The Girls Varsity Hockey Team successfully raised $3,291 for the LoveYourBrain Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “improve the quality of life of people affected by traumatic brain injury through programs that build community and foster resilience.”
LoveYourBrain was founded by professional snowboarder Kevin Pierce, who suffered a near-fatal traumatic brain injury in 2009 while training for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. His inspirational story became the subject of an award-winning HBO documentary, “The Crash Reel,” and his experience propelled him and his brother, Adam, to create the LoveYourBrain Foundation.
Girls Varsity Hockey Coach Jamie Goldsmith was familiar with Pierce’s story and the work of LoveYourBrain (LYB), in part through Amber Davey, a classmate and fellow athlete at St. Lawrence University who is the manager for LoveYourBrain’s retreat program. In six years, more than 4,000 people living with brain injury, and their caregivers, have been served by all LYB programs. The organization's weeklong retreats are offered 10 times per year at no cost. With locations in Maine, Colorado and California, the research-backed program is based on four pillars – movement, mindfulness, nutrition and community – and offers yoga and other activities that are adapted for participants based on the severity of their brain injury and their abilities, Davey said.
This fall, Goldsmith suggested to Gunnery forward Chelly Wolff ’22 that the team could organize a hockey game or other events to raise awareness and funding for LoveYourBrain. Wolff took that idea and ran with it, and shared her story at an All-School Meeting on January 18.
“Last year I got a concussion. I’ve had three before that and this was my fourth one,” explained Wolff, a Macungie, Pennsylvania, resident who is now in her second season with The Gunnery team. She suffered her first three concussions at age 13 and 14, when she played for Lehigh Valley’s premier youth hockey organization. Her fourth concussion occurred last fall, while she was playing for a Connecticut Tier 1 team in a split-season game at Trinity College. “I got elbowed in the head. It wasn’t that bad of a hit, but that one was the one that gave me the headaches,” she said.
In addition to headaches, Wolff suffered whiplash, which resulted in pain in her head, neck and shoulder. When her symptoms gradually subsided last January, she thought she was clear to resume playing. It was not until September that a doctor confirmed her most recent concussion never fully healed. “I do still struggle with my memory and focusing. If I do get a headache, it’s normally pretty bad. I’m also still sensitive to loud noises so that will give me a headache,” said Wolff, who recently completed therapy to correct concussion-related issues with her vision.
Following her presentation at School Meeting, the entire Gunnery community quickly rallied around Wolff and supported the team’s efforts. The team hosted a screening of “The Crash Reel,” shared a video about Kevin Pierce and LoveYourBrain, sponsored a dress down day, and invited the community to donate to an online fundraising page. Students, faculty and supporters could also purchase raffle tickets and buy a puck for a “chuck-a-puck” contest leading up to the main event: a home game vs. Canterbury on January 22. The Gunnery won, 4‒1.
Although the team initially set a modest goal of $500, they raised more than half that amount in less than 24 hours. Within 48 hours, they surpassed their new goal of $1,000 and raised the bar again to $2,000, which was exceeded the morning of the game. Every $1,000 raised gives one person with a brain injury the ability to attend a LoveYourBrain retreat. Ultimately, the team raised 6.5 times more than its original goal, enough to send three people with TBIs to LYB programming.
“We have all been affected in some capacity by brain injuries, whether you have had one (or more) yourself, or have had friends and family who have had one,” said Goldsmith, who played on the ECAC Championship women’s ice hockey team at St. Lawrence prior to launching her coaching career and subsequently completed two seasons with the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale. Throughout her playing and coaching careers, she has witnessed advances in the diagnosis and treatment of concussions, but there is still more that can be done.
“LYB has been a champion in providing a road to a better life after these traumatic injuries,” she said. “They talk about taking care of yourself so you get good sleep, eat the right things, do yoga so you can have better quality of life despite having this ‘new brain.’”
Clearly, the message was one that resonated with the school community. “I think it impacted our community in a way that we couldn’t have anticipated,” said Goldsmith, noting, “I think Chelly did an amazing job sharing her story, which was very compelling and inspired others to share their stories. I’ve been blown away by the reaction and the empathy and support. Chelly is creating that conversation and others can relate to her story and know they are not alone.”
Davey, who spoke at the game and provided LoveYourBrain stickers, which the members of both The Gunnery and Canterbury ice hockey teams wore on their helmets, said there are “ripple effects” from what a community like The Gunnery can do in terms of showing support and sharing information about resources like those offered by LoveYourBrain. “There’s a lot of power in being a little bit vulnerable and sharing your story,” she said. “Just coming together in this shared experience is a true testament to Jamie’s leadership, and I’m really proud of Chelly.”