Abbey Way Bar

When Abbey Way was in high school, she was a basketball star and pole vaulting champion who kept raising the bar higher for her success. That hasn’t changed for 93.7 The Fan (KDKA-FM) sports reporter and fitness guru. It’s just that now, she’s raising the bar for concussion awareness too.

abbey way portrait croppedAbbey was driving home from the Pittsburgh Penguins practice on May 15th when she was hit from behind while stopped and waiting to merge onto a busy highway. The impact caused her to suffer a concussion – a traumatic brain injury caused by a jarring, blow, or violent shaking.

“I knew right away it was a concussion,” she said. The accomplished athlete is all too familiar with what one feels like. Abbey suffered two concussions while playing basketball in junior high school, one from high jumping in high school and one concussion from pole vaulting at East Carolina University. This was number five.

A concussion isn’t something to ignore

According to the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program website, she has a lot of company. It’s estimated there are between 1.7 to 3.8 million sports and recreation concussions each year in the United States. One in 10 high school athletes who play contact sports will suffer a concussion this year alone.

That fact is not lost with Abbey who wants to spread the word that a concussion is not something to be ignored.

Symptoms may include headache, dizziness, and nausea. She commented, “After each one, I got headaches. I couldn’t remember people. One time, I had a seizure on the floor. Too often I hear, ‘It’s just a concussion,’ but it is a brain injury.

I want young people to get the message that a concussion is a big deal. With tools like UPMC’s ImPACT test, it’s easier than ever to evaluate and treat it. So if you take a hit, you have to take yourself out of the game, see a doctor, and rest.

Sometimes athletes try to hide it not wanting to miss the game, but you don’t want to hide it from your coach.” Studies show that more than 50% percent of teenage athletes who suffer a concussion do not report it. However, playing with a concussion can make the problem worse.

According to Dr. Micky Collins, Executive Director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, “The best way to prevent problems with a concussion is to manage it effectively when it happens and to be sure the athlete is fully recovered before going back to play.”

Dr. Collins is Abbey’s doctor and that’s exactly what she had to do.

The journey to recovery

Before the accident, Abbey said she was doing CrossFit, cardio, lifting weights, biking, and had just started to play in a summer basketball league. But those daily workouts would come to a halt for the next twelve weeks. “I tried going back to work one week after the accident, but I had trouble focusing so I had to take more time off,” she said.

Through her “Absolutely Abbey” Wellness blog and Facebook page she shares a passion for health and fitness while chronicling her journey to recovery.

Thirty three days after her accident, she wrote – “Today at physical/cognitive therapy I got the OK to try and ride a stationary bike for 5 minutes. I’m about to go do that and I’m really nervous that it will give me another severe headache (I was in the ER on Saturday in the worst pain of my whole life) but somehow I haven’t had a headache in 3 days so I get to try and move my legs around a little bit and see how it goes!

I can’t put into words how badly I want to throw some weights around, take off in a full sprint, play basketball, pole vault… Do absolutely anything! It’s all I think about all day long and this may be one step closer in the right direction for me…”

Discovering what she can do

To take her mind off of what she couldn’t do, ten weeks after her accident, Abbey traveled to Louisiana to visit her sister, a certified yoga instructor and discovered what she could do.

“We did yoga the living room. It allowed me to do some form of exercise. It helped mentally and physically. For a few weeks after the accident, I couldn’t stand on one foot with my eyes closed. Yoga gave me goals to go from one level of pose to another and to hold a pose for a few seconds. It helped with my neck and back pain. And it helped my balance.

Sometimes I will look at a yoga pose that seems really hard but then I will surprise myself and be able to do it on my first try. Anybody can do yoga. It’s for every type of body size.”

On August 8th, Abbey received unexpected good news. She said that her doctor wanted her to “start attacking the concussion” by working out – an unconventional and individualized approach that he was willing to provide her at that point in her treatment. “I went from being extremely low to now ‘I can work out!’ I wake up every day with so much motivation,” she commented.

So now, Abbey starts her day with Yoga and then heads to the gym to lift weights and walk the treadmill. Once or twice a week, she runs bleachers at the high school. “If I get a headache that reaches a 6 or 7 on a scale of 10, I stop,” she said.

Abbey returned to work a few days ago to help cover the Pittsburgh Pirates vs Cincinnati Reds game at PNC Park. She said, “Not being allowed to work or workout for most of this summer was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. It felt great to be back on the field working a nationally televised game for Fox Sports.

I’m not completely healed and I still have daily headaches, but I’m happy to be heading in the right direction, challenging myself every day and being back to doing what I love!”

Changing lives for the better

Abbey can relate to the professional and college players she interviews, most especially Sidney Crosby, whose concussions kept him out of the game for ten months. “We even have the same doctor. To know his story and how he came back to play in the NHL was an inspiration to me,” she said.

Having to sit out from a rigorous exercise routine, as Sidney did, was a motivator for her. She commented, “When I had fitness completely taken away from me I realized how important it is. Through social media, and someday as a trainer and speaker, I want to be able to share my love for fitness and to change lives for the better.

I can’t wait for the next day. I want to improve every aspect of my life.”

The one thing Abbey said she will continue to do each day is to keep setting the bar higher for herself – and for concussion awareness too.

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