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By age 11, my mom had put me through so many different extra-curricular activities that my head was spinning. Although I enjoyed small aspects of each activity none of them seemed to fit, until a friend invited me to her cheerleading practice for bring a friend day. I fell in love immediately and knew that I belonged. Being a cheerleader allowed me to meet lifelong friends, taught me perseverance, punctuality and, most importantly, forced me out of my comfort zone. For reference, I am referring to competitive cheerleading and not sideline cheerleading which happens at a sports game. The two sports are drastically different in athletic demands.
Within a couple months, I was no longer that shy kid who turned down countless opportunities and hid from life, I had morphed into an outgoing and personality-filled individual. I became involved in the school's improvisation club and won a number of medals, I ran cross country, joined leadership groups, and made lifelong friends.
As suddenly as my life had taken off it came to a startling stop. No one warns you of the countless injuries and sacrifices made to make it in this sport. But by age 14, I experienced my first major concussion of many. I just remember being hit in the head and the rest is a blur. Moments later you're hit with the worst headache of your life and can barely see because of light sensitivity. The next day you are stuck on bed rest in a pitch black room not able to look at any electronics or have any lights on for fear of brain damage. Depending on severity a week or two later you can start to return to your normal activities, but you will never be the same. As powerful as the brain may be it is also your worst enemy. My mood and personality changed drastically, I no longer felt like myself but pushed forward in an effort to regain normal, whatever that may be.
What no one tells you is cheerleaders experience just as many if not more concussions in their lifetime than football players do. Yet there is no preventative measures or rehabilitation centers put in place. By age 18, I was graduating high school after suffering 5 concussions (both major and minor) and seeing my grades slip drastically. I had been successful in my cheerleading dreams but at what cost? I kept at it my first and second years of university and experienced my first cheerleading Worlds (the equivalent of the Olympics for cheerleading) but also 2 more concussions. It was at this point I decided to stop cheerleading, a sport I knew and loved, that had shaped who I am today.
Although I miss it dearly, I can't get back all the forgotten memories, inability to focus on my class work, the countless headaches, and loss of personality. The concussions added up, my mental state had taken a beating, and I no longer felt like myself. My grades slipped to the point of nearly being kicked out of school and I fell down a deep hole of depression.
Flash forward a year and I'm still working on myself. I live with the effects of my concussions daily and lose more of my memory day by day. The past year has been tough but I've overcome so much and am still working to be my best self. I work out and eat well, but also take a ton of time to work on me, my self-love has grown, and I am working daily to promote my own kind of happiness. To all those out there with similar experiences or if you're just struggling to feel like yourself again, I am here for you and I believe in you. Don't give up on yourself, these things take time so don't rush.
-A letter from a survivor of an invisible injury