“She knocked me out cold,” says Ryleigh, who was 15 at the time.
It was the third time Ryleigh had hit her head at practice that week—the previous day a teammate had accidentally kicked her in the sternum, knocking her to the floor, and later that same day, another girl had fallen from a pyramid and landed on Ryleigh’s head. Even so, Ryleigh’s coach didn’t seem concerned. Once Ryleigh regained consciousness, she checked to make sure Ryleigh had all her teeth.
Then she said to get up and do the stunt again.
Despite feeling dizzy and confused, Ryleigh did what she was told—and that’s not unusual for student athletes. In one survey, 42 percent said they had hidden or downplayed an injury so they could keep playing or participating in their sport. When asked why, they said things like, “It was an important game” or “I couldn’t let the team down.”
But playing through the pain can have devastating consequences. Nine out of 10 student athletes say they’ve had a sportsrelated injury, and while some are simple sprains and strains, others cause debilitating longterm problems—or even death.
Ryleigh survived her accident, but her life was never the same. Doctors diagnosed her with serious brain damage caused by repeated concussions—hits to the head that make your brain shake violently in your skull. Her condition worsened until she was unable to walk, let alone do a backflip or a split. She lost vision in one eye, had trouble thinking, and developed tremors in her legs that made her entire body shake violently. She never cheered again.