As an 18-year-old, Jake Deitchler was a rising star for the United States in Greco-Roman. Barely two years later, he was ready to quit.
How is that possible for someone who dedicated most of his early life to a sport which requires so much? With such a promising future, what would lead someone to suddenly re-focus his attention elsewhere?
Con-cus-sion: a stunning, damaging, or shattering effect from a hard blow; especially: a jarring injury of the brain resulting in disturbance of cerebral function.
The term, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is usually associated with high-contact sports such as football or hockey. But there are plenty of student-athletes nationwide who have dealt or are dealing with concussion-like symptoms.
As a 7-year-old, Deitchler, a native of Anoka, Minn., was involved in an accident while riding a motorcycle. From time-to-time during his developmental years, he suffered from headaches. According to Deitchler, there was never anything major, as far as accidents, but something wasn’t right.
“Sometimes things just didn’t feel right,” Deitchler said. “I started getting headaches randomly, sometimes during a workout, sometimes after, and sometimes when I was doing something completely different.”
Even though things weren’t always right while wrestling for Anoka High School, Deitcher still found a way to win three Minnesota state championships and compile an impressive 201-38 record, 125-1 during his last three campaigns.
Instead of preparing for college, Deitchler was thinking about making the United States Olympic Team in Greco. He did, knocking off 2006 World bronze medalist Harry Lester in the semifinals and 32-year-old Faruk Sahin in front of a Las Vegas crowd at the Olympic Trials in 2008.
|SPORTS INJURIES ON THE RISE|
Emergency room visits are on the rise for kids with sports and recreation-related brain injuries, a CDC report said last month.
According to the study, almost 250,000 children were taken to the ER with concussions and other brain injuries in 2009, up from just 150,000 in 2002.
Dr. Julie Gilchrist, a pediatrician at the CDC, and lead author of the study says she believes the numbers are up because parents and coaches are better educated.
“Because of the increased awareness of concussions, we hope more people are seeking treatment and evaluation of traumatic brain injury,” she said. Early detection and treatment, she says, are the key to preventing serious complications.
“First is recognizing there may be a brain injury, and pulling that child out of play,” she says. “Then they need to be evaluated by a medical provider that’s trained in diagnosis and management of concussions.”
“I was on top of the world that night,” said Deitchler, who went on to Beijing where he lost matches to the eventual silver and bronze medalists. “[The Olympics] didn’t quite go as planned.”
He then had a change of heart, understandable for an 18-year-old.
He enrolled at Minnesota for the 2009-10 school year but was not allowed to compete due to issues that have since been resolved with the NCAA.
Possibly ready to go for 2010-11, things “weren’t right” again.
“At times I just wanted to be done,” Deitchler said. “It was frustrating having the migraines. I never took the time off to recover and I think it came back to bite me. When your brain doesn’t do what you want it to do then it’s time to get help. [Concussions are] not something to mess around with.”
The decision was to either to fix the problem — if he could — or to quit wrestling.
Enter the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Sports Medicine Program. Led by Michael Collins, Ph.D., the program’s goal is to diagnose, evaluate and manage sports-related concussions.
“The goal was for me to get healthy, first and foremost. Wrestling wasn’t part of it,” Deitchler said. “It was hard to not get down at times because there were times when I was like ‘OK let’s move on, do something else.’ ”
With the aid of UM head coach J Robinson, high school and Greco coach Brandon Paulson and the staff at UPMC, Deitchler was eventually given a clean bill of health.
“There are so many people who played a part during the whole process,” Deitchler said. “It was a grind, going through all the tests and then waiting to get results. The important part is to be patient. You can’t have your normal routine; you have to get away from it.”
He returned to the mat for the Gophers on Nov. 12 at the Bison Open in Fargo, N.D., winning a title at 157 pounds with a pin, a technical fall, a major decision and an overtime victory. A week later he dropped a decision to top-ranked Kyle Dake of Cornell, but rebounded with a victory in UM’s team win against 2011 NCAA champion Penn State.
“Being out for almost two years, it really changed my perspective on things, on wrestling as a whole,” Deitchler said. “I really did fall in love with wrestling again. The process of recovery taught me a lot about patience, and that sometimes you have to go through something like this to really appreciate what you have and how much you love something.
“It feels good to have a clear head.”
An Olympian in 2008, Deitchler plans on making another run in 2012.
“If everything goes as planned, I’m going to be at the [Olympic] Trials next summer,” he said.
First, however, Deitchler wants to be a part of a return to the top for the Gophers, who last won an NCAA title in 2007 and who should be among the contenders in March.