,” Robbin adds. “I was being selfish wanting her to continue to play. Shame on me. Her wellbeing and physical health far outweigh playing any sport.”
Tassinari echoes the sentiment.
“As a coach, sometimes you have to protect the player from themselves,” he says.
Like Tassinari’s office, Sadlers’s room is also filled with pictures. Most feature her friends and now former teammates. When asked what it feels like to know she won’t play soccer again, Sadlers gets quiet.
“Soccer has been my life. That’s how I met all my friends. It’s a huge part of my life that’s over,” she says. “It’s kind of hard to grasp that concept, but it’s life and I need to move forward.”