Next week will be a very exciting week in Commerce City as the greatest Colorado Rapids player, Pablo Mastroeni, is being inducted to the Gallery of Honor. For many supporters, they will reminisce about what Pablo did on the pitch, the memories of the MLS Cup Championship in 2010, the gritty and tough player that Pablo was. But for me, this is a time to think about what Pablo went through with his concussion difficulties from 2011 and 2012 and his struggles to get back in Burgundy.
Let me explain, and I apologize because I have never told this story before, even to my best friends.
In November 2012, my partner Stephanie and my daughter Giada were crossing the street in a crosswalk, in a school zone (in front of Giada's elementary school in Denver Metro), when they were struck by a driver going 35 mph in a school zone while texting. It was as you can imagine... my daughter suffered a concussion and scars on her back that will never go away. My partner got it worse. She pushed our daughter out of the way and in the course of this suffered a broken pelvis and two broken bones in her back. She also suffered a major concussion as the impact from the car threw her above the top of the car and her head impacted the street from a height of five feet. Needless to say, the damage was severe.
The months that followed the accident were terrible. My daughter would suffer headaches, aversion to light, nightmares, tremors and psychological damage that was not resolved until this year. She still suffers from PTSD and certain things (like crossing the street) are difficult and when she holds my hand she squeezes so hard that it reminds a father how much this accident cost her.
My partner was in physical therapy for over a year. But after the physical damage was healed, the mental damage from the concussion continued (and still continues today). She suffers headaches regularly, she struggles with sleep, memory loss (both long and short term), bright lights and anxiety. She questions everything she does (she was very confident before) and is trying to regain who she was before the accident. She has guilt over forgetting us for almost two months (memory loss from the concussion) and even the simplest things are difficult for her. I can see her try and concentrate and look for the words that used to come easy, and it breaks my heart. It has been 20 months since the accident and she is not back to 100%.
So why exactly am I telling this story to a soccer blog?
Well, when I went to renew my season tickets in late 2012 (for the 2013 season), I was speaking to my then ticket representative and I told him the story of the accident. I decided to take a chance and recapped a conversation I had with my daughter with my ticket rep. This is how it went:
Me: "Giada, how are you feeling today?"
Giada: "Daddy, I am doing better. I was in my room looking at my picture of Pablo and I remember how you told me he hurt his head."
Me: "That's right Giada, Pablo suffered what you did: a concussion. He hurt his brain and he is working hard to come back to the Rapids as soon as he can."
She paused for a bit, and I could tell she was trying to understand this and said:
Giada: "Well Daddy, if Pablo can be strong and get back playing, I can be strong and get through this. I know because of Pablo I can get better and then I can help Mommy."
As a proud parent, this makes my heart smile. She is an amazing young lady who makes me so damn proud of her. But what really got to me is her ability to realize what Pablo was going through and how strong he was. His strength was a source of inspiration to get better.
We have never met Pablo Mastroeni. We have seen him play for the better part of ten years at both Mile High and Dick's. He was someone that gave everything he had and left it all on the field. Seeing him play was always a pleasure and even when things were not going well he gave everything he had for the Rapids. When he left last year for Los Angeles, you always had this sense that he would be back in Commerce City at some point.
Concussions are a real and serious problem in sports. It is just not in football or hockey...every sport has them. Look at Pablo or Taylor Twellman or Ugo Ihemelu as examples of what happens when you suffer concussion. With a broken arm, you can see what is wrong. But with concussion it is something altogether different. After seeing Stephanie and Giada go through this (and for Stephanie, she is still going through it) I can tell you first hand how brutal this is. It sucks beyond belief.
In Stephanie and Giada's case, they are getting through this as best they can. It has been a long road and it continues to be a long road, but we are working together to get everyone healthy. Just as Pablo did. He has been an inspiration to my partner and daughter and his strength helped both of them more that he will every know.
So to Pablo I say this: thank you for all of your efforts on the field, the MLS Cup, the goals, the passion, the integrity. But I thank you most of all for your courage and strength through your concussion. You helped two people in Denver you have never met, and for that I will always be grateful.