High School Sports

If concussions, sprained elbow, torn meniscus can’t stop Clover soccer star, what can?

For the modern teenager, two months without a cell phone is nail-biting anxiety and withdrawal.

Clover junior Selah Gaylor's 60 or so days without her iPhone last year was no exception. But the alternative, staring at the blindingly bright screen, trying to focus while her head pounded, was even worse.

Gaylor's double whammy of back-to-back concussions was just one entry in a lengthy injury list that has threatened her budding soccer career.

As a freshman, she dealt with mysterious burning and numbness in her feet -- a single cause was never nailed down -- then suffered two concussions as a sophomore -- one in December, 2016 and another several months later -- in addition to several ankle injuries, a sprained elbow and, currently, a possibly torn meniscus in her knee.

"Pretty much it just hurts all the time," Gaylor said about her knee. "You just don't think about it during games. It's okay during games."

"She's kind of like an 80-year old woman trying to keep her body together right now," joked Clover coach Kelsey Geary. "But she's one of those kids that's just like, 'I'm playing. Regardless.'"

'Perseverance'

Concussions were the most serious long-term threat to Gaylor's health.

She was chasing down a ball during a club soccer game in December, 2016 when a defender smacked a clearance back into her face. She had no time to get her hands up and says she blacked out very briefly after the impact. There was no question about the result of the play. Lights hurt her head, when she closed her eyes she felt like she was falling backwards and when she first tried to run again days later her head thumped.

Sleep was the best way to pass the time and she missed the first two weeks of the 2017 spring school semester, a reminder that concussions aren't left behind at the sports field.

"It affects kids more than people realize," said Clover athletic trainer Kim Bressler, who taught Gaylor last year. "It's far-reaching. We have to treat the athlete as a whole."

Academic accommodations sometimes must be made for students suffering from concussion symptoms, unique situations that can last for days or months. When Gaylor finally returned to school, she could only tolerate half days of class. She attended her first two classes (of a normal school day) on one day, then her second two classes (of a normal school day) the next.

"That was probably the hardest part," said Gaylor. "I wasn't expecting that I wouldn't be able to take any quizzes or any tests."

Bright screens are not helpful for recovering from a concussion, which meant Gaylor didn't have a phone for almost two months and also couldn't use her Clover school district-issued Mac Book for a lengthy stint. At home, her four siblings had to tip-toe around her room, or risk their parents' ire.

"I was the first one in our family to have a concussion," she said, "so it was kind of new to everyone."

She had to stay after school every day for almost a month to catch up on her work. She still finished with A's and B's on her report card.

"The one word that comes to mind when I think of Selah is 'perseverance'," said Bressler.

The second concussion happened a few months later when Gaylor was running full speed during a game and was tripped by an opposing player. Her head was the first thing that landed. The feeling was instantly recognizable.

"I don't think I had fully recovered from my last one," she said. "It took me a while to come back from that because I was really paranoid about getting another one."

Gaylor had a sympathetic and understanding coach in Geary. Clover had several players suffer similar injuries in 2017 and one senior decided not to play this season after suffering multiple concussions. Geary had one in college, returned to playing too quickly and ended up in the emergency room.

"It's no joke," she said. "Until you've lived it and had one, you don't really know."

Little Bull

All told, Gaylor missed four months of soccer and mountains of school work. But she was back on the field in time for summer I.D. camps, when recruits try to impress college coaches during invite-only camps. Several of the schools recruiting her, including South Carolina, backed off after her second concussion. But Charlotte didn't, and the 49ers coaching staff offered Gaylor a scholarship after she played well at their I.D. camp.

Gaylor was worried that her injury history would rob her chance to play at the highest level. So when Charlotte offered and she accepted, the relief was palpable.

"And now that I committed everything is so much simpler and I don't have to worry about college or anything," Gaylor said. "I really like the school so I'm really excited."

The relief and excitement have manifested on the field as Gaylor helps Clover chase a 5A state championship. The Blue Eagles have lost just once this spring and the tiny junior has been centrally involved in their offensive production with 13 goals and eight assists. Gaylor, who can play anywhere in the front six or seven positions, bagged goals in marquee wins over Weddington (N.C.) and J.L. Mann and the game-winning penalty kick against Chapin.

"She's quick, she's technical, she's super dynamic off the ball," said Geary. "A feint move or something where she just throws people off. She may be tiny but she's kind of like that kid that's relentless."

Gaylor said she and her teammates, many of whom play club soccer together for Discoveries, knew this could be a big year. At one point, the Blue Eagles (18-1) were ranked No. 1 in the nation and wins over several North Carolina powerhouses and J.L. Mann and Lexington strengthened that claim.

Fort Mill has been Clover's biggest hurdle for the last four or five seasons, but the Yellow Jackets were dispatched 4-0 on April 17, a sign that Geary's team is ready for the postseason, which starts April 30. Gaylor scored the fourth goal in that game, a reminder of how valuable she is to the team, and of how incredible it is that she's even playing.

"She is probably one of the smaller kids on the field ever, but she's like a little bull out there," said Bressler. "You would never know with the way she plays out there that she is currently dealing with a couple, kind of chronic issues that a lot of kids, quite frankly, wouldn't be able to play through. And she's doing it."

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