For netballer Gabi Simpson, who plays mid-court with the Queensland Firebirds, the most eye-opening aspect of sustaining a concussion was that it initially went unrecognised. Netball at the elite level is intensely physical but is not classified as a contact sport. Although concussions do occur, they are rare.
During a game, 23-year-old Simpson was accidentally hit by a teammate. “She was running backwards and I got an elbow to the jaw,” Simpson recalls, explaining that the impact threw her head backwards, resulting in whiplash. “I felt my eyes go a bit blurry, but I didn’t think anything of it. I did get some migraine symptoms pretty soon after, but we thought that was because of the whiplash effect on my neck.”
Unaware that she had just sustained a concussion, Simpson continued to play. It wasn’t until three days later, on her way to a university class, that her symptoms worsened and she sought medical attention. Simpson experienced a severe headache, sensitivity to light, and vomiting. “It was pretty horrific,” she says. “I ended up having to be in a dark room for three days — no screens, no light at all. It probably took a week-and-a-half for me to be fully symptom free.”
Since the incident, Simpson has gained a greater awareness about head injury and its lasting impacts. “The thing that scares me the most is that we didn’t know I had concussion,” she says.
Simpson agrees that loyalty to a team often factors into a sportsperson’s decision to play on after sustaining an injury. “As an athlete, you’re there for your team. Your culture is that you’d do anything for the team, anything for the win,” she says. “So if you do get a knock, you think, no, I’m going to stay on for my team.”
Now her own concussion experience has shown Simpson the importance of recognising, and not ignoring, the symptoms. Athletes put their minds and bodies on the line, but it’s about “knowing when it’s time to stop,” she says.
Simpson believes that research is the key to more accurate concussion diagnosis. “The more information we know, the stricter we can be on our reaction to concussion,” she says. “I think that’s extremely important.
“I value my brain, and I study, and I need to think about the long term.”