In London at the Diamond League, I hit a hurdle badly, fell and ended up with a concussion. That was somewhat of an eye opener to me. Not many track athletes will ever get concussions when competing in their event. In other sports there is currently a lot of discussion about the long-term effects of it, but it’s nothing I’d thought about much before and it was something I really had to deal with mentally to get back on track – literally.
The hurdles is a really tough event. I don’t think many people realise that. We’re going full speed at ten hurdles and any mistake can cost you your race. It can cause you to fall, or cause injury. So many people end up with broken hands, wrists. Or you can end up with a concussion.
I don’t actually remember much of the fall.
I do remember on one side of me was Christina Manning and I remember going against her, racing, and suddenly I hit a hurdle. But I don’t remember being in the air or hitting the ground. When I got up, everything was blurry and I was thinking “did I hit my head? I think I hit my head.” But I didn’t actually feel my head hitting the ground, I just knew that something had happened because there was this blank area.
When I got up, the other girls were already next to me, telling me that I was repeating the same questions over and over again. I remember USATF medical staff said we needed to run some tests. That then concluded that I blacked out and had a concussion.
The other thing that happened when I fell in London was that my wig came off. As silly as it may sound, that was something else I had to come to terms with as well as dealing with the injury.
Even though I could see how some people thought it was funny, or were commenting like “why is she even wearing a wig?” it was difficult to handle at first. As African American women we do wear wigs sometimes. I recently transitioned from relaxed hair to natural hair and that transition can sometimes be harder and take a while. Sometimes you just don’t want to wear your hair short, and so I would wear a wig to cover and protect it while it grows and gets longer.
The reason I struggled a bit was that suddenly I got publicity from these sites all over the world ‘hurdler loses her wig’, which was strange. Some had really harsh comments. I know as athletes we have to deal with that sometimes and still perform well, but to me, I didn’t care that my wig came off. I hit my head. Badly.
When Blessing [Okagbare-Ighoteguonor] lost her wig a few weeks prior in the long jump, she had a great attitude to it and I think there were definitely positive takeaways from both of these incidents. It got people to try and understand why different cultures do different things. A lot of people don’t know what black people do with our hair because it’s very diverse, so it was almost like an education exercise. People who wanted to find jokes about it, well they found their jokes. But that’s fine, because I’m still going to wear wigs if I want to.
The one thing I do recall is the way the other girls in the race reacted. One of the first things Kristi Castlin – she’s such a sweet woman – did was kneel down and fix my hair up. Sally Pearson came straight back to check on me the minute she crossed the line.
It was so heart-warming to see those athletes that I compete against behave like friends, because you don’t see that kind of stuff very often. Even though we have this persona on TV where we look fierce and we compete against each other, I think there’s nothing we wouldn’t do to help each other out in this sport. And it’s something I am very appreciative of in the athletes that I get to compete against, because they are some remarkable ladies.
The week after London was tough. I already had some meets arranged in Europe, so I had to decide whether I wanted to stay over there, recover a little bit and then try and race again, or whether I go home and rest up properly. That was probably the hardest thing, gaining confidence again to be able to go back on the track and tell yourself: “I’m a great hurdler, I’m one of the best in the world. I can run another race.”
The next race I ran again was a meet in Bellinzona, Switzerland just to get my feet back on the ground and hurdling and to see how my body was feeling overall. I was told that balance in particular is the one thing you regain properly last. I was really nervous because I kept asking myself: “what if my balance isn’t right yet? What if I hit a hurdle?”, but I confronted my demons and I got through it and I am very proud of that.
In a strange way, with a lot of my performances towards the end of the season I was able to find a new amount of strength that I might not have gained otherwise. To be able to know that I managed to finish my season – with clean races – was something that I felt was great and gave me newfound confidence.