July 31, 2013 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Off Balance: Special Report, Part IV

Injured College Hockey Players Need to Still Balance School

by Kevin Moore/Special to CHN

I was a teammate of Jeff Teglia’s for two seasons at the University of Massachusetts. I interviewed Jeff three separate times over the course of his recovery from a concussion suffered on February 9, 2012. The first interview was on February 15, six days after being diagnosed. The second interview was on April 1, six days after Teglia returned from spring break, which coincided with the start of spring workouts. The last interview occurred April 30, four days after the completion of spring workouts.

The Student-Athlete Balance

In professional sports, getting a concussion only affects your performance on the field and your personal life. In collegiate athletics, you are also affected in the classroom. Teglia is an accounting major, one of UMass’ hardest disciplines. He has aspirations of becoming a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of a company one day.

Over the course of Teglia’s recovery his professors were very understanding in giving him time to recover before returning to the classroom. In week three of his recovery, on February 27, Teglia chose to take a 60-question exam for Accounting 222: Intro to Accounting II after attending classes for a few days.

“During the test I definitely had concentration issues that I’ve never really experienced. I felt out of sorts doing questions,” said Teglia. “I struggled a lot during the test; I felt just not in control. Just by the end of the test I was absolutely mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted.”

Jeff thought he preformed up to his academic standards on the exam. He received a 77, well below his GPA. When Jeff reviewed the answers to his tests, he zeroed in on a “True or False” question that he had gotten incorrect. The question asked, “the Chief Financial Officer in a company does not give any of his input in the companies finances and the direction the company should go in?” Jeff’s father Chris is a CFO.

“I know what his job description is, I’m really interested in that type of stuff and reading that question and me marking that it was false and that a CFO doesn’t provide any of his input in a company and a financial side of a company was an absolute embarrassment to me,” said Teglia.

Shortly after, Teglia went to discuss his test with the professor of the course. What his professor had to say was eye opening to Teglia. “He said I looked like I was really having some trouble [during the test], and I looked like I was extremely nervous. He said I looked like I was sort of shaky. That was sort of a scary moment, it just sort of made me realize I was sort of not right when I was thinking like, ‘Hey I can do this ya know I’m fine.’”

Not being able to concentrate can be academic suicide for college students. Once the Minutemen’s season was over, Jeff’s athletic obligations were substantially reduced. He went from about four practices, two games, and two lifts a week to just four lifts and two practices. With a student as motivated as Teglia, the usual distractions such as parties, sex and alcohol would usually not deter him from being as productive as possible in the classroom, even in the off season. However, changes in Jeff’s personality were being noticed during the recovery process.

“He’s usually really on top of school. He really puts a lot of time into it and he won’t rest until his stuff’s done,” said Kevin Teglia. “He was telling me when he was home for spring break like he was doing an essay or whatever, and he was having trouble focusing on it. He was like I’m just kind of gonna give up, which I was shocked, because that’s not like him.”

In my interview with Jeff following spring break he also noticed changes in himself. He was going out more, staying up later, and he was more confident in dealing with members of the opposite sex.

“I don’t have all the pressure that I used to put on myself," Teglia said. "I’m absolutely enjoying every second of my social life. I feel like I’m having the best time of my life. I definitely do feel differently, do I say that I hate it? No, not entirely. I absolutely love how carefree I am. My grades haven’t been as good, which isn’t good at all. Do I still care a lot? Of course. Do I still work very hard in school? Yes.”

When Teglia compared his sophomore spring to his freshman spring he felt that he was very tightly wound, the opposite of what he has felt this spring, a decision that was not a conscious one. “I couldn’t tell you how, I just feel like that,” he said.

Teglia’s impulsive behavior is one thing that many professionals believe can be attributed to post concussive symptoms. On the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (CDC.gov) a fact sheet for youth coaches encourages school professionals to look out for “impulsive behavior” in the classroom, something that Teglia was displaying in all aspects of life.

Although Jeff was not diagnosed with post concussive syndrome, it may not be out of the question that this type of behavior could manifest itself during the recovery process. The fact is the medical world is still learning all of the effects that a concussion can bring out in a patient. For Teglia one concussion is most likely not a cause for alarm for long-term personality effects, although his mom believes that another concussion could stimulate anxiety in Jeff, something he has dealt with since childhood, “he gets anxious and then he gets angry,” she said.

A major social difference between professional and collegiate athletics is that a student-athlete and his teammates generally spend all of their time away from the rink together. Student-athletes go to class, eat, and live together making Teglia’s teammates the most important barometer for how he is recovering.

“It took a lot of stress off of me because you guys were watching him,” said Mrs. Teglia. “I think it's really important that someone who knows that person is hanging with him through the whole experience not just some doctor or trainer who talks to him once in a while. That is really crucial with a concussion patient.”

Having teammates who have been through a traumatic brain injury can also help lessen the burden of the recovery process.

“I think teammates are a huge part of being injured. When your not playing with the team it is easy to stray away from the goals you are so committed to obtaining,” said Troy Power, Teglia’s roommate. “While your teammates are on the road you are left alone at home which can easily be seen as depressing. However, with the love and support of your closest friends and teammates the process of recovery can go by smoother and be uplifting.”

Coming Up Next: Final Part

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