The day my life changed - Karate kick left me with bleed on the brain, but I still passed my NQT year

22nd October 2010 at 01:00

My PE teacher got me into karate because I was getting into too many fights at school and in my first year of university I switched to taekwondo because it's an Olympic sport. By 2006 I had come second in Great Britain a couple of times. I was young and up-and-coming, so I was hoping to head to the Olympics.

The accident happened in November 2006, my NQT year. I was one-step sparring, where there's no official contact, so I didn't have any kit on. You do all sorts of bizarre crap in one-step sparring that you wouldn't do in a normal fight. I thought I'd signalled that I was going to step out, but my partner didn't see because she was preparing to do a reverse kick. She kicked me in the side of my head. I was knocked out and went to hospital.

The doctors didn't say much at the time. My club were like, "You're a moron." But, I was annoyed at myself. It was one of the few times I had been that stupid.

The blackouts and headaches started pretty much immediately. With the blackouts, I would wake up on the floor and the headaches were really, really intense. I went back to hospital two weeks later. They did loads of scans and I knew there was more of an issue. It was a bleed on my brain. If it had been any bigger it would have killed me, but as far as brain bleeds can be minor, it was minor.

I went through it by myself; it was the way I wanted to do it. In some ways that was easier because you don't have someone thinking every time you sneeze you're going to keel over. The school was really good because I was up and down. I think I had about two weeks off but still passed my NQT year as a PE teacher.

It wasn't until the summer holidays that I had treatment. I was trying to ignore it. I was still fighting and it wasn't making a difference. I was lucky - if I'd done nothing for much longer, I don't think I'd have had much of a future. But eventually the headaches affected me psychologically. If I had left it, I could have had long-term brain damage or died.

They suggested surgery or an induced coma, when your brain has time to heal. Surgery was too daunting. The time out of life with any brain surgery was too much for me to get my head around. With a coma I could be back to normal in weeks.

In the lead-up to the coma I felt disorientated, even more so than when I woke up. I just wanted it to be over. I was in a coma for 10 days, and three weeks later I felt as normal as I do now. I was on a heart monitor for a month so my colleagues at school found it hilarious to wind me up to make it go up.

In the first weeks I felt absolutely wiped out. You know when you've stayed up all night and tried to carry on? Everything starts shutting down. You can't function.

It frustrates me that everything I had planned was on hold. I'm also wary of anything coming near my head - quite possible in teaching PE.

Around summer half term of this year I decided to get back into fighting. It felt like there were things left undone. Some people think I'm insane, some are cautiously supportive. My partner was pretty negative at first, but she does sport and knows what it's like when you're not doing it - it's a huge part of your identity. Otherwise you're left thinking, "What am I now?" It's weird to have to re-invent yourself and re-identify with this new version of yourself.

I'm training with my old club. I have a scan every two weeks to check nothing has changed. In some ways it's like I never went anywhere, but in other ways it's hard - I'm half a step behind where I was.

Will I ever get that back? I don't know. It's when you're at home afterwards and you've had the crap kicked out of you - that's when you wonder. I think I'm a bit of a masochist. I am planning on going for the British Championships in November.

As told to Lily Eastwood. If you have an experience to share, email features@tes.co.uk.

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