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Unmask Invisible Injuries
Creating masks for those with a brain injury
Story by Matt Lively
Photo by Clinton McDaniel
“An arrow is only shot forward once you pull it back; you have to go down before you go up.”
Tyler Roland is a pretty positive guy. The 18-year-old Glendale Community College student is in transition. It hasn’t been the easiest year of his life, but it rarely shows.
During his senior year at Greenway High School in Phoenix, Roland sustained his fourth concussion playing basketball. It sidelined him during his senior year.
“I spent in the summer, eight hours a day, everyday, playing basketball,” he said. “My life revolved around basketball, so when it got taken away from me, I felt empty. It changed my whole perception on everything.”
The medical trauma of past concussions coupled with the new one changed how Roland could play. As with most invisible injuries, it was tough for his peers to understand the severity of his pain.
Teresa Roland, Roland’s mother, said that was the toughest part about dealing with the diagnosis.
“Nobody understands what he was going through,” she said. “It killed us, it really did. It still makes me cry.”
Roland’s teammates pushed back, accusing him of overreacting or trying to get attention. But Roland, whose dream was to play ball on senior night, was struggling with his decision to pull out with the severe injury he sustained.
“Senior night was coming up and I was really looking forward to play,” he said. “I would get the questions, ‘Why aren’t you playing? You should be fine.’ No one really knows that there are different levels and different symptoms.”
The goal of the project is to allow survivors of brain injury to tell their stories. The survivors are given a blank mask, a template and art supplies in the mail. They can spend time painting and reflecting on their journeys.
On one side Roland’s mask is a basketball, representing his former life on the court. The other side is a crying face, representing how he felt following his four concussions.
“They’ve been great,” Teresa Roland said. “It helps people tell their story. It helps people to realize what these people go through and how hard it is on them.”
Roland’s ultimate goal is to spread awareness for concussions and head injuries. He’d like to have a month dedicated solely to concussion awareness to amplify the attention it receives.
“Don’t ever get down,” he said. “Life will come up and bite you in the butt, stuff happens. Life has a way of sneaking up on you and you just have to look on the bright side.”
The Unmasking Project will hold viewing parties at Ability360 on November 15 and 29 and on December 13 and 20.
Matt Lively is a Senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Originally from South Florida, he has lived in the Valley for three years. His first love is sports and aspires to be a sports broadcaster and story teller in the future.
Read more by Matt Lively.
See more by Clinton McDaniel.