Most of us don’t care about our penmanship. If it’s readable, it’s usually good enough. Leah Edmondson is different.

“I pride my penmanship,” Edmondson said. “I worked really hard on that for a long time.”

Since concussions ended her field hockey career, Edmondson’s penmanship — as well as many other things — are at the mercy of how well her brain works that day.

“I start writing like a toddler,” she said. “It will look like I’m writing like a boy, or a 4-year-old that just scribbles. In class, you can just watch me sometimes. I’ll be perfect writing my notes, and my handwriting will just slide away, and I’ll be sitting there like a zombie, like, ‘What is going on? Why am I in class?'”

Edmondson played as a freshman at Maine Central Institute, then graduated from Nokomis in 2012 and finished with 75 goals in her high school career, tied for seventh-best all-time among Maine high school players.

Division I college programs recruited her to play, and Edmondson found a home at Northeastern, where she played in 16 of the Huskies’ 21 games as a freshman. She was ready to make a bigger contribution as a sophomore, but in the seventh game of the season, on Sept. 22, 2013, Edmondson was hit in the eye. She later learned she had suffered a concussion. That, combined with another concussion four months later, still affects her today.


When most people hear about post-concussion effects, they think of a football player estimating he had 20 or 30 concussions in his career. Edmondson is a college sophomore who retired after two concussions playing field hockey.

“Probably the hardest part is being able to explain to people that you can’t see my injury,” she said. “Everyone looks for a cast, looks for a reason. You can’t really say if you’re healed or not, because it’s such an unknown injury. It’s all in your brain. Some days I’m still not so there, and my medication doesn’t seem to ever kick in. Other days, I’m totally functioning. Other days, it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m running on the treadmill for five minutes and I need to get off.'”

This being field hockey season, it’s naturally the toughest time for Edmondson. After eight years of always working to get better at the game, with a dream of maybe playing in the Olympics, this is the first season she can’t play.

“I’ve had a few breakdowns,” she admitted. “I left the dining hall early, because I saw the field hockey team coming in. I was like, ‘I just can’t deal with it right now.’ I’m still on the team. I still get all the emails. I still am invited to do things. I’m invited to go to the field to help out if I can at games. It’s just knowing that, mentally, I can’t go to the field and watch someone else. It’s like watching someone else live your dream.”

Edmondson’s drive to better herself as a field hockey player began when she started playing with the Maine Majestix club team as a high school freshman. She stayed in the program for four seasons, and has come back for workouts and as a coach.

“Leah would practice a skill over and over and over again, until she got it,” said Amy Bernatchez, the director of Maine Majestix. “She’s just that kind of kid. She’s not satisfied until she’s mastered a skill. Just a hard worker, great attitude, never complained. Every tournament we went to, she was there. We actually loved Leah. She fit into Majestix so well.”


After not scoring as a freshman at Northeastern, Edmondson was determined to be a goal-scorer again, and worked on her game some more in the offseason.

“When she rejoined Majestix in the spring and summer to train with us, she looked awesome,” Bernatchez said. “It was the best we had seen her play.”

As a sophomore last fall, Edmondson was playing more than 30 minutes per game for Huskies. The team’s seventh game of the season came Sept. 22 against Louisville, the second of two games in Kentucky in a span of three days.

Edmondson was hit in the eye against Louisville, but continued to play in the game. Afterward, she was checked by a trainer, told she was fine, and flew back to Boston with her teammates. It was later determined that Edmondson had a concussion.

Around the same time, Bernatchez’ daughter, Katie, also suffered a concussion. Amy Bernatchez said Katie was hoping to go on a road trip with the team, but was told not to fly so soon after a concussion.

“I am so grateful that she didn’t even go to watch,” Bernatchez said. “I think that’s one of the things that impacted Leah so much, is she flew a few hours after having a concussion.”


Dr. Jonathan French, a neuropsychologist and clinical instructor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Concussion Program, said there is no evidence that flying soon after a concussion is detrimental, in large part because most commercial planes are so pressurized.

French did say, however, that there is the chance of the vestibulo ocular system — basically, a person’s balance — being upset after a concussion. Edmondson said she was not allowed to ride the team bus to practice after her first concussion.

“The average recovery time for a high school athlete is three to five weeks,” Dr. French said. “If that system gets disrupted, that can make for a much longer and worse recovery.”

Edmondson said she had “a nasty-looking face” for some time, but was recovering from her concussion when she had a relapse after six weeks. Around Christmastime, she was cleared to work out on an exercise bike, but was advised not to lift weights.

“I couldn’t pull my hair up, because it would give me a headache,” she said. “I had to straighten my hair every day, because I have curly hair, and it’s very heavy when it’s curly, and that would give me a headache.”

In January, Edmondson was back practicing with the Huskies. In a noncontact drill, she took an elbow to the head, almost at the same point she had been hit to cause the first concussion. She went to see a doctor, prepared to hear that she would have to go through the whole recovery process again.


“My brain was still functioning,” Edmondson said. “I wasn’t totally there, but I wasn’t like brain-dead.”

Instead, Edmondson was told that her career was over, effective immediately.

“One of the doctors just said if I get hit again, my way of life is going to be severely affected, and I’ll never be able to play at the same level and have a good conscience about my overall health,” Edmondson said. “The doctors decided it’s better to focus on living a full life and getting my dream job, because I only had 18 months of my career left anyway.”

In one of her classes the next day, Edmondson said she gave a speech about Herb Brooks and the “Miracle on Ice” 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. This was in the middle of the winter in Boston, and when she looked out the window — sunglasses covering her eyes, all the lights off in the room because otherwise it was so bright she couldn’t take it — it was snowing outside.

This was about the time that Edmondson realized she had more than just a concussion. Then came the after-effects.

“I wake up and my face is often swollen,” she said. “Only my right side will swell, almost like a cartoon. You look, and my left side looks normal. Then my right side, my eye will be swollen and it will look like I have a black eye, minus the bruising.


“I can’t go to movies. Your friends want to go see a movie at midnight, and you’re like, ‘I can’t stay up that late unless I take extra Ritalin. I can’t sit through a movie or I’m going to get a headache.’ I have to smile and tell people, ‘Yeah, I feel fine. I can give this presentation,’ when it’s all I can do to stand up and not feel sick. It’s painting a picture that’s a lot prettier than it actually is.”

Although she says incoming freshman athletes often meet her and say, “Oh yeah! You’re the concussion girl!’ Edmondson ends up doing a lot of explaining. She’s 20 years old and in excellent shape, the result of watching her diet and continuing to run regularly. She smiles and laughs easily. Unless her face is swollen, there are few signs that there is anything wrong with her.

One clue is in her eyes. In older photos, you can see Edmondson’s brown eyes. Today, her pupils are dilated so that her eyes look like fully black circles. She always carries a pair of sunglasses, in case the professor runs a projector.

“It’s just a shame, because she’s just such a good person,” Bernatchez said. “She’s such a kind person. You don’t wish it on anybody, but especially Leah. You just felt like the kid deserved better than that.”

Mentally, the idea of working eight years toward a career and then having it end so suddenly, combined with adjusting to a brain that doesn’t always warn her when things are about to be wrong, has also been a challenge. Edmondson is open about her faith — she took a class to become an Evangelist and would sing Christian songs like “How Great Thou Art” during workouts at Northeastern — but the whole process continues to be difficult. Edmondson describes herself as “the sad clown” because she has become so adept at telling people everything is fine.

“At first I was angry at God, which you can’t be angry at him. He has a different plan,” Edmondson said. “But it’s still the whole idea that there’s many other things that I’m angry about, that I wish I could change. So it’s the whole learning to cope. That really tests your faith. You can only lie and put on a smile for so long. When someone asks you, ‘Are you OK?’ Obviously, you say, ‘Yeah, I’m fine,’ because you don’t want people to know that you’re actually struggling to write a sentence. The worst was when my medicine hadn’t kicked in. That was the running joke in my house: ‘Leah, take your medicine. You’re acting like you’re 6.'”


But at 20, Edmondson still has much of her life and a lot of dreams ahead of her. Bernatchez has seen her coach, and feels Edmondson could be brilliant at that.

“She has a really good eye for maybe little nuances that would help kids,” Bernatchez said. “I have a feeling that Leah’s so passionate about the game, she’s so good with people — I wouldn’t be surprised if she went into coaching.”

Edmondson’s dream is to be the new Kathryn Tappen, the sportscaster who worked for NESN and NHL Network and now works for NBC. Edmondson knows and loves ice hockey. Even better would be for her to be an analyst. Olympic dreams aren’t meant to be a person’s last dreams anyway.

“I don’t want sports to leave my life forever,” she said. “I want to be Don Cherry. He knows his stuff. Females are often looked at as, either you’re the pretty face or you are the manly woman. I don’t want to be the pretty face. I don’t want to be like, ‘Oh yeah, she’s the weirdo who spent her whole life at the ice rink’ — even though I did, I don’t want that stereotype. I want to be able to be like, ‘I know my stuff.’ I want to be the woman that’s like, ‘Ha! Lead the charge.'”

Bernatchez said Edmondson has already proven she can handle heavy workloads while chasing a dream. Bernatchez said one thing that gets overlooked with college field hockey players is that they are sometimes on the road all weekend and not home until after midnight on Monday morning — just in time to catch a few hours sleep and be ready for classes that day.

“She managed to make it all work,” Bernatchez said. “I can’t imagine that won’t transfer to anything she sets her mind to.


“I have absolutely no doubt she’s going to be very successful in anything she puts her mind to. She was never just a jock. She’s so much more than that.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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