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Daring to Defy the Concussion Stigma

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

As a young girl, Jennifer Lew would spend her youth playing various sports with a competitive edge that would undoubtedly help her throughout her sporting career. However, it wasn’t until 2009, when an opportunity arose to play for the Sydney University Bombers, her football career took off.

Over the next decade, Jennifer built a reputation as a physical and reliable footballer with immense leadership qualities, with her recent role as Carlton’s vice-captain reinforcing this. The hard-edge defender has the individual accolades to match her selfless playing style,

with numerous B&F’s, MVPs, state representations and team-of-year selections, highlighting her decorated career.

A trailblazer in women’s football

One may consider Jennifer Lew a trailblazer in women’s football as she paved her way from a six-team competition in Sydney’s rugby-loving suburbs to captain her state, NSW, and Carlton in the VFLW.

Along her journey, Jennifer has been an integral part of the expansion of Sydney’s Australian Rules competition and the GWS and Swans academies. Without the passions and ambition of pioneers like Jennifer, the growth of women’s football may not have progressed to where it is today.

Even though Jennifer’s desire to help expand the game and develop the women around her may have been detrimental to her own career, Jennifer Lew's role in football and the clubs she has been a part of cannot be underestimated.

The incident that changed life forever

In 2015, playing in a game for her beloved Sydney University Bom

bers, Jennfier was grounded by a forceful tackle, and as a consequence, her head made a heavy impact with the turf.

The impact caused a severe concussion, and with no recollection from the incident, it was from this moment that Jennifer’s football career and daily life would change forever.

Over the next six months, Jennifer would spend her days dealing with dizziness, nausea, imbalance, headaches and memory loss. Her football career seemed to be all but over with a ‘no training or playing’ tag by the medical staff, who were looking out for her best interest.

As Jennifer was a proud independent woman, the need to rely on others for everyday support was difficult to adapt to. However, her biggest battle was the anxiety and panic attacks stemming from the head injury.

Over the last five years, Jennifer has worked closely with professionals to face her medical disorders, understanding it is an ongoing issue she will need to navigate for the rest of her life. She is now informed and equipped, practising EMDR techniques and performing daily exercises to minimise the effects of her obstacles, living a fruitful life with a difference.

Restricted by the stigma of concussion

As a result of her head injury, Jennifer feels like her football career was restricted. Players, coaches and team managers within the industry would label her as a medical risk even though she was doing her best to defy the concussion stigma.

Having to live with head injury symptoms, Jennifer understood the risk of playing a contact sport and went about rehabilitating to compete at an elite standard safely, and that she did. Yet, she was seldomly approached to play at the highest level.

Her ability and maturity were good enough to play with the country’s best, meaning it was the concussion stigma that seemed to have been the only plausible reason to be overlooked continuously. With cross-code players and athletic talents being chosen over her football experience and abilities, the frustration of what could have been still lingers.

Making sacrifices to pursue a football dream

Jennifer Lew is a qualified chiropractor and has always made sacrifices in her professional career to pursue her football dream. For Jennifer, it was always passion before profession, and she is grateful to have had the possibilities in both industries to succeed.

Jennifer is proud of what she has achieved in her football career. If anything, dealing with her brain injury symptoms and returning to play in a competitive VFLW competition may be her most significant accomplishment.

Even though she rues the missed opportunity to play in the AFLW competition, Jennifer plans to enter her twelfth season with her head held high. She has learnt the harsh lessons of the impact a head injury has on everyday life and the invaluable methods to retrain your brain.

Jennifer has a strong opinion on industry improvements to deal with head injuries, such as personalised baseline testing and education to remove concussion stigma and hopes to play a vital role to fulfil them.

Listen to the Jennifer Lew Braincast podcast below to hear first-hand about her football journey and daring to defy the concussions stigma.

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