Anna Rudinski - Colby College Ice Hockey and Field Hockey
Anna Rudinski is a senior at Colby College retired from division III ice hockey and field hockey and is currently a student coach. This is her journey to being #New Tough and a proud Team Rep for Colby for Concussion Awareness Week 2019:
“Growing up, my biggest dream was to be a college athlete. I wanted to be the best player at every camp or tournament I went to so I could be recruited to a college that I could be proud of. Being an athlete became a source of pride and a big part of my identity. So when I earned the opportunity to play both ice hockey and field hockey at Colby College, it felt like all of my dreams were coming true.
In the fall of 2017, a field hockey ball rolled up my stick, hit my knee and deflected off my eyebrow. I didn’t think much of the initial hit. My team didn’t have any subs, so while the play stopped, I didn’t leave the field. I was the starting right back and our team was doing well; they needed me to play. I continued to play for the next two weeks through intensifying headaches. It was a constant battle. Finally, after a game under the lights, I found myself at my limit. I reported my symptoms and began my school’s concussion protocol.
What I thought would be a two or four week speed bump turned into a grueling process to recovery. Every time I felt good enough to try and return to exercise I would feel symptoms of dizziness, fatigue, and an overall feeling of being out of it. I started to get aggressive vertigo that wouldn’t go away unless I slept. It was a nightmare.
Field hockey season came and went and as ice hockey season started, my coaches kept asking where I was in my recovery and when they expected me to be back. I couldn’t give them a straightforward answer because I didn’t have one. It was infuriating knowing there was something wrong with my brain, but no one could tell me more than just “wait it out” or “continue doing what you’re doing.”
Eventually, my doctor at school and I had a conversation about my return to play. Ultimately, the decision came down to me. I knew that returning to play contact sports was not in my best interest; another concussion could change my life. But giving up this piece of my identity was just as frightening.
Deciding not to play anymore was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do and my mental health began to decline because of it. I was isolated from my teammates, my coaches, and my family. I couldn’t do the one thing that had always made me feel good about myself. I no longer had something that I could point to and say, “Look, look what I’ve done. How amazing is that?” Not only did I lose my sense of pride in myself, but I also felt like I was letting down all of the people whose help and sacrifices had gotten me to where I was.
It took a long time and a very serious commitment to myself to learn that my ability to perform athletically does not measure my value. When I started taking time away from sports, I realized that there were so many other options I could pursue. School became a focus of mine and I started to feel the same level of pride in my academic performance as I did in my athletic performance. I co-founded a new club focusing on promoting mental health awareness in student athletes on campus. I started to notice myself enjoying more things outside of my sports. Even though I wasn’t playing anymore, I was still proud of myself and felt passionate about the things I was doing. It felt healthier and more sustainable, which in and of itself, is something that I am very proud.
When I found the Headway Foundation’s campaign, it was amazing to see how many other people are muddling their way through the same challenges I was and am. I am grateful for the commitment Headway has made to spread the work of the New Tough campaign. It is an important message that will positively impact the lives of athletes in programs all across the country, just as it has impacted mine. ”