Lauren Chase played Division I basketball at George Washington University (GW) in Washington, D.C. from 2012-2015. Chase graduated from GW with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and a masters degree in Counseling with a concentration in Traumatic Head Injury. She also led her team to two Atlantic 10 conference championships and two NCAA tournament appearances.
Lauren, who suffered three concussions within two years, discusses her injury experience including physical limitations, mental struggles, and recovery.
Q. Take me through the timeline of your concussions.
A. My first one was at UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County) when we were playing Maryland. I went up for a rebound and fell back on my head. I just remember wanting to get back in the game, but I felt like I was in a daze and had a bad headache.
My headache only probably lasted two days for that one. I went through the concussion protocol and it took about a week for me to recover. Then I had another concussion at UMBC about a year later, which was also pretty mild and I took about 2 weeks to recover.
Then my next one was at GW. During postseason workouts, I got elbowed in the side of the head. That was the worst one. I had headaches for the whole summer, about 3 to 4 months. I kind of just got used to them. After the headaches went away, we tried to do the concussion protocol, but I kept getting headaches whenever I exercised.
So my parents and I wanted to get a second opinion about whatever was going on. That’s when we went to one of the neurologists who works with the Capitals (NHL team). He basically told me I couldn’t play for the whole next season.
Q. What were the biggest challenges you faced while you were out?
A. The biggest challenge was just having conversations about whether I should play again. I had a history of concussions already and this one impacted me so much that my parents and the athletic staff were asking if I should even keep playing. I was questioning it too because I want to do more than just play basketball. I didn’t want to have any permanent brain damage. I’d rather have my mind than anything else.
Another challenge was when I first started going to classes again after the concussion. Lights bothered me really bad, but it helped when I told my professors and got accommodations for that, like taking tests in dimly lit rooms. It would just take more time for me if the lights were on because I couldn’t concentrate. In the beginning, my grades were dropping. I would get back to my room and just go to sleep because that’s how bad the headaches were.
A big challenge was not visibly being able to see how you’re progressing. You kind of just have to go off of how you feel everyday. It’s not like an ankle sprain where you can see the swelling going down and see that you’re obviously getting better. With the concussion it was hard because I’d have good days and bad days, so I’d be like “Am I actually getting better or am I going backwards?” So that was very tough, too.
I’m usually a positive person, but I was at a low point when that happened. But once I started to feel better, my mood got better and I had more of a positive outlook on the situation.
Q. What part of playing did you miss the most while you were sitting out?
A. I just missed being out there. I was already out for a year because of transfer rules, so I basically sat out from basketball for two years. I missed the team aspect, especially traveling and stuff like that. I felt kind of left out and lonely when they would go away on road trips.
Q. What were some things you did to remain involved while you were out?
A. I would say the first thing was being more active in terms of my communication skills and leadership. I’m not a very vocal person on the court, but that forced me to be. Once I started to feel better in terms of the headaches, I began to talk more, which made a big difference because I still felt like I was a part of the team as opposed to just being a player on the sideline.
Another thing that kept me pushing was seeing the positives from the situation, like the fact that they (GW) were going to pay for my masters. Being able to leave GW with two degrees for free was a blessing. So I focused on having a positive outlook and seeing the good things that can come out of the situation.
Our Athletic Director was very active with my recovery and made sure I was good. When he set me up to speak at the NCAA Mind Matters Challenge that really helped me to focus in on working with injured athletes. Becoming more active and learning from my own situation helped in my recovery because I felt like I was being useful while I wasn’t playing and could impact other athletes who may be going through the same thing. I kind of want to be that role model in terms of being able to overcome it.
Q. How did it feel to finally get cleared to play again?
A. [Smiles] It was exciting. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had my appointment in the morning and we usually had practice from 11 AM to 2 PM. I was walking in the gym and the team was waiting for me to get back. When I said I was cleared, everyone was jumping up and down, which made me feel good.
Even when I wasn’t 100% cleared and was only able to do small things like dribbling drills, they were still cheering for me along the way. Having the support of my teammates and knowing that they wanted me to truly be out there was the best feeling, especially the day I got cleared.
Q. What were some obstacles you faced after returning?
A. Getting in shape was number one. I was happy to get cleared, but then I was also like, “Dang, I have to get in shape now!” [Laughs] I hadn’t worked out in a year, so once I was actually cleared I was a little scared. Also, just getting my feel for the game back, and getting my ball handling and reactions back.
What did you learn from everything you went through as a result of your injury?
A. I learned what I want to do with my life. I want to work with injured athletes ultimately. I had no clue what I truly wanted to do all throughout undergrad. So the injury helped me realize that I should get my masters in counseling, which is putting me on the right path to become a licensed counselor. So I was able to learn from my own experience, along with learning the practices of counseling, and share that with other athletes.
Q. What advice would you give other athletes when dealing with concussions?
A. When dealing with concussions, especially if it’s a big one, of course you’re going to be really sad because you have to sit out from your sport. But my advice is to not get stuck in that. It’s really easy to become “mopey” and feel sorry for yourself, but you have to learn to overcome that and use your support systems like your teammates and friends.
You have to talk things out sometimes in order to fully overcome it. I remember when the doctor first said I couldn’t play for the rest of the season. My parents dropped me off from my appointment and I came in my room and literally punched the wall. That’s how upset I was.
My mom called me five minutes later because they were still sitting outside. As much as it affected me, it affected them as well. She told me to come back downstairs and I’m so glad she did. I guess it was just “mother’s intuition” because if I would’ve stayed up there, I would’ve just been crying and crying. Instead, they took me out to eat. It helps to just get out the room and not be by yourself, especially when it first starts. After getting over the initial shock, you learn to use your support and not feel sorry for yourself.
And if you are out for a long time, I would recommend learning a new role on the team. Make sure you’re not feeling left out. Actively voice those feelings to your coaches. They would give me certain things to look for during practice that I would keep a tally of, or I would watch the point guards and give them advice.
Another thing I held in the back of my mind when it came to overcoming the injury was the approach that “God won’t give me anything I can’t handle.” Every day isn’t easy. It’s hard to be “Positive Patty” all the time, but it’s all about your attitude. It’s tough not to see how you’re progressing, but you have to have the mindset that everyday is going to get better.