Josephine U. Pucci '13
A Crimson hockey player with Olympic ambitions, Pucci talks about the injuries that caused her to withdraw from college. Source: http://www.thecrimson.com/feature/concussions/
Harvard Defenceman, Pucci's Last Five Months -05 February, 2013
Before my last concussion, which I have been striving to overcome the last five months, I felt indestructible. I felt like I was blazing through a path full of excitement and I was headed in the right direction to achieve my dreams. And now, to some people, everything may appear to be put into question. I see people look at me and feel sorry about the unexpected situation that has unfolded. I mean, yeah, my concussion lead me to drop out of college for the year, take my senior season off from Harvard Hockey, and decline my invitation to wear the Team USA jersey and compete internationally.
Even so, there is not a chance in the world that the last few months have been a waste of time. I couldn't live the life I loved and knew this year, but that doesn't mean I just stopped living. I am the same person, with the same goals, but in a way I am different. I am different because the last five months have offered me experience, perspective, growth, and inspiration. Instead of spending the last few months thinking about what I could have had or should have had, I was making the most of the life I was capable of having.
It was the first time in seven years I was home for more than one month at a time—I went away to prep school at age fourteen. I
have appreciated my time around those who love me unconditionally and learned from them every single day. I loved the opportunity to coach hockey to youngsters, teach second graders math, speak at mass, and visit some relatives for the first time in years. I have perfected the ability to sit alone for hours and not experience any boredom. I would travel through my mind reflecting, dreaming, and contemplating my views, goals, and values. I developed a peaceful heart and am genuinely happy for others’ successes even though I can't be a part of it, too.
I have been introduced to a medical world full of unanswered questions about brain trauma, and my Social and Cognitive Neuroscience concentration in me cannot help but feel drawn into this area of research as a post college option.
But most of all, I have had the opportunity to meet some very extraordinary people. I visited doctors in New York City, Boston, and even Atlanta, and I learned so much from speaking with some of the most intelligent people in the field of neurology, which perked my huge interest in the topic. However, the places I learned the most were actually in the waiting rooms where I met and spoke with people suffering from other neurological conditions, and their families. It is here in the waiting room where a sense of community is quickly developed as each of its members is determined to overcome his or her own obstacle, and when it finally happens, it truly is one of most tear-jerking experiences.
It is in Dr. Carrick’s waiting room in Atlanta where patients are told that there is a way the seemingly endless downward spiral can slow down and head back upwards.I have been brought to tears while hearing the inspiring stories from those who sacrificed everything to find that hope that says the future will be a little bit brighter than the past. Whether it is being able to sit or stand without pain, being able to speak more clearly, and even being able to walk more naturally...patients and their families put everything aside to seek some kind of progress. And what is most humbling of all is that some of these patients may never be completely “normal” or “healed,” but to them, it is all worth the sacrifice even if the smallest bit of improvement can be made.
It is so overwhelmingly powerful witnessing the joy in the faces of patients and their loved ones when they are finally making progress and could do something they once weren’t capable of doing. It instills a sense of belief that a path of improvement and new opportunity could be ahead.
The feeling that patients strive for… that feeling of improvement, that feeling of becoming better at something, which gives patients and their loved ones such a rush of joy… that dedication and desire to progress is something that we as people and even as athletes should search and fight for everyday. Throughout life, it’s inevitable to experience challenges. What we start out with in life and many of the setbacks we experience along the way are just out of our control.
It is easy to be positive when things are going well, but faith and hope is what keeps that fire burning within you during the harder times. It is resilience and strength that gets you climbing out of these difficult situations and making something of it; making it better than it was before in one way or another. We all start out in life with certain talents, abilities, and opportunities… it’s not only about what you have that counts. It is what you make of what you have that means the most.
Everyday in that waiting room, I witnessed people making the very most of what they had. I saw people who never took impossible as the answer and fought for years to make a gain, even if only a small one, which meant all the difference to them. It is inspiring to witness someone who wants something so bad and finally takes that big step. It is a story we all love to hear because it gives us hope that we can do the same, in any realm of life.
No matter what level each of us is capable of functioning and performing, we all have the potential to make progress. We all have that engine in our gut that craves improvement; and if the engine is not being worked, if we have nothing to work towards, we are stagnant or digressing—and a part of us dies inside. We are all capable of experiencing the satisfaction that comes from becoming better in that special something that holds a place in our hearts.
For many, hockey holds that place in the heart. Players need to strive for that feeling of stepping on the ice day in and day out knowing you were better than the day before. Heading to bed after a hard fought game that exemplified progress is one of the best feelings in the world. It is those small steps forward that give enough satisfaction and sense of achievement to make each day a great one. Hockey is such a great sport because it provides opportunity to learn many of life’s lessons. In life, we all have the ability to improve, and if we let it, those feelings of accomplishing progress have the power to change our world.
What have I been doing the last five months? I have been growing. Becoming more confident, more aware, more well rounded,stronger, positive. I have learned to live the patient and simple life, finding pleasure in the things I've always been too busy to notice.
Who knows where life will take me in the near future. There are certain things I can't control, but I can determine my attitude, view, and effort. So yes, I go to the rink each day with the dream of representing the USA and earning gold.
And I hope to return to Harvard and win a national championship with my teammates (hopefully it will be at least their second by that time :). Who knows if these dreams will ever be accomplished, and although I have been limited due to a concussion, I continue to improve to the best of my ability both on and off the ice.
I am thankful and happy today because I know I am doing the best I can every single day to become a better person, athlete, student, sister, daughter, friend, teammate, and example. And that progress leaves me falling asleep each night with a peaceful mind and full heart.
So, were the last five months a waste? Not a chance. I am who I am today because of it and I am continuing to learn from the process each and every day. And to those who are battling a concussion right now, I'll pass along the message that other "concussion survivors" passed onto me... Be patient, the ups and downs are inevitable, and it will all get better.
Here's to those bumped off the only path they thought they knew. Make a new one and call it your own. It may be a rougher terrain, but that's where you'll come across some of the best sights.
And last, a never-ending thanks to those who love me and those who have inspired me along the way. No battle can ever truly be won alone.
All the best to you!
It is difficult to fully understand the long-term concussion experience unless you have actually lived it or know a close friend or family member that has done so. The consequences of brain trauma can be extremely debilitating and the symptoms can be frighteningly unpredictable. There is no doubt that concussions are gaining a lot of attention lately, and rightfully so. I hope you will all join this wave and learn as much as you can about brain trauma because many of the most serious concussions occur when the first blow is not properly addressed and recognized. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, then you may not be fully healed--don't rush back to play too quickly. A concussion is not an injury to “tough out.”