21 Years Old, Kansas
I grew up sustaining more concussions than most kids, and by the time I graduated high school I had 4 recorded concussions. At the time, I didn’t see concussions as any obstacle to my goal of becoming a Division 1 college cheerleader. When it came time to tryout my senior year, I had successfully accomplished my goal when I made the cheer squad at The University of Oklahoma.
As I continued into college cheerleading, I received my 5th concussion. However, I decided not to mention my symptoms to anyone. The following week, I received another concussion, making it number 6. As a cheerleader, most people assume I got my concussions from being dropped in a stunt. However, both of my concussions came from other circumstances in cheerleading. Because I decided not to mention my symptoms from the 5th concussion, and didn’t have healing time, the effects from my 6th concussion were major. I struggled to talk clearly, couldn’t keep my emotions in, was depressed, couldn’t memorize or remember many things, and had migraines regularly. I had to wear sunglasses indoors for over two months due to light sensitivity. I was diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome.
I struggled to rebuild myself and return to normalcy. I had never felt so alone in my life. No one understood what I was going through, and everyone thought I was overacting. Everything I ever knew about myself was gone. I had always loved public speaking, and I suddenly found myself not being able to speak clear sentences to anyone. I had always been the tough girl that didn’t cry, and I suddenly found myself hysterically crying in front of strangers. I had always loved school and memorizing, and suddenly I found myself not being able to read for more than 10 minutes without getting a debilitating migraine and forgetting anything I had learned within 5 minutes. I had always been the happy girl, and suddenly I couldn’t find happiness anywhere.
My uphill battle to rebuild myself lasted for over a year, and I still face many effects from my concussions today. I still struggle to articulate clear sentences, memorize, and deal with stress. However, I have come a long way thanks to the help of the Miss America Organization.
After my concussion experience, I saw the Miss America Organization as an opportunity to regain the skills I had lost while also bringing awareness to this issue that had suddenly become so important to me through my personal platform “Concussion Awareness.” When I realized how different my outcome may have been if I would’ve reported my 5th concussion symptoms, it made me consider how important concussion awareness and education is.
Throughout my struggle to regain my mental health, I thought back to other times I may have had a concussion, but didn’t mention my symptoms. Furthermore, from being an athlete my entire life, I realized how common that scenario is for many athletes. This is why I’m so passionate about this cause, and passionate to change the way athletes look at concussions.
Cari Anne Cashon is the founder of The Level Headed Initiative, an organization with a focus of advocating for concussion education to create a safe, smart, and strong athletic environment for young athletes. For more information, please visit www.staylevel.org