A traumatic brain injury may have taken away Austin White’s ability to play football for Kuna, but, rather than be angry, White is focusing on being grateful that the injury didn’t take his life.
As Austin’s father, Eric White, describes it, Austin was riding his bike at the top edge of a concrete jump to gain speed when the bike’s front tire came off the wall, and Austin said his momentum carried him forward, causing him to crash. Eric White said Austin crashed face first into the concrete at almost 20 mph.
“With how hard I hit concrete and metal, with a helmet, a helmet is going to save a life. No doubt,” Austin said. “It saved my life.”
Luckily for Austin, two of his closest friends were there. Austin credits them for helping him when he crashed.
“My friend Devon saw I was seizing,” Austin said. “He (moved) my tongue, so I could breathe. Then he called 911.”
Austin added that his other friend Josh cleaned the blood up following the crash.
Austin crashed headfirst into one of the Kuna skatepark jumps, formed by concrete walls, April 2017. Despite wearing a helmet, Austin suffered a severe blow to his head, and his brain. He received a gash near his eye socket and on his cheekbone.
This was Austin’s fourth concussion. The first three were from football.
Austin was a left defensive back on the Kuna High School varsity football team. Because of the severity of his head and brain injury, Austin’s coach and medical professionals said, due to the high contact of football, the risk of re-injuring Austin’s brain was too great.
“(The crash) took football away from me. It took a couple things away from me,” Austin said. “But in the grand scheme of things, as my dad explained to me in the hospital, when I’m his age, high school football is not a big deal.”
Once Austin was awake in the hospital, medical professionals immediately began checking his movement, his speech, his memory. Austin said he doesn’t remember the accident and a few days after it, but he does not want to remember.
This was all happening around the end of Austin’s junior year of high school. Kuna High School froze Austin’s grades at the time of the accident. Austin said he was able to pass that year and continue on to his senior year. Due to the injury, Austin missed the last month of his junior year.
The rest of Austin’s memory returned. So did his ability to speak, though that required some therapy. Austin recently finished his occupational and speech therapy.
“He was fine with day-to-day stuff,” Austin’s father, Eric White, said. “But (the doctors) were worried about his memory, concentration, things like that when he (would be) in school.”
Austin’s senior year, though, is not quite going to be what he planned or had hoped it would be.
“I had football highlights, even a few colleges looking at me,” Austin said. “But that’s no longer an option. Soccer is kind of the option. Where can that take me after high school, if anywhere.”
Austin has played in spring soccer leagues, but never in the fall. So instead of rejoining the football team, Austin joined the fall varsity boys soccer team this year.
Head coach Stephen Speak said he was, and still is, glad to have Austin. Speak said he had to corral a bit of Austin’s aggressive nature on the field, describing him, at first, as a “bull in a China shop,” but Speak said Austin has improved.
“He’s eager to learn and he’s very coachable,” Speak said. “What he lacks in tactile awareness and technical skill he makes up for in putting in time and commitment.”
Speak said he and Austin were a bit cautious when it came to “heading” the ball, a typical soccer move. When Austin first started playing — because he was recovering from his head injury — he was not allowed to head the ball at all.
And when Austin would fall, Speak would take a moment to check to see if he was all right.
Now, Austin “fearlessly” heads the ball, according to Speak.
“American football has made him into a good soccer player, especially his speed,” Speak said. “Generally, ball sports require speed, and (Austin) definitely has that. That’s his main weapon.”
Austin describes himself as being athletic by nature, so having to be cautious was a dramatic change for him. But, Austin said, that wasn’t the hardest part.
“I’m 17, I have a lot of freedom,” Austin said. “Not being able to do anything made me feel not normal. It made me feel like I was 12 again. I had to ask my dad, ‘Can I do this?’ ‘Can you take me here?’ … things like that.”
White still rides his bike at the skatepark, despite his father’s concern.
Eric White said, as a parent, he’s torn between ensuring his son’s safety and encouraging his athletic nature and happiness.
“For me, both my boys have always been super athletic, just seeing (Austin) not being able to do the things that he used to do, to not be a kid, that was tough,” Eric White said.
Eric White said he feels he and Austin have agreed on ways to minimize Austin’s risk of getting injured, and, as Eric White puts it, there’s risk in everything.
“I care,” Eric White said. “But at the same time, it’s something (my son) loves to do that’s constructive and healthy. I’d rather him do that than sit at home and play X-Box.”
Austin said he is “slowly getting back into biking,” only riding how he knows how to ride, not trying new tricks or attempting ones that end up with rough landings. From watching online videos, Austin feels some professional bikers land as hard as he did, on a regular basis.
“I tell (my dad), ‘I’m not going crazy out there like I was,’” Austin said. “… because another good whack to the head, I don’t know what that could do.”
Austin said he hopes his crash serves as a teaching moment for other riders to always wear a helmet.
“It’s hard. I see kids my brother’s age and younger at the skatepark with no helmet and it drives me crazy,” Austin said. “I wish they knew who I was and what happened to me, with a helmet, and how much worse it could have been without a helmet.”