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A hostage to concussions — NJ.com

Niki Popyer sits in her bedroom, with a picture of herself playing basketball on the wall, when she was healthy. Photo by Mahala Gaylord for the Star-Ledger.

Niki Popyer sits in her bedroom, with a picture of herself playing basketball on the wall, when she was healthy. Photo by Mahala Gaylord for the Star-Ledger.

By Jackie Friedman
Class of 2008

As her former teammates huddle around their coach, Niki Popyer stands several arm’s lengths away, just out of earshot. “No matter how close I am,” she says, “I’m on the outside.”

She shields her pain behind a full grin until a haze sets in. She glances past her teammates to the basketball hoop 60 feet away.

Tears seem imminent but never come. Crying hurts too much — it drives more blood to her damaged, 16-year-old brain.

Popyer can’t play basketball, and may never again. She can’t ride on a train or swim in the ocean. Doing her makeup takes more concentration, and she can’t blow-dry her hair. She can’t practice driving a car for too long, watch TV for more than an hour, walk outside without sunglasses, or go to the movies without getting headaches.

With the renewed nationwide attention on concussions sustained by football players at all levels, Popyer is a reminder of the dangers of head injuries in all sports, especially among young female participants.

Popyer has had 11 concussions in four years, according to her parents, including five in the past 10 months.

Each concussion extends her recovery time and makes her more susceptible to another. Every aspect of her life — social, academic, athletic — has been shaken.

Read the full story on NJ.com.

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