Britton Cartwright got her first concussion while playing soccer in the sixth grade. “Some girl shoved me, and I landed on my head, bounced, and hit it again.” Knocked out for ten seconds, she woke up with an excruciating headache, blurry vision, and dizziness. Still, “right after that, I finished the whole game and went to a track meet and ran a mile.”
All told, Cartwright, now a senior at Rice, received five sports-induced concussions before retiring from competitive athletics last year, at the age of 21 and on the advice of her doctor. Five diagnosed concussions, that is. She believes several more went undiagnosed.
Cartwright remembers the time her head hit the floor during a basketball game, making a cracking sound that could be heard throughout the gym and ensured a visit with the school trainer. There was the time a soccer player stepped on her face, leaving a cleat mark. (“That one hurt,” she confirms, but went untreated.) The time she blacked out after butting heads with an opposing player when both lunged for a soccer ball; that one was diagnosed. And on and on.
Cartwright herself doesn’t wince when recounting these mishaps, although she chuckles a bit when we do. After a lifetime spent sucking it up and shrugging it off, it seems, she has become professionally unfazed by such injuries.
Not so her body, however. In fact, these days Cartwright’s eyes are so sensitive to light, sunglasses are imperative. Periodically, she also gets debilitating migraines—although they’re down to only once a week these days. Also, her short-term memory is poor. Anything she needs to remember she puts into her phone or writes on a Post-It note and sticks to a mirror.
In short, Cartwright’s suffering from prolonged concussive symptoms. “It’s very difficult to predict what happens in post-concussion syndrome,” says her doctor, Kenneth Podell, co-director of the Houston Methodist Concussion Center, who exhorted her to quit the game. Some problems last a couple of months, some a couple of years, and some, says Podell, “could last a lifetime.”