Until 2010, Briana Scurry was a world-class athlete who had received both an Olympic gold medal and won the World Cup with Team USA. But, her career was suddenly ended by a traumatic brain injury and neck injury during a game.
“I know I blacked out for an instant and I was on the ground. It started to get a little bit fuzzy and I knew there was something wrong,” she says.
Since that fateful injury, Scurry hasn’t been able to compete, but that hasn’t kept her from being involved with athletics as an advocate raising awareness of traumatic brain injury.
“Talking about brain injury makes people uncomfortable. They don’t want to talk about it. But we need to talk about it because there are facts that people need to know,” Scurry tells Newsmax Health. “And No. 1 is the fact that, if you’re a highly competitive athlete, you will end up with a concussion at some point.”
While that might seem like an exaggeration, the data shows the risks for brain injuries rises significantly for athletes at the highest levels of competition. Football and hockey have both been heavily criticized for their high injury rates and management of brain injuries. Soccer, however, has been largely overlooked despite being one of the leading causes of sports-related brain injuries in women.
Scurry knows just how dangerous brain injuries in the sport can be. She was going after a low ball during a professional soccer game and was kneed in the side of the head when she experienced her life-changing concussion.
At first, doctors assumed the concussion was mild and would heal quickly, allowing Scurry to continue her career.
“That is usually what happens, but not in my case. I was one of the 10 to15 percent of people who sustained a serious brain injury, but no one realized it at the time,” she recalls.
Instead of quickly healing, her symptoms grew worse. She lived with intense daily headaches, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, balance problems, along with numerous emotional issues.
“I was anxious and depressed every day and I wondered if I’d ever get better,” she says.
It wasn’t until 2013, three years after her injury, that Dr. Kevin Crutchfield at Georgetown University Medical Center diagnosed her with a severe head injury. Ultimately, Scurry needed surgery on her bilateral occipital lobe to relieve her headaches, but she has gradually recovered.
Through her experiences, Scurry also gained a new perspective on her own sport.
“Before I was injured, my perspective was getting hit was ‘It’s no big deal, I’ll shake it off, I’ll be fine.’ But now I know differently, and getting hurt myself changed my whole attitude,” she says.
Following her injury, Scurry began researching brain injuries and noticed that women with TBI are often overlooked.
“I read an article that stated that one of every two female youth soccer players will suffer a concussion while playing. I realized that the number of reported cases were likely understated and probably didn’t account for the players who had suffered multiple concussions, like I had,” she says.
“Now that we have that data, I think the problem has come to a critical point in awareness,” she explained. “This is why the NFL had to address it, and TBI’s are becoming an important issue in other sports as well.”
Now that she has recovered, Scurry has made it her mission to raise awareness about the risks of brain injuries, especially in children and younger athletes.
“I am concerned about children that are playing pee wee football and youth sports. These are children so young that their brains aren’t even developed yet. If parents are going to let their kids play, need to educate themselves, and not make the coach the lone person responsible for your child’s welfare and health,” she says.
While she has learned a lot through her injury and long recovery, Scurry doesn’t regret her decision to be a professional soccer player.
“Sports has given me so much in my life,” she states, adding, “I’m just telling people that they need to be aware of what traumatic brain injury is and what to do if it happens to you.”