The first time it happened Renee Mendiola didn’t think much of it. The second time it happened, she had a similar lack of concern. But the third time it happened, her life changed forever.
Mendiola doesn’t play football. She plays soccer. But because of the severity of her most recent concussion, the fate of her playing career is up in the air.
UCLA football head coach and former NFL head coach Jim Mora is one of few to shed light on concussions in a sport that isn’t synonymous with head injuries. Mora became aware of this in 2010 when he worked with i9 Sports, an organized youth sports league that does concussion study, awareness and prevention.
“It might not be a true statistic anymore, but at the point I was working with them, women’s soccer had the highest incidence rate of concussions in any sport in the world,” Mora told the Daily Bruin.
Unfortunately for Mendiola, her world has already been affected immensely by her last concussion, which occurred last season when she was going for a header. The opposition table-topped her, flipping her upside down before she eventually landed on her head.
“Once I got that concussion I started seeing more articles about football players getting concussions and how serious it was and how if you didn’t take care of it, it could get worse,” Mendiola said, “and now I’m out for it seven months later.”
This most recent injury led to memory loss, depression, vomiting and an inability to do things that were once simple to her. “It took a toll on me more mentally than it did physically,” Mendiola said. “It was really stressful to not be able to do normal things. I couldn’t drive for a long time. I couldn’t sleep for a long time. I have memory loss now, and I feel that a lot of people don’t take it seriously enough.”
Mendiola is not the only player on her team to suffer a concussion. Freshman forward Celeste Dominguez and freshman midfielder Mimi Rangel both dealt with concussions earlier in the season and missed action as a result. Dominguez suffered a concussion in a play similar to the one that led to Mendiola’s concussion. But it kept Dominguez off the pitch for only a brief stint.
“[The game] was against Santa Clara, and I was going up for a free kick,” Dominguez said. “The keeper just missed the ball and went straight for my head. I’ve never been concussed, so I never knew what it felt like.”
Mendiola, Dominguez and Rangel experienced three of an estimated 1.6 million to 3.8 million concussions that happen each year, according to the Sports Concussion Institute (SCI) website. Unfortunately for many players like them, 47 percent of athletes don’t report feeling any symptoms after a concussive blow. The SCI’s studies also suggest that females are twice more likely than males to sustain a concussion.
Soccer is a physically demanding game that, unlike football, offers no protection to the head. There is no way to prevent these types of head injuries from occurring, but having a team and coaching staff that is aware of such a debilitating injury is a step in the right direction. It is imperative to know how to handle a concussion moments after it is sustained and to have the proper testing in place to prevent it from happening.
LBSU women’s soccer team trainer Nicole Burnett declined to comment, but head coach Mauricio Ingrassia said he believes that he and his staff are fully aware of the severity of concussions and that the proper testing is in place.
“I feel good about it,” Ingrassia said. “We’ve had several players held out over the past couple years, and it’s getting strict. I feel like we’re very much aware of the pitfalls.”
Mendiola is one of those players, and she has been forced to spend the season on the sidelines.
“Just because the symptoms go away, it doesn’t mean you won’t be affected later on,” Mendiola said. “The fact that I’m 21 and I’m already having memory loss and that I have depression shocks me.”