'My head is an egg': Katie Weatherston's life after concussions
Weatherston got her first concussion at the Team Canada training camp in Kenora, Ont. in 2006
Less than ten years ago, Katie Weatherston was at the top of her career as a professional hockey player, with no signs of slowing down, until she was hit from the back in 2006 which left her with a concussion she still struggles with today.
In her four years at Darthmouth College, she was the top goal-scorer for the school's women's hockey team and the NCAA competitions. In her final year at college, Weatherston was also on the women's national team during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, where she won her first gold medal.
That's not all, in 2007 Weatherston won her second gold medal at the Women's World Ice Hockey Championship in Winnipeg, followed with a silver in 2008 in Harbin, China.
"It was a dream come true, something you work so hard for," Weatherston proudly recalled, "but for me that was an especially great year because I overcame so much."
Weatherston said she showed up to the world championship try-outs in crutches, recovering from her ankle surgery, but ready to make it on the team after not making the cut last year.
"No one thought I was going to make that team. The coach had me ranked 27th of 28 players going in and only 20 [athletes] made it," Weatherston said.
Today Weatherston's life as a professional hockey player is nothing but a fond memory and experience. Almost a decade later, the athlete still suffers from post-concussion symptoms following a hit she took during the Team Canada training camp in Kenora, Ont.
"I got cross-checked from behind and went head first into the boards," Weatherston explained, "but you know, you get up and you shake it off."
Weatherston said she went to see the team doctor in-between periods to make sure she was okay. After some basic testing, she was medically cleared to get back into the game.
"That was probably the worst decision of my life," Weatherston said, "because I got hit two more times that game."
Soon after, Weatherston collided with another team mate at centre ice, but she said it was the third hit that really made her realize something was not right.
"It was so minor, it was kind of like an out-of-body experience," Weatherston continued, "all I did was just touch a girl's head in the face-off circle and it felt like my head just exploded and hit a brick wall."
In the days after those hits at training camp, Weatherston's life and career as professional hockey player took a turn for the worse.
"I went to the hospital and had to get an MRI because I was having severe neck pains and nausea," Weatherston explained, and when the doctor confirmed her concussion, in her senior year of college, the athlete was forced to miss a few months of hockey.
Three months later, Weatherston was back on her feet and doing what she loved most once again, until a minor fall gave her whiplash in 2008.
"I didn't even hit my head again on the ice," Weatherston explained, but "your brain going splish-spash inside your skull [and] I could feel that."
Sure enough, that minor whiplash gave Weatherston another concussion.
"Now basically, my head is an egg so any minor fall, you'll probably feel that splish-splash and there's another minor concussion," Weatherston said.
"That was probably a really rough time for me...because anytime you do anything you just get the airplane, ear-popping-sensation, head-pressure," Weatherston said.
For the first two years, Weatherston said she could not wear sandals, walk on pavement or hard surfaces, wear a hat or even tie her hair.
"I couldn't throw a baseball," she said, because the simple act of throwing a baseball would rattle her brain and give her another minor concussion.
With everything Weatherston has gone through in the past eight years, she's now using her experience to not help young athletes and students who are suffering from concussion, but also to raise awareness about the importance of protecting your brain and the mental illness that comes with it.
This past year, Weatherston said she met a student who suffered a concussion but decided to go for a run because the doctors told him he could get back into exercising once the symptoms disappeared.
Weatherston said it's misinformation like that, that shows how important awareness around concussions are.
"You can't look at where you were before, because that's never going to happen," Weatherston recommended, "it's an adjustment...[and] I'd be the first one there to support a kid because it's a nightmare and kids don't have the coping skills."