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Concussion Part 1: The Athletes Story

Concussion Part 1: The Athletes Story

Mar 29, 2023

Perform HQ

Concussion: Part 1 – Jess’ Story

Javelin throwers normally don’t get concussed. It’s a non-contact sport for a reason. But nonetheless in Feb 2020 I find myself lying on the track, head in hands and no clue how I ended up there. Turns out that while I was running down the runway, my spikes got caught together and I fell straight backwards onto my head. And now I was concussed and had no idea what day it was.

I knew I was at the track. And track days were Monday and Thursday.

“Is it Monday or Thursday?” I ask.


“Right, so I’ve got 5 days until the Sydney Track Classic.”


Classic Jess – of course the upcoming competition is the first thing on my mind.
We walk to the doctors. With blurry vision and poor balance, I nearly fall in the gutter. I practise saying the months of the year backwards and check my phone to see what the date and time is.

Gotta beat that SCAT-5 test.

It’s the sports doctor’s first day at the AIS and he’s completely run off his feet. He says he’s too busy to run through the tests and that I’ll probably be too irritable anyway. We’ll just do it tomorrow.

So I get driven home (a bit disappointed that I practiced my months of the year for nothing) and get left alone to sort myself out. I start vomiting but no one is around to help. Eventually the nausea eases and I get myself into bed, hoping and praying for a miracle when I wake up.

The next morning I remember that it’s Tuesday and that there’s a good reason as to why my head is so sore. Sydney Track Classic is only 4 days away. I’m feeling better but the back of my head is still very tender and I can’t string a sentence together.

Sitting in the waiting room, I tell myself that I must pass the SCAT-5 today to prove I can compete on Saturday. The doctor comes out and tells me that I’m looking a lot better. The room spins around me as I say “yes, I know – I’m feeling so good today!”.

My SCAT-5 results are excellent and my months of the year practice pays off. I report that my symptoms are very minor while in reality my eyes struggle to adjust to the bright lights and any movement sends me into a haze. Cleared to return to light cardio, I sit on the bike for 20 minutes before falling in a heap and spending the rest of the day in bed.

The next few days go by and I start to feel more like myself. My SCAT-5 results continue to improve, and the sports doctor dubiously clears me to compete on Saturday after I insist that I will be fine. My reasoning to him – “if there’s even a 1% chance that I can throw well, then I want to give it a crack.”

Great odds when you’ve had a mild traumatic brain injury. Competition day comes around – I fly from Canberra to Sydney as I’m still not allowed to drive. The
competition passes in a blur and I throw terribly (surprise).

An absolute mess, I fly home to South Australia to recover and get back on track. My symptoms gradually ease and I start to build some confidence that life can go back to normal.


A few weeks later I’m halfway through a throwing session when my vision becomes blurry and I struggle to coordinate my movements. I put it down to having low iron and tell my coach I’d better go chat to the sports doctor to get a blood test.

The sports doctor looks increasingly perplexed as I list of my symptoms. Blurred vision, difficulty concentrating, sensitivity to noise and light, poor balance, difficulty reading and holding conversations. He says “I don’t think you have low iron, I think you have post-concussion syndrome.”

And that’s where the nightmare starts. I’m told that I have to spend 10 days in a dark room with no mental or physical stimulation. Overwhelmed but with no clue what is going on and whether I even have other options, I do what I’m told. They were probably the longest 10 days of my life. Of course, my symptoms don’t improve – I have difficulty even seeing pitch black properly (don’t ask me how that works).

And so I get sent back for another 7 days of ‘post-concussion recovery’. 17 days in a dark room, right as COVID hits. Not a good start to 2020.

My symptoms continue and the sports doctor continues to be perplexed. I can’t stay in a dark room my whole life, so I start searching for other options and answers. I’m sent off for a brain scan which comes back normal. The next few months are full of appointments with optometrists, psychologists, neuropsychologists and we have an appointment with a neurologist lined up. I try to do my own research, but there is barely any information on post-concussion syndrome and how to manage it.

It’s easy to wonder whether I’m just making it all up and if there’s even anything wrong with me. All the while, I can barely read a sentence, hold a conversation or focus my eyes. Uni study has to be completed 10 minutes at a time, and I withdraw further and further into myself as my symptoms
make socialising almost impossible.

But thankfully, that’s not where the story ends. In one last ditch effort, my Mum tells me to go to a specialist concussion physiotherapist and see if they can help. I didn’t even know physio's dealt with concussions.

Doubtful, I walk into the consulting rooms and told the physiotherapist my story. To my immense surprise and relief, he tells me straight out that these symptoms were incredibly normal following concussion and that they can absolutely be managed.

A huge weight drops off my shoulders - here was someone who not only knew why I was getting symptoms, but also knew how to manage them.

And so the recovery journey began. Despite setback after setback, we worked tirelessly over the next 12 months to manage my symptoms and help me get back to myself again. I can’t say that I’m fully ‘fixed’ or that I never experience post-concussion symptoms anymore. But life is a lot easier now that I can hold a conversation or sit at my desk for longer than 10 minutes. And as I started to see progress and learn more about concussion management, I swore that I would
do everything in my power to ensure that others can avoid being in my situation.

Concussion is so easily ignored or dismissed as a minor injury. And so if I can bring even a small amount of awareness to the subject and help one person feel heard in their concussion recovery, then I hope I have done my job.

Now that’s enough dribbling on. This isn’t a story to ask for sympathy, but instead to bring awareness to the fact that concussion is not just a head knock, and that it has lasting impacts in all spheres of life.

However with the right help and management, the effects of concussion can be minimised and it is possible for athletes to return to full function. With a growing base of evidence and more awareness being raised around the topic, we can have hope that spending 2 weeks in a dark room is now a thing of the past.

In Part 2 of this blog, we will look at how concussion SHOULD be managed and strategies for recovering from post-concussion symptoms if they arise.

Written by Jess Bell.