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Lauren Long starts 'Life After the Game' to help athletes affected by concussions

CONCUSSIONS IN SPORTS — Former soccer player Lauren Long lives every day with the repercussions of having suffered multiple concussions. With ‘Life After the Game,' she hopes to provide support to others in the same position.
by Jenni Carlson Published: February 25, 2013
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photo - Former soccer player Lauren Long’s series of concussions that have left her with memory and concentration problems that she will never recover from.  Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman
Former soccer player Lauren Long’s series of concussions that have left her with memory and concentration problems that she will never recover from. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman

Lauren Long has yet to recover from the injury she suffered six years ago on the soccer field.

She will never recover from it.

“I may improve in certain aspects,” she said, “but I'll never be normal again.”

What injury is so severe, so devastating that it has altered the life of the Putnam City West High alum?

A concussion.

Long is among the millions of Americans who suffer sports-related concussions every year. Unlike the lucky ones who recover after being diagnosed and treated, she was concussed nearly a dozen times during her career before she ever heard the word concussion applied to her.

She lives every day with the repercussions.

“A good day is when I just don't have a headache,” she said. “The really, really bad days are when I don't want to get out of bed.

“You just feel awful, and nobody can see it.”

Now, Long is hoping to shed light on this injury that has changed her life and that of many others. She is trying to help those who suffer in silence like she did.

Long never imagined her passion for soccer would lead to this point.

She started playing the sport when she was 7 years old. She'd played tennis before, but “it wasn't that physical, so I really didn't like it.” Soccer fed her love of physical sports. There was slide tackling, there was marking, and there was heading the ball.

How she loved those headers.

“I wasn't the fastest,” Long said. “I wasn't the strongest. But I could win any ball in the air.”

One of the first times she believes she had a concussion was on a header. Sort of. She was 13 years old playing in a tournament in St. Louis when a player deflected a corner kick. The ball came up quickly and smacked Long on the forehead.

It snapped back her head.

“I didn't head the ball,” she said. “It headed me.”

She'd never been in so much pain in her life.

Even though the play left her with a terrible headache, no one ever mentioned anything about holding her out of a game the next day.

No one raised any red flags a few years later either when she cracked heads with another player during a college showcase in Austin, Texas. The play broke her nose, which got plenty of attention, but when Long started acting unlike herself — pulling at players' jerseys and throwing down opponents — no one realized that was a sign of a concussion.

It wasn't until her senior season at Mid-America Nazarene University in suburban Kansas City that anyone ever diagnosed her with a concussion.

She took an elbow to the face, blacked out for a moment, then had her head bounce off the turf when she fell to the ground.

She continued playing.

“I felt like I was floating,” Long said.

In the locker room at halftime, she asked her coach if they could go for ice cream after the game.

The next day, she felt like she had the flu, but she had no virus. She had another concussion.

“And I haven't recovered since,” Long said.

Nearly six years have passed, and Long has felt the effects of her concussions every day since. She struggles with short-term memory. She suffers from concentration impairment because her ability to filter out noises is nonexistent; she hears everything around her at much the same level. She battles migraine headaches.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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