Katie Pittman closes her Grade 10 math textbook and clears her school work off the table. The Ottawa resident sets the books down in the corner by her backpack, where her hockey sticks used to be. Her mother stands over the blender, making a smoothie with added protein powder to speed up healing. She also takes Omega-3, magnesium, and melatonin.
When Pittman was 15 years old, she suffered another concussion during a game, hitting her head on the crossbar.
As a result, Pittman knows all about concussion treatment. She must avoid physical activity until her symptoms subside, and that means giving up hockey with her competitive Midget A team, the Ottawa Ice. Her sudden lack of ice time has caused a huge shift in her lifestyle.
“You go from skating every couple of days to not at all,” she says, folding her hands on the table top. “It's almost like you're giving up your life.”
For high-level players, hockey is life. They come home from school, do homework, eat, and head to the rink. Team members see each other almost every night, and the bonds between them are tight. When Pittman suffered her most recent concussion, her loss shook the team.
According to her coach, Claudio Colaiacovo, the team's morale dropped after players heard that Pittman would not be joining them again for the rest of the season. There were gasps in the dressing room. “I was devastated,” says Chiara Germano, who has been on Pittman's team for six years.
Pittman's loss carried over from the dressing room to the ice. Injuries take their toll, especially in the games played by more competitive teams such as hers. The first two periods in her Midget A league are 15 minutes long, and the third is 20 minutes. In house league games, the first and second periods are 10 minutes long and the third is 12 minutes.
Being down a player also disrupts the lineup. “The fact that we have different defence partners all the time, and different players playing different positions, brings a sense of insecurity to the team,” says Kayla McSorley, Pittman's defence partner before the concussion. “Especially since the defence hold the team together.”
“Because you can't fully hit, you can't take the body … there's a lot more stick stuff. I find there's more chance of falling and having more accidents,” Pittman says, speaking from experience.
Katie Weatherston, a member of Canada’s National Women’s Team when it won the gold medal at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy, knows all too well the damage such an accident can do. During a game of pick up hockey in 2009, she caught an edge and fell.
It was not her first concussion, and she recognized the symptoms immediately. They persisted for over two years. According to The Globe and Mail, the concussion left her unable to aim for the chance to play at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C.
Pittman has been suffering from post-concussion symptoms for over two months.
“Not that I'm counting; it's been 57 days since I played hockey,” she says. “I'm doing nothing.”
Although she’s not playing, Pittman is still involved in the sport. She works as a referee, and attends some of her team's games as a spectator. At one of those games, her mother asked her if their seats in the stands were good enough. Pittman responded, pointing to the ice, “Over there would be better.”
For more information on concussion awareness and safety, please visit www.HockeyCanada.ca/Concussions, where you can also download our new Concussion App for Androids and iPhones.
For more information on the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, please visit www.HockeyCanada.ca/2013Ottawa.