2 soccer concussions spur on field hockey star

An Ottawa teenager who suffered two debilitating concussions is now one of the province's top athletes.

Rowan Harris now on Ontario field hockey team

Teen athlete beats concussion

10 years ago
Duration 3:37
An Ottawa teenager who suffered multiple head injuries says she's back on the field, years later.

An Ottawa teenager who suffered two debilitating concussions is now one of the province's top athletes.

Head injuries can sideline a player or even end in tragedy, but Rowan Harris has learned her own limits to get back on the field over a four-year ordeal.

When Harris was 12, her big goal was to be one of the best soccer players her age in the city.

Rowan Harris, an Ottawa teenager who suffered a debilitating concussion, is now one of the province's top athletes. (Kate Porter/CBC)

She was about to try out for the provincial team when suddenly, everything changed.

Kept playing after ball to the head

"My own teammate went to clear the ball but mis-kicked it and I got it right in the side of the head and from fairly close up. But I kept playing for the rest of the game and kept getting hit," said Harris.

She said she and her family now realize it was a mistake to keep playing that day.

"When she came home … she's quite a tough kid and she was crying and upset, she had a sore neck and a sore head," said her mother Janet Chow.

Harris had pressure in her head and nausea that went on months.

Harris said she wore sunglasses and earplugs to block out aggravating light and noise, and spent long hours in her room trying to ease her symptoms.

"After you have so much energy, you're putting forth so much and you have to completely shut down," she said.

"That's where the mood swings set in because you're not used to being so cramped up."

Provincial U-18 goalie

Harris finally went back to soccer, only to suffer another concussion while attempting a header that put her out another two years.

She said it was a difficult time period she ended up documenting in a journal.

"I can't stand it, I'm missing out on so much. Soccer, my friends at school, awards, track. It goes on and on and I'm stuck," read one entry.

"I physically can't do it and I can't put it down into words … The more my head hurts, the more annoyed I get and the more I want to let loose my energy."

Harris, 16, in net. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Finally, her doctor cleared her to get back into sports last year and she chose field hockey.

"I have to be aware of myself and my limits," said Harris.

She is now 16 and has taken to her new sport with as much drive as she did soccer.

She recently made the under-18 field hockey team for all of Ontario and will travel to Vancouver later this month for the national championship, as its starting goalie.

On the side, she and high school classmate Tim Austen (who hit his head while biking) have started up a "concussion club" at school. They sometimes bring in guest speakers but mostly use it as a chance to hang out with others who have gone through the recovery process.