One Day at a Time

“How are you feeling today?” I get asked on a daily basis – about 20 times, by 20 different people. My normal response, “I’m feeling alright, pretty good.” Not knowing how to explain to every person: I feel like crap. My head hurts. It’s been months now and the statistics show concussions “usually” take a week, two weeks, to recover from. And here I am, trying to get through a normal day and feel like myself again, two months later.

One month into the season, I had a rough game. I was playing some of the best hockey I’ve ever played, and was getting tossed around with a few instances of getting pretty shaken. Every time I came back to the bench, I didn’t think anything else other than “I’m fine.” Two days later at practice, I didn’t know what was wrong but I had a headache like I had never had before. I didn’t know why, so I continued to play for the next week. Once again, I got a goal, and played some very good hockey. Little did anyone know in-between every shift I thought I was going to throw up on the bench.

This is when I knew. The moment the “C” word was going to be brought up when I told the trainer. NEVER do you want to be diagnosed with *gasp* a concussion, in hockey.

The next six months were pretty emotional. I went home for Christmas break, the whole 8 days our team got that year. My family was all together playing pond hockey on the lake in our backyard, but I couldn’t do anything but cry. My parents couldn’t fathom what was wrong with me. Imagine, waking up with your family, everything perfect, yet your daughter and sister just won’t stop crying. I wasn’t even sure why I was crying that morning, Christmas day. My head wasn’t hurting anymore than usual, it was just the mood swings and every internal pain that comes with concussions/injuries.

It became a routine: go to class, try to pay attention, and not start crying in which case I’d have to leave. Call family in-between every class and talk about pretty much nothing so I didn’t have time to let my mind wander. I’d meet my sport psychologist, talk about how I’m feeling alright and want to play the sport I love, but have to remember to just take it every day at a time. Do meditation exercises that I practiced on a daily basis when my headaches got too much to bear, and go to team practice (the toughest part, but used to be my favorite part of the day). Here, I’d still have to be the team player I’d been known as. Have to be positive, and be the energy the team needed. I’d watch practice and sit there and think for hours about different ways I could get my head better to speed up to process, of ways to help the team more … there must be something I can do to get back on the ice, right?

All I’ve learned my whole life is you get what you WORK for. If you want something, go get it. I’d travel every weekend, surrounded by a team who is only thinking about winning the next game. I’d watch all my non-hockey friends back at school doing different fun things, but I’d be on a bus, in a locker room, in a hotel, starting to realize it’s better to just not think at all. The more positive I tried to be, and the more I tried to help the team in the locker room, the more I wished I could help on the ice.

After tremendous amount of time and money, I came back to playing my Junior year. I wasn’t 100%. But I could get through a game without getting that bad of a headache, and for me it was just about getting through the game without thinking about my head. Why? Because was hockey was all I knew. I was good at it, my identity was being a hockey player, and above all else, I was the happiest when I could play hockey – even if it hurt.

Then the worst happened. I got another concussion. This one wasn’t as bad, but I knew I had to get the proper treatment and by 100% better before I spent the rest of my life miserable like I had been the past year.

The past year was not easy. But what made it easier was coming to terms with myself, knowing that I am not just a hockey player. I knew I was at an amazing college, I had friends outside of hockey, and most of all, all of girl hockey players (except for a small, growing amount!) are done playing after college anyways.

But, why could I not KNOW or CHOOSE the last time it would be for me to put on a Dartmouth Hockey jersey with number 21 on the back? In the moment, it was the most difficult thing to wrap my head around, my concussions led me to not be able to play competitive hockey again. Looking back, a year later from sobbing with my coaches and trainer, discussing how I could still be a part of the team without ever putting a jersey on again, I can not feel in a better place.

My senior year, I never played in another game. Except for senior night when my team and coaches generously asked me just nights before if I felt comfortable to suit up and be on the bench during the game. With tears in my eyes, senior night was perfect – my two classmates by my side and family in the stands who have all truly been with me through it all.

Now a year later from my world ending discussion, I am healthy and training to run a marathon. I made memories and friendships through senior year that will last a lifetime. I learned how to be the best teammate I could be without physically becoming more talented, and that was all that was expected. I learned my health truly is more important long term. I learned that I may have never chosen an outcome, or understand why that was the outcome, but to trust God in all that I do is the most important thing in life.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your path straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

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About the Author

Brooke Ahbe

Brooke grew up in Centennial, CO with a Dad from Canada, Mom from Chicago, and older brother and sister who played hockey at the college level. Her dad has played hockey his whole life, still plays, and was very involved in the coaching world while she was growing up. Her mother trains intensely for triathlons and competes nationally. She graduated from Shattuck St. Mary’s in 2014, a boarding school in Minnesota. She left Shattuck with a runner-up at nationals in 2014 and a National Champions title in 2013. She then graduated from Dartmouth in 2018 with a major in Psychology and Ethics.