Stephanie Stewart felt lost when a concussion forced her from the game, then found herself as a coach
After having her basketball playing career ended by a concussion, Stephanie Stewart has found a new place in the game as an assistant coach for the Memorial Sea-Hawks women's team.Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Concussion problems forced Stephanie Stewart to the sidelines, but couldn't keep her away from the game she loves.
Stewart, an assistant coach with the Memorial Sea-Hawks women's basketball team, never did get to play much since coming to MUN four years ago and she feels she lost a lot more than her chance to play when her playing career was ended by post-concussion syndrome.
Stewart saw limited minutes in 15 games for the Sea-Hawks in 2009-10, missed all of last season because of the concussion and decided to call it quits for good following a comeback attempt last fall.
The decision came following consultation with MUN coach Doug Partridge.
"I came to the conclusion it wasn't good for me to continue to play as it was taking less force to make me feel concussive symptoms," explained Stewart, who picked up the initial concussion when she was hit by an errant elbow in practice.
"Doug and I had a good talk about how basketball is only for five years, whereas you need your brain for life."
Still, it was something Stewart found hard to come to terms with.
"My first reaction was a giant feeling of emptiness, almost if I was disconnected from the athletic community," said the 20-year-old native of Kitchener, Ont.
"It felt like I lost a part of myself," said the 20-year-old. "A part of my identity was being an athlete and not being able to be one anymore was devastating. I always knew that this could happen to me after having concussions in the past."
Now, finally, Stewart has peace of mind.
"I can see there is a life outside of being a player," she acknowledged.
That life, it turns out, still includes MUN basketball and Partridge is happy she's aboard as an assistant.
He realizes it was initially a very tough transition for Stewart, but he says she has been a great help to the team. Partridge says she understands the game, knows what the team wants, is very communicative and gives lots of good feedback.
It was a process of acclimation for the kinesiology student.
"I came to the first practice after making the decision, and then I took a break from September to January, only coming to the games and not practice," said Stewart.
She's competitive by nature, but has come to grips with not being able to play contact sports anymore, though it wasn't easy.
"My mom and dad told me to take a break and that it was OK for me to be sad or mad at the game, but they also said not to forget what it has taught me. And if I could not play contact sports anymore, it might take a while, but I could get over it," she said.
She has, but it hasn't been easy.
"I never wanted to look at a basketball court ever again, it hurt too much," she admitted.
But things have changed.
"I love the game and know it too well to just up and leave it forever," said Stewart, whose work as a basketball teacher actually began when Judy Byrne, a former MUN assistant coach, offered her a chance to help run a Steve Nash basketball academy program in the fall of 2010.
"I know I want to start coaching back in Ontario after I'm done my degrees."
Stewart said it's hard to compare coaching to playing.
"It's tough to be around the girls sometimes, especially during warm-up when everyone has their little routines that they go through with each other or when it's a tough game and you just want to step on the floor."
She said the satisfaction she gets from coaching is, "when the light bulb goes on when you tell them something and they see why you told them. Or you see the satisfaction they get after you told them to try something differently and they succeed.
"Before I came to MUN, I had most of the first 30 years of my life planned - school, basketball, my degrees I wished to attain. It was all planned out," said Stewart.
"Being a part of the basketball program here at MUN has really taught me to live in the now and roll with the punches. Yes, it's good to have a plan, but you got to be able to deal with the bumps and bends on the road toward your final destination."