N.S. teen ends hockey career after four concussions by age 17
Jonathan Forani, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Thursday, February 15, 2018 8:37PM EST
A Nova Scotia teenager is hanging up his hockey skates after four concussions by the age of 17.
Rowan Sears was just starting a promising career in the game. He’d been drafted to the Maritime Junior-A Hockey League -- a milestone his mother Jill called “the beginnings of a future he really wanted.” But then an opponent’s elbow pushed his health over the edge during a game in Sydney, N.S.
He was receiving a pass when the elbow came flying. Though he tried to stay on the ice for the power play, he couldn’t muster it and quickly skated off for the change room, where his mother found him on the ground.
“He was just sitting on the floor, a wreck,” she recalls. He already had three concussions at that point -- already a dangerous number.
“I knew that if I had got one more concussion I’d probably be done,” says Rowan. “When I got back to the hotel I was just thinking, ‘Is this really going to be over? Is this it?’”
Rowan has now retired his jersey and stepped away from the game, a decision that has been heartbreaking for him and his parents.
“I’ve put so much into it and now it’s gone,” he said.
After that game, his mother Jill took to Facebook and shared a photo of her son on the ice. “See this face? This is my son,” she wrote in the emotional post. “He has lived and breathed hockey since he was 3 years old.” He could continue competing, she wrote, but the risk is just not worth it. “Checking from behind has been addressed over the years, but hits to the head have got to stop.”
Other parents reached out after Jill’s social media post to share their own children’s stories. She heard from a father in Seafoam, N.S., whose daughter plays no-contact hockey and has suffered two concussions. A mother from Dartmouth reached out to share that her 14-year-old son decided to quit hockey after repeated hits to the head.
Rowan’s parents have become hockey reform advocates since his fourth concussion. They want stronger punishments for hits to the head like the ones that Rowan took, including suspensions from games. According to a representative from Nova Scotia Hockey, new rules will go into place next year, mandating that three headshot penalties will lead to an automatic “game misconduct.”
At Rowan’s age, the brain is still developing, which means concussions -- especially repeated concussions -- can impede the growing organ. “With more than one concussion, we know that it take longer and longer for the brain to return to its normal state,” says Dr. Paul Doucette. While the brain remains one of medicine’s most mysterious research subjects, Doucette says that there is a suspicion that repeated concussions may even cause permanent changes such as “calculation, the ability to think.”
Though he’s no longer competing on the ice, his health is improving and he’s doing physiotherapy. He’s also finding success off the hockey rink and on the baseball field. He plays fast-pitch softball, and competed in the Canada Games last summer, which he calls one of the best experiences of his life. This summer, he could be heading to the World Juniors in Saskatchewan to compete if his health stays on track.
“I got lots to do (playing ball). Lots of training ahead,” he says. “It’s keeping me happy.”
With files from CTV News Atlantic.