Shona McCallin in international action.
Shona McCallin in international action.

An Olympic hockey gold medallist has spoken about her darkest days as she works to beat a long-standing battle against concussion.

Shona McCallin, 26, of Dry Doddington, one of the heroes who brought home gold for Team GB from the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, said few people understood the effects of the injury.

This year should have been one of the biggest of her career with the prospect of playing in her first Commonwealth Games and a first World Cup on home soil.

However, on a warm-up tour in Argentina in February she was badly concussed after a collision on the pitch.

The injury has left her on the sidelines since, and initially left her wondering whether she would get better at all.

“It has been tough. I had constant headaches every day for four months. It was relentless and got me down,” she said.

“I questioned whether I would be able to live a normal life.”

Shona, a former junior at Newark Hockey Club, said the impact of the injury not only affected her playing career, but most of her personal life.

“The symptoms of concussion control your life. You cannot make plans or do what normal people do,” she said.

“I have not been able to go to the cinema or walk into town to have a coffee.

“I cancelled holidays and even listening to music or going to the gym was impossible some days.

“It has been a big wake-up call to how much concussion can impact your day-to-day life.

“I have had my fair share of rehab in the past, but this is by far the toughest thing I have had to deal with.

“When you have an ankle injury or a broken shoulder you can still go out with your mates and enjoy your life, but this has been relentlessly tough.

“There have been some dark days at times, but that’s life.”

Shona said a lack of understanding regarding concussion and the different ways it can affect people made her recovery hard.

“I look fine, and some days I have been absolutely fine, but on others I have been rock bottom not wanting to leave my bed all day,” Shona said

“People do not understand the injury and the world is still learning about it.

“Concussion can last two days or a whole year. When it is just labelled as one thing people do not understand how big an impact it can have.”

Sport is starting to recognise the serious nature of concussion, with football, rugby, and cricket introducing guidelines to combat head injuries.

Shona praised doctors and physiotherapists, who helped her recover from the physical and emotional aspects of the injury.

She said a lot of her focus had gone into remaining as calm and collected as she could to prevent triggering the symptoms.

“The journey to getting better has been full of ups and downs,” she said.

“I got to the stage where I was nearly back playing hockey, then suddenly I would drop off a cliff — that happened three or four times.

“I am in a good place now and I do not get headaches every day, which means I can plan more than one or two days in advance.”

She said the challenge was to improve her focus and get her brain to respond in the way required to compete at top-level sport.

“Rehab is all about trying to retrain my brain because I have not used that in the past few months,” she said. 

“There is a concentration element where you have to make decisions. 

“I am finding that hard. I am doing 15 minutes a day to test my concentration, whether it be a wordsearch or something else to get my brain ticking over.

“I am retraining my eyes and head movements, because changing directions can get to me.

“I am running, cycling and doing my work out all in straight lines.”

Shona said her main goal was to improve her own sense of wellbeing before she considered playing elite-level hockey again.

“I took a bit of a hit in terms of motivation after I found out I was not going to the World Cup, which was a big blow after missing the Commonwealth Games,” she said.

“I was looking forward to both so much. It hurt me emotionally but I am getting over that now and putting things into perspective.

“To play at a home World Cup would have been incredible, but I have bigger and more important things in life.

“My main motivation is to get out of this concussion to allow me to live a normal life.

“I want to get myself fit over the summer, but I am not motivated yet to play hockey because I have to get myself healthy first.”