Kelly Edwards is a 27 year old British Judoka. On her way to accolades she won multiple gold medals and represented Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympics in the under 48 kg division.
For British judoka Kelly Edwards, who had multiple concussions in the eight months before Rio 2016, the advice from neurological specialists was clear.
“They said if I carried on, I might die – it was that serious,” she told BBC Sport.
“Even then I was insisting – ‘but it’s the Olympics’ – it was everything I’d thought about for four years and never considered not being there.”
“It was devastating to miss the Olympics, but if I’d carried on and tried to get there then in the worst-case scenario, I may not be here now, or be unable to continue with a ‘normal’ life,” said the 26-year-old.
Edwards realized she felt foozy and sluggish in spite of not remembering suffering from any big hits.
Dismissing her “slow and sluggish” behaviour as jet-lag, she went on to compete in Portugal later in October – before her headaches worsened.
“It was strange because I didn’t feel like I had taken any big knocks,” she said.
“It was only when my team started looking back at video footage that we realised where the concussions may have happened.”
She improved after resting, before an awkward landing in a competition at the end of 2015 saw the problems return.
“It felt like my head was full of cotton wool,” she said.
A ‘minor’ knock at the prestigious Paris Grand Slam in February 2016 prompted the symptoms to return – and in a much more intense fashion. She found herself unable to even feed her cat.
“It impacted every part of my life,” she said. “I couldn’t make my own meals, and when I’d lean over to feed my cat I was getting dizzy and falling over.
“I was sleeping for 16-17 hours a day and was still tired. Technology was a complete no-go – I couldn’t look at my iPad, computer screen or TV for weeks.
I was angry, at times really, really scared… I couldn’t get my head around why it was happening
I didn’t think sending a few texts to friends and family was a problem, but I was showing no improvement and had to try something different.”
Events like this in judo, rugby and football are why UK Rugby Union is leading the way with a Pitch-Side Concussion Assesment designed to detect concussions early and prevent players from returning to action too soon.
SBG’s head coach and McGregor trainer John Kavanagh secured a one off brain scan for all SBG fighters earlier in the year.
“For 2017 ALL SBG fighters, both amateur and professional will be getting a one off brain scan to make sure there’s no underlying issues that would preclude them from competing. It is not yet a requirement to get this done to compete on shows but it will be a requirement to represent SBG,” Kavanagh wrote.
One scientific research details the most common immediate symptoms following concussion include dizziness (endorsed by 83.6% of the sample), headache (65.5%), feeling in a fog (61.8%), and visual disturbance (60.0%). Recognition of these symptoms as well as monitoring will help athletes such as Edwards avoid suffering through repeated injuries.
“Concussions have been linked to mental illness and dementia so we had to think about her life outside of sport as well.”
Despite the risks, Edwards is not ready to give up on her dreams.
“There’s so much I still want – like being Olympic, world and European champion – but to simplify, it’s about being the best I can possibly be,” she said.
“I hope taking that break has put any long-term risk of [brain] damage at bay, but what fuels my life is judo and in sport there is always risk.
“Some people may find that hard to understand,” she said with a smile. “Us athletes are a crazy bunch!”