After announcing his retirement at the age of 27 due to neurological symptoms caused by concussion, Stevie Ward says he is ‘agonized’ over what his long-term wellbeing could look like. In a pre-season game last January and another in the season opener against Hull FC two weeks later, the Leeds Rhinos striker, who has questioned the sport to be more aggressive in coping with head injuries, sustained a concussion.
Since then, without symptoms including confusion, migraines and dizziness, he has been unable to play, practice or even lead a normal life. He admitted, after almost a year of struggling, that he had no choice but to put his health ahead of his future. He told The Guardian, “I can’t continue to risk the health of my brain and cause it further damage,” “The longer my symptoms lasted, the decision became clearer and clearer.
It was an awfully dark time.
“Now I am still suffering.
A classic symptom of concussion is confusion, and I was totally disoriented from everyday life for the first few months. Add the migraines to that – every single day.
Mood swings, balance problems, dizziness, and just living a life that was hardly normal.
It was really stressful; it shaped my relationships and caused my life to have a lot of problems.
Everybody around me was affected, and that had to stop.
“Ward said that when he considered his own situation, the news of numerous high-profile rugby union players showing long-term concussion symptoms and signs of early-onset dementia, as well as the battle of his former teammate Rob Burrow with motor neurone disease, caused him emotional distress. He said, “I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to play anymore, but it’s haunted me all the time.
I definitely asked people those questions.
“It’s definitely about thinking about my long-term wellbeing after mitigating some of the effects Rob had in the early stages and what the Rugby Union guys are now showing.
I admire the guys who speak out about this.
I’m just hoping right now that I can get back to normal.
I pray that without feeling dizzy, I can walk, or that without getting a headache, I can watch TV. I would be so happy just to go through a day without a headache.
Ward thinks that after the news, the rugby league, which is considering a lawsuit over its inability to protect a number of retired players from neurological injury, now needs to investigate its own actions. “There needs to be a stronger look at protocols and evaluation of what concussions can do in impact sports like ours,” he said. “When you play such a tough game, you shy away from injuries and bruises, but the fragility of the brain is so different. There needs to be more consideration for what the players are going through.”
The two-time winner of the Grand Final hopes that he can now live life without the issues that plagued him last year, but admits he doesn’t know if that’s likely yet. “The doctors and specialists I talked to agreed that it would be good to retire from the game,” he said. Some of the specialists think it’s going to get better, but I wouldn’t consider playing again even if I did get better. That would be foolish.
Right now, my focus and motivation is to get back to living a healthier life.
Ward, who in the past has raised awareness of mental health problems in the rugby league, acknowledges the inspiration that Burrow has given him in his own challenges has made him strong.
But he’s extremely candid about what he wants to do next. “That’s my goal, just being able to train without getting dizzy and stuff,” he said. “Seeing Rob handle his fight, this goal has gotten me through this time.”
But now, in terms of brain injury, I will try to shed a light on the darker side of the game.
I hope to achieve some stuff in a totally different place, but it’s about getting back to normal first and foremost.