By Drew Costley
In early December 2011, George Mason High School senior Rebecca Moot suffered a concussion after being elbowed in the head while defending an opposing team’s guard for George Mason’s varsity basketball team. As a result, Rebecca, a sophomore at the time, was sidelined for 12 days, but was cleared to return to the court after passing an impact test.
But in her first game back to the court she suffered another concussion in “almost the same way,” according to her father, John Moot. The back-to-back concussions sidelined Rebecca for the rest of the basketball season and left her with impaired vision, memory loss, headaches, and trouble sleeping. These symptoms and more lasted for several months. According to Rebecca, the doctors she saw after suffering what was her third concussion – she suffered one prior to the successive concussions – suggested she stop playing contact sports altogether because of the potential danger of returning to action.
“They said it was too dangerous for me to come back because of how long my symptoms had lasted,” Rebecca said. “And they thought that if I did go back and got hit again, I would be put in a coma. … That was really terrifying.”
Her symptoms were bad enough that she was taken out of a normal class schedule for the remainder of the 2011-12 school year and made up some of her coursework in summer school. According to John Moot, several accommodations have been made for her to compensate for her memory loss and headaches so that she can continue her studies and graduate this spring.
Rebecca wakeboarded, snowboarded, and was the freshman goalkeeper on the girls varsity soccer team’s 2011 state championship team, but heeded the warning to stay away from those activities, all of which come with the risk of high-impact head injuries. The majority of medical professionals that deal with sports concussions recommend that child athletes stop playing contact sports after three concussions.
“When these things first happen, you just want your kid to be healthy again,” John Moot said. “I guess some parents are really kind of focused on sports and so they live for that, but I just want her to be healthy and not have headaches. Sports are great – I played sports – but they’re not everything.”
Rebecca watched her teammates on the basketball and soccer teams win state championships from the sideline. She wrote articles for the Falls Church News-Press about the soccer team and was team manager in 2012 to abate some of the frustration, but was off the pitch for two consecutive seasons.
“It was really hard to watch them and really want to be a part of it, but know I was never going to be,” she said. “But then again it was amazing to see all my friends doing so well, and I was happy for them. So it was kind of mixed emotions.”
It was frustrating for John Moot to watch his daughter sit on the sideline and deal with the effects of the concussions. He said he read “almost every published paper” about sports-related concussions in order to learn more and to find a possible solution to the issue. That’s how he found Dr. Micky Collins, a Pittsburgh-based neuropsychologist whose expertise is in sports-related concussions. Collins has helped Pittsburgh Penguins’ center Sidney Crosby and Minnesota Twins’ first baseman Justin Morneau recover from concussions.
Rebecca started going to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Sports Medicine Concussion Program in early February hoping for a chance to return to play soccer in her senior year of high school.
“It was immediately apparent when we got there that these people know exactly what they’re doing and they know what the problems are,” John Moot said.
According to him, the doctor Rebecca saw prescribed her to do exercises to recover from one of the worst results of her concussion, a problem refocusing her eyesight that caused chronic headaches, and to return to the field to make use of the excess energy she had from not playing sports. Their theory was that her health would benefit from playing sports because of her love for it.
Jennifer Parsons, head coach of the girls soccer team, didn’t think it was possible for Rebecca to come back. She was surprised about a week before tryouts when Rebecca came into Parsons’ classroom to tell her she was cleared to practice. Rebecca said it was like getting her life back to be told that she could play soccer in her final year in high school.
“You know, she was thrilled and anyone would want a player with her personality, attitude, and skill level on their team,” Parsons said. “She’s really like the full package, and we’re just happy to have her back.”
Claire Trevisan said that Rebecca is one of her best friends and that they’ve played soccer together since they were 7 years old.
“When we were freshmen, we would always talk about our senior year together. When we [thought] that wouldn’t happen, it was really hard,” Trevisan said. “But now that it … worked out again was really cool.”
Rebecca is splitting time with sophomore Katie Cheney, who was named a first team all-state goalkeeper last season, because their skill levels are so evenly matched, according to Parsons. Rebecca said her teammates are encouraging and the coaches are really good.
“I feel like I’m learning a lot and having so much fun,” she said. “And it’s just so nice to be back and I missed it so much and the whole experience is just great.”