It was the first day of basketball tryouts for Blue Valley High School in Stilwell, Kansas and Kylee Bliss was just like any other high school athlete. She was excited and anxious to get back on the court with her friends and teammates. Bliss was set to be the point guard for the Tigers JV team for the upcoming season.
It wasn't long into that first day of tryouts before Bliss and a teammate collided head-on into one another during a drill. Bliss doesn't remember much after that collision.
"We had just come in from a break. Nobody wants to stop playing at tryouts." said Bliss when trying to recall what happened after the collision. A few of Bliss' teammates got the trainers attention after noticing her 'acting funny'. It was the teams' trainer that first diagnosed a concussion.
It took Bliss almost two weeks to remember anything about that day and some of the memories still aren't clear. The sixteen-year old who was set to be one of the team leaders that season was going to have to take some time off from playing basketball.
Six weeks later Bliss had enough of standing on the sidelines and she was determined to get back out on the court by any means necessary. Even if it meant lying about how she felt.
"I didn't think it would make a difference if I went back, I just wanted to play" said Bliss. "I knew that being point guard was an important position and my team needed me. I was the team leader. I didn't feel any better but it had been six weeks and I was done not playing. I lied to my doctors, coaches and school trainer so that I could play."
This is the part of the story that probably resonates with anyone who's ever played sports before at any level. The wanting to get back out on the court or field with your teammates. The idea that you're letting them down if you don't. Bliss had these feelings and they led her to saying or doing anything that she could to get back out on the court.
Not long after returning Bliss was going for a loose ball during a game and collided with another player going for the ball as well. Bliss hit the floor with her head hitting the court loud enough for an audible gasp from the fans watching in the gym.
"I knew right away what had happened" explained Bliss. "I was really dizzy and my head hurt really badly. It then continued to get worse and I told my coach how I felt and that was it. I couldn't play anymore."
The combination of these two concussions in such a short amount of time caused serious health issues for Bliss. The former student taking advanced placement classes has since had trouble staying focused on paying attention in class. She's had to drop several classes because the work-load became too much and it's threatened her chances of graduating on-time if not for going to summer school.
"I couldn't read anything myself, people have to read it to me or I have to listen to it on tape" said Bliss. "This school year I'm working with a special education teacher to help me be more successful in my classes."
It's not just the school-work that has changed Bliss' day-to-day life after these concussions. Her social life has changed as well. The sensitivity due to the damage from those collisions has limited the types of environments she's able to be in right now.
"I can't go to football games, concerts or school dances because they are too loud and I'll start to feel sick." Even just sitting with her friends in the cafeteria during lunch has been a struggle.
Bliss is paying the price for something that could very easily happen to any athlete who's ever put on a uniform. She's far from the only player who's ever said they feel alright just so they could get back into the game. Whether they actually feel alright or not.
Most coaches or players would tell you that's exactly the kind of teammate they'd want to have on their side. Someone who's going to get out on the court at any cost. Well that 'cost' now has a face and hearing the story of Kylee Bliss should give all parents, coaches and fellow athletes a cause to stop should they even remotely question whether or not they have a concussion.
Bliss has had time to cope with her situation and she's now using her story as a platform to talk with others about the dangers of lying to coaches and trainers about these symptoms. Her story on Fox 4 in Kansas City even caught the attention of a well known basketball coach in the area, University of Kansas basketball coach Bill Self.
Self sent Bliss a personalized letter that surprised Bliss when she received it. "I was surprised. I am a huge KU fan so that was pretty neat."
Part of the letter reads "Family, friends and all that you come into contact with will appreciate, value, and love your energy and presence. Stay strong, keep working hard and never give up." One very clear definition of class resides at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. (Coming from a Wildcat)
Bliss has recently been contacted by many concussion awareness groups and reporters wanting to share her story. It seems as if concussion awareness is becoming more evident and you need not look any farther than the Kansas City Chiefs or Kansas State Wildcat football teams to hear of athletes dealing with concussions. Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn and Collin Klein have all dealt with concussions recently. Quinn even went as far to talk about trying to play through his own concussion.
One thing that Bliss said that could have been done to help was to have an impact test done before the season. She said it's something that all athletes should do before the season and serves as a baseline should a concussion be suspected. It gives the trainers and coaches a better idea of how the athlete is answering and responding during a concussion test. Also making it more difficult for the athlete to lie and it not be known.
"I hope that people don't make the same choices that I did. Concussions are not an injury that you can see, like a sprained ankle or broken bone. People need to be aware of how serious concussions are."
The idea of doing whatever it takes to get back in the game is a notion and punchline you hear from every coach at every level of sports. It's not to say that it's alright to lie to your coach because I'm sure that if she had to do it over again that Kylee Bliss would tell her coach the truth about how she felt. But her decision since then to take her story and share her struggles with others in the hopes of this not happening to anyone else is something worth commending, and goes to show the type of person she's become through this adversity.
Concussions are not something that can be completely prevented, but with better knowledge of the symptoms and more awareness of the dangers thanks to people like Kylee, we can all hope for more safety and better care for our athletes everywhere.