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South Dakota high school athlete returns after head injury

December 16, 2017

IPSWICH, S.D. (AP) — I’m thankful I’m alive.

Those words tend to grab attention.

To know Taylor Maurer’s story, it’s pretty easy to understand why she’d say it.

Maurer, a junior from Ipswich, suffered a serious, life-threatening head injury in May. It was during a Tigers track and field practice session while pole vaulting inside the Barnett Center on the campus of Northern State University. Her injury was diagnosed as a blood clot between the skull and membrane of her brain. Doctors in Sioux Falls had to drain the clot, the Aberdeen American News reported .

Maurer vaguely remembers warming up prior to the accident, but of the actual fall and subsequent injury and operation she has no memory. She does, however, recall one of her first goals when she found herself sitting in her hospital room.

“I thought I would definitely be back. Playing, competing,” Maurer said. “I didn’t think there was a chance I wouldn’t be back.”

She wasn’t wrong.

Maurer was recently cleared to return to competition — and it is the season for her Aberdeen Cougars girls’ hockey team. She hasn’t been practicing for much longer than a week, but she’s noticed that, from a physical standpoint, things are getting much better.

“For a little while (during recovery) I went through a lull where I was getting headaches pretty often and couldn’t focus,” Maurer said. “After a while I went back and the doctors re-did my concussion test and gave me a stress test, kind of like they give heart patients. They gave me a running program, to try and give my brain a higher tolerance while I’m being active. I finished (the program), went back, and the doctors told me they were going to let me start doing things.”

Maurer’s biggest relief about getting back out onto the field — and in this case, on the ice — wasn’t so much about reaching the end of the long recovery road. For her, the most anticipated moment was rejoining the faces she had competed with but from which she was taken away for a time.

“Being out was really difficult, especially seeing my team on the ice and not doing what they were able to do,” Maurer said. “It felt like I was letting them down because I wasn’t out there, so I’m really glad to be back with them.”

Even more profound was her acknowledgment that if an accident like that was going to happen, better that it happened to her than someone else.

“I’m thankful that the accident didn’t happen to anyone else,” Maurer said, “Because I know I can tolerate what happened.”

Of course, as soon as Maurer finished that thought, she was quick to add something.

“I’m still a little out of shape though, so I’ll need to keep working on that,” Maurer said.

While her endurance may need to be built up slightly, confidence in her ability and readiness by her coach was something that wasn’t going to be flatly accepted.

Shelby Edwards, who begins her first season as head coach for the Cougars, knew the type of player Maurer was. Edwards was assistant coach last year and was Maurer’s head coach for the South Dakota Under-19 team.

Edwards did believe that once the recovery process began, Maurer could get better and back in shape, competing in whatever she wanted to do. It was also because of that intense desire to want to succeed that Edwards had to be particularly observant of Maurer’s physical behavior.

“Taylor’s not the type of player who is going to come off the ice and say, ‘I need to sit down because I have a headache,’” Edwards said. “It was more of me telling her to sit and take some time.”

Edwards knew doctors were going to clear Maurer to return. She also knew what she needed to look for and how cognizant she’d need to be as Maurer continues to get in game shape.

“There is some hesitancy, sure,” Edwards said. “But with how well I know her from coaching her last year, I kind of know when she’s not acting like herself, and that’s a big indicator for me to tell her, ‘Look Taylor, you need to take it easy and sit down for a bit.’ From the beginning of our Cougars season, she was cleared to do about 30 minutes of exercise, so we’re slowly bringing her back in. If we’re doing high-impact, higher-contact drills, I’ll have her sit for a while, just to try to ensure she will get up to game-speed and won’t get any headaches or anything like that.”

Hockey is a nice release for Maurer, but the pole vault is entirely different.

It’s hard to imagine that revisiting the event that could have claimed your life wouldn’t bring with it some trepidation. Maybe it’s the fact that she doesn’t remember what happened, or that she is just so ready to get on with her life academically, socially and athletically. Whichever it may be, when asked about the pole vault, Maurer answered before the question was completed.

“I’m actually thinking about starting pole-vaulting here within, like, the next month,” Maurer said. “Just warm-ups, practice, work on my posture. I’m not going to do anything big yet, but, yeah, I’ll get (pole vault) going soon.”

Support throughout her recovery from the Ipswich community and beyond has been more than Maurer could have hoped for. Her pole vault coach, Kayla Nilsson, helped set up a GoFundMe account to help alleviate some of the insurance costs, and there was a benefit 5K walk/run held in her home town of Ipswich.

“I definitely think it helped me through my accident,” Maurer said. “I had people coming into my house every day, just to see how I was doing. They would call me, text my dad. Coach (Todd) Thorson would get messages asking how I was. I really did get a lot of support and I’m very grateful for that.”

So far, Maurer is showing no signs of any lingering effect following the accident and surgical procedure. It really does seem like business as usual for the high school student-athlete. Class in the morning, afternoon, and then hockey practice in the early evening. Mind you, she has to drive the 29 miles from Ipswich to the Odde Ice Center and back each time she laces up her skates.

However, it’s safe to say this is how Maurer planned her year — and life — to be at this point. A high school student who loves to compete doing exactly that. So, it makes sense that Maurer does not hesitate when asked “what are you thankful for?”

“I’m thankful I’m alive.”


Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com

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