ANTIOCH, Tenn. (WTVF) — One local former college soccer player said repeated head injuries from soccer has had a devastating impact on her life.
Kelly Lindberg's strategy in life was always to prevent goals. A star defensive soccer player since childhood, she was also skilled at appearing tough to get back on the field as soon as possible.
As Lindberg describes, years of on-field collisions and, especially, 'heading' the ball, took their toll.
Now, questions about soccer's impact on her life loom in her mind.
If you ask Lindberg, there was something appealing about the smell of the grass.
For her, it was view of the crowd from the field, the work and the rewarding feeling of playing competitive sports.
"Soccer was my first love," Lindberg said.
Some people spend their entire lives honing their sports skills.
Kelly Lindberg was one of them.
"I started playing soccer around the age of five," she said.
Her skill is clear as she juggled the soccer ball at a Metro soccer complex.
Lindberg was really good.
She played soccer from childhood to college racking up state championships from her home city of Mandeville the Northshore of New Orleans.
She played for LSU and eventually the College of Charleston as a defensive midfielder.
Her list of accomplishments is long.
Despite her love of the sport, Lindberg said soccer's legacy on her life had nightmarish consequences.
She believes she has the symptoms of a rare condition, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
"It was most certainly heading a soccer ball at a very young age," said Lindberg. Her first exposure to the sport was when she was five years old. "I played year-round from the age of 8 to 19. I played defensive center mid and you do a lot of headers from goalies at the long term."
At Lindberg's home in Antioch, she described her life as an athlete, with close comfort from her husband, Andrew Lindberg.
"I always lied and said I wasn't concussed and didn't have any symptoms because I wanted to play. I loved soccer. I just wanted to be able to play all the time," she said.
Lindberg wanted to win. She wanted to be on the field and something like getting knocked out wasn't going to stop her.
"My motto was, if I'm not unconscious or vomiting then I'm good to go," she said.
Lindberg didn't think anything of it.
And really, she was fine until after her freshmen year in college.
Lindberg has a diary she kept that shows a change from 2009 to 2010.
On one page, were neat notes of daily activities in soccer. Then the next, scribbles and a message. It was 'what is the point of living?'
Kelly is just 30-years-old.
By her early 20s when she knew something wasn't right.
"The symptoms. They're horrible," Lindberg.
Lindberg said she experiences depression, mood swings, disorientation and sometimes outbursts of extreme anger.
Andrew said they don't keep sharp knives in the house for fear of what may happen.
"We've actually both been impacted by head trauma. As romantic as it is, we met through a concussion forum," he said.
Andrew was experiencing some long-term effects from a concussion gained through a longboarding accident.
The couple connected through mutual injury.
He got better but Kelly hasn't.
"I didn't even believe in mental illness," she said. "I thought depression was like circumstantial and people make excuses. Because I had never suffered from anything. I had a perfectly functioning brain."
The frustration from Lindberg's symptoms has caused her to try to harm herself.
"I've punched myself in the head a bunch of times because I wanted the madness to stop. I've slammed my head through windows. I've attempted suicide twice," she said.
She blamed the constant small head impacts during play.
She spent years of deflecting soccer balls from across the field.
Possibly the worst part about it all is that Kelly will never know for sure if she has CTE.
It's a condition only diagnosed post-mortem.
The study of concussions is still in its infancy.
Dr. Douglas Terry is a neuropsychologist and co-director of the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center. He's been in the field studying concussions for 12 years.
"I think that, overall, in the literature, soccer has been less of a focus than some of the other traditional contact and collision-based sports," said Dr. Terry. "I think anything is possible. We're really just starting to understand the science of what repetitive head impacts can lead to."
Soccer players are rarely the heart of the discussion on a topic such as this.
Dr. Terry said while studies on CTE are ongoing, it's difficult and frustrating for many patients who are convinced they have something going on but can't say for certain what.
"We want to establish a cause and effect relationship between repetitive head injuries, clinical syndromes and down the line, brain autopsies. Those connections have not been fully vetted by the scientific community yet," said Dr. Terry.
Kelly is donating her brain for research upon her death.
She said she's happy to be part of advancing the science.
She wishes a brain scan existed and understands some people may be skeptical about her story.
Through it, all Kelly still loves the sport.
Though her future is unknown.
"[In 10 years I hope] that I'm alive, that I have not succumbed to suicide and that the symptoms that I experience now have not progressed," said Lindberg.
She said her new mission in life is to spread awareness about her situation.
When asked about what she would like to see changed about soccer, she said she wished headers past the 19-yard box weren't allowed.