Molly Tissenbaum is a former Harvard Hockey Goalie and currently serves as a Research Analyst at the Sports Innovation Lab in Boston, MA. I came across Molly's story of overcoming post-concussion syndrome on the Concussion Legacy Foundation's "My Legacy" page. Molly's first concussion happened when she was just 13 years old after taking a puck to the facemask while training with some older boys. Molly went to school at Premier Elite Athletics Collegiate (PEAC) which is a school for elite athletes. There were very few female hockey players at this school so she frequently got to play with the boys. Which proved to be a double-edged sword in this situation. After asking if the puck went in the net, she immediately knew something was wrong and took herself out. Molly stayed home from school for about a week, and when her symptoms cleared, she went back to school, and within 2 weeks she was back on the ice without symptoms (the way it should work!).
At the time of the first concussion Molly was wearing a junior level mask instead of the superior senior-level mask. During our conversation we talked about the difference between junior and senior-level masks. Molly also believes that her mask wasn’t fitted properly, which is especially important for females with pony tails. Molly recommends getting your mask fitted by someone reputable and don’t worry about what your hair looks like. She found that the best fit comes when you leave an inch between where you tie your hair and the back plate of the mask. Here is a link to a blog post on proper goalie mask fit.
The second time Molly suffered a concussion was two years later in a playoff game when she was 15. In the second period of a 0-0 tie, she got hit in the head with a stick across the left side of her head. She was in a butterfly (on her knees to cover the bottom of the net), when a puck was flipped in the air towards her. The girl on the opposing team took a swing to try and bat it out of the air and missed, but made clear contact with the side of her head. Having suffered a concussion at 13, she knew immediately that something was off. She remembers looking up to see who hit her and struggled to determine if the number was 13 or 31. The numbers looked like they were dancing.
But it was only the second period, and her team had to win this game in order to advance to the provincial championship tournament. So she finished that game and her team ended up winning. Molly remained silent because she only had 2 weeks until the tournament. She was a leader and the starting goalie. She felt that her team needed her, so she tried to tough it out for the sake of the team. "At no point did it occur to my 15-year-old self that I might be hurting myself, or even the team, by playing through a concussion."
Molly struggled with post-concussion symptoms for nearly six months. Her academics were severely impacted throughout this time, and teachers began to notice that something was off because the quality of her work declined. She eventually recovered enough to be named valedictorian of her graduating class and get into the most prestigious university in the United States. She credits her teachers support and patience throughout the difficult times she encountered following her second concussion.
Concussion #3 was actually not sports-related. Her family got into a car accident on move-in weekend of Molly's sophomore year at Harvard. Mollys first thought after impact was "thats the end of my career." This accident triggered post-concussion symptoms that forced Molly to take a medical leave of absence for a year. Molly and I dive in to her struggles with symptoms and isolation during this time.
Below are some more talking points during our conversation:
How Molly fell in love with the goalie position after giving up 18 points in her first game.
Common mechanisms for goalie concussions
The Ice Guardians Documentary
Rules in place to protect goalies
The importance of academic support during PCS recovery
Healing with time and rest
The role of a muscle activation therapist
Dealign with FOMO during PCS recovery
Focusing on what you can do rather than what you can't
The lack of a blueprint for concussion recovery
Finding a new normal
Why you need to be honest with yourself and prioritize your mental health to stay healthy
Molly's transition to life after hockey, and why thinking about your future is not selfish
Molly's work with The Butterfly Cares organization