Concussions follow gymnast
While gymnastics is an artistic sport for viewing pleasure, senior Danielle D’Elia serves as a reminder of how dangerous it can be for those participating.
Since the second week of February last season, the Colts Neck, N.J., native has sporadically dealt with mild to severe concussion symptoms while competing for the Rutgers gymnastics team.
Her first encounter with the injury snuck up on her after she hit her head awkwardly in practice.
“I didn’t really know [I had one] for the first couple of days,” D’Elia said, “and then about the fourth or fifth day I started having really bad headaches and I was just like, ‘You know, something’s not right.’ I couldn’t focus and my head was killing me, and the light, the noise —pretty much every symptom. I just kind of wanted to sleep all the time.”
D’Elia then started hearing abnormal noises in her ears, she said. That was when she knew it was time to search Google and consult a doctor.
She realized her symptoms were concussion-based.
“It’s like a migraine times 10,” D’Elia said. “You’re sensitive to light. I was wearing sunglasses inside, outside. If I was listening to anyone and it was too loud, it would kill my head. I was listening to things on such a low volume to the point where no one else could probably even hear it. And you’re just very tired because your brain is exhausted.”
The recovery time for a severe level of injury is usually up to about a week, hindering her daily life, she said.
While other gymnasts move forward in their practice routines, D’Elia is forced to pause and temporarily remove herself, understanding rest is the only remedy.
“It’s a hard one because you can’t do anything,” she said. “And when I say anything, I mean from gymnastics to school work, so it’s hard because you start to fall behind in school. Most of my professors have been pretty understanding. They’re not too hard on me, but it’s a tough one.”
After resting outside the gym, her rehabilitation in practice consists of light workouts like riding an exercise bike and doing sit-ups until she no longer has a headache, she said. It extends the complete recovery process through almost two weeks.
Though she has suffered only one true concussion this preseason since her first in February, D’Elia says she periodically deals with mild headaches because of her head’s sensitivity and proneness to injury.
It has been an especially frustrating recurring experience for her because she said a concussion is one of the worst injuries for a gymnast.
“If you hurt your foot, you could still swing on the bars or find ways to work around that,” D’Elia said. “But with a head injury you can’t find a way to work around it, because everything you do revolves around your head.”
Head coach Louis Levine declined to comment on the injury, but D’Elia understands it is the nature of gymnastics.
With performance routines virtually unchangeable, there are not many precautions she takes other than considering putting an extra mat under the bars, she said.
“Honestly there are really not many ways to prevent it from happening,” D’Elia said. “If it happens, it happens, and there’s really nothing you can do about it. So you just have to be conscious and take it seriously.”
Despite preventing D’Elia from progress in gymnastics and other phases of life, her concussion history has helped her learn perseverance.
She never considered quitting the sport she has loved since early childhood, despite how trying it has been.
“Does it scare me? Yes, it scares me a little because I mean, how many times can someone get a concussion before it’s going to really affect me in the long run with my memory and when I get older?” D’Elia said. “In that sense, it scares me a little, but does it scare me enough to make me not want to do gymnastics anymore? No, absolutely not.”
For updates on the Rutgers gymnastics team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GJohnsonTargum.