You’re taught as a young kid to sort of put on these layers of armour, to get out there and get into the fray One of my grandfather’s old sayings, he said ‘It’s better to wake up in an ambulance than duck out of a contest’ Aww. You can hear the sound. Crunch! It reverberated around Australia, that one You’re so worried in professional sport you’re so worried about keeping a position on the team and the pressure of making the finals and the top eight And I obviously do think about it every now and then and I hope that I don’t have long-term
effects when I do finish. Something that’s really frustrating and quite sad I guess, I can’t actually go back and or go out and muck around with my mates and play footy and play for a club that I love. I was at a point in time where I was hoping that my career was starting to take off. Justin Clarke played in the AFL for five years. At 22, he was looking like a promising defender. It was just like any other normal day of pre-season I went out for a marking contest got a slight little nudge from behind and there was a roving player that was coming in the opposite direction. His knee collected my head and I was out for about half a minute. Concussion symptoms of headaches and inability of being able to exercise mood swings It all became much much more difficult to go about my day-to-day life. It only took one serious concussion for three separate neurologists to tell Justin he’d be mad to keep playing. After that neuropsych appointment I remember sitting in the car and I was inconsolable. It was very much if, you know, if you were my son there was no chance that I’d be letting you play football again. Since his career-ending concussion Justin Clarke has been working with the Queensland Brain Institute at
the University of Queensland, to better understand the effects of head knocks in sport Since concussion is a mild injury it affects the brain in a specific way the extent of damage we can’t assess so we can’t diagnose because we can’t see the effects I think that’s why most people ignore it. Dr Fatima Nasrallah is a neuroscientist with UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute, and is investigating the long-term effects concussion has on Aussie athletes. She believes concussion in sport is a real issue that’s not properly understood. You know we need to make people aware that these symptoms actually do reflect damage in the brain and you need to be cautious of how you react to that damage. Jude Bolton is as tough a footballer as I’ve seen I was drafted in 1999 so I mean, the attitudes then were that you know, it’s almost a bit of a joke. We used to call guys candles if you got knocked out one time You wouldn’t even worry about the assessment during the week or anything like that It’s just how you’re feeling get ready to go the next week. Jude Bolton is no stranger to a concussion or two, playing 325 games for the Sydney Swans. Those attitudes of the past, he says, need to change. It wasn’t until my grandfather came back, I think was a year or so later, I had two concussions in a game and he just sort of said ‘you don’t want to be a dribbling mess when you’re an old man’ and I look back now and I feel I was pretty foolish to get back out on the field An injury and playing with injury is a badge of honour, without a doubt David Croft played for Queensland and Australia in rugby union He doesn’t want to see the confrontational nature of the game disappear but says the glorification of hits is part of the problem The fact that your brain gets bruised or injured and you can still run around is a scary thing Brain injury is no different to a corked thigh or a busted knee It should be treated the same Professor Mike O’Sullivan is a neurologist at UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute He says the long-term effects of head knocks aren’t necessarily just a result of serious concussions If you thinking about smoking, it’s the total exposure in terms of number of cigarettes or amounts of tobacco of in a whole lifetime that counts I think with head injuries it’s probably the cumulative energy absorbed by the brain in collisions that count But this damage isn’t always easy to detect In fact, concussions may not have any obvious symptoms and just because symptoms disappear or didn’t show up in the first place, it doesn’t mean an athlete is safe to return to play You might get symptoms for a week and they’re gone but the actual damage in the brain lasts for weeks and weeks Because we know that there is a vulnerable window where your brain is trying to recover from that mild injury if you get even the slightest concussion again, that might linger the symptoms and also linger the brain damage Amanda Farrugia is captain of AFLW Giants and admits these knocks are just part of the game Yeah it’s pretty scary because it happens so quickly and a lot of the times you don’t know that it’s coming it’s quite a shock Often you feel that whole really quick movement of your neck While she prides herself on having courage over the ball she’s also a teacher and wants a life after footy so she takes these knocks seriously I’m the one who has to live with my brain for the rest of my life Football won’t pay the bills forever but my career in teaching will and I need my brain for that Although Amanda’s attitude is a reflection of the changing culture in Aussie sport concussion is an invisible injury that remains under-researched and underfunded For some, like NRL legend Martin Lang the uncertainty of concussion’s long-term effects are enough to make them wish they never played Look, if I had my time again I wouldn’t do it but I don’t regret it, if that makes any sense In my case, I didn’t start thinking as clearly about things until I was well-retired. Everybody knows I wasn’t blessed with a lot of natural ability and that’s why I had to play like I did I played that physical-type game where I did have to put my body on the line If I didn’t play like that I probably wouldn’t have played in the NRL so, was it a good decision or not? Time will only tell I think knowledge is power, so I think the more we find out about something the safer a game will be Although that knowledge, Rugby’s Charlotte Caslick believes isn’t really being imparted to athletes I think if I’d never experienced one before I probably would have no idea about how severe and serious they can be and so I think it would be nice if we did get educated a little bit more around it – we obviously do a lot of anti-doping and gambling and all of those things including the sport but not so much concussion at this stage. While professor Mike O’Sullivan believes the codes are doing well based on the information they have he says it’s not driven by enough science To really sort the problem out we need to see much greater collaboration across larger studies, across codes, and in large groups of people We don’t want to see sports die because of worries about what it’s doing to the brain, which may be misplaced And I think there is a huge onus on the research community to work constructively with sport I think to be able to understand, we need to perform the research and to be able to perform the research we need people to be aware that this is a problem it is solvable, if we understand more about it Justin Clarke is now studying aeronautical engineering at the University of Queensland Although he’s living with a different version of normal he doesn’t blame footy It’s something that gives so much to you as a person or improves your life quality from a health aspect, from a mental health aspect it’s just a fantastic part of society But it’s just knowing that there are risks and there needs to be mitigation controls put in place to make sure that we’re not putting ourselves at undue risk

Concussion in sport: making athletes safer with research

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