2017-09-13

Touchdown: How football helped one woman recover her life

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Samantha (Sam) Dickens and family members &#8212; husband James, son Christian and daughter Mackenzie. Missing: daughter Michaela.</p>
  • <p>MARK KAYS PHOTO</p><p>The Dickens family members all play or coach football &#8212; parents James and Samantha (Sam) Dickens, and their children (left to right) Mackenzie, Christian and Michaela.</p>

When a car accident in 2012 left Samantha (Sam) Dickens with a severe concussion, the Springfield resident spent the next three years virtually immobile.

Suffering from acute vertigo, nausea and migraine headaches, for much of the time she was able only to stagger between bed and medical appointments.

But in the game of life, Dickens is no pushover.

A trained home builder, keen recreational sports player, military wife and dedicated mother of three, Dickens just wrapped up a season playing women's tackle football with Halifax Xplosion, one of four teams in the Maritime Women's Football League.

And she's now also a volunteer dispatcher for the Springfield and District Fire Department, and sometimes finds herself diverting traffic at the scene of a fire.

Dickens credits her recovery to son's interest in football, and the commitment she made to support him.

While many might deem playing tackle football after suffering such a debilitating injury as questionable at the least, Dickens is passionate in her defence of her playing.

"Football gave me my life back," she says with emotion.

When her son Christian, now 16, expressed interest in signing up for the South Shore Seahawks Bantam football team three years ago, Dickens was barely able to move around the house.

After the accident, she would crawl down the stairs in the morning to see her three children - Michaela, Christian and Mackenzie - off to school, and then make her way back to bed to sleep the day away, setting the alarm for when they would return.

The household chores were all borne by her children and husband, James. Even folding towels was a struggle.

Dickens had always been active, playing recreational baseball and other sports, renovating their home, and driving the children to their sports activities.

"It was like a punch in the guts. It took everything away," she told LighthouseNOW of the accident.

Depression soon set in.

"I didn't know what depression was. I had always been the strong one - wife of a military husband with three kids. Yeah, he's gone for six months at a time. Yeah, he's gone for a month at a time. Everything was on me at that point."

In time, she recovered enough to be able to cut vegetables on the coffee table and do a few other odd jobs. But her turning point was when Christian, then 13, said he wanted to sign up for the Seahawks football team.

She made a commitment to him that she would be at his practices and his games.

"It's hard to describe," she says, trying to explain. "I had lost my whole being.

"It pushed me. I had made a promise....So at least three times a week, I would get out of bed. I would go to practices. I would see people. And I would go to a game."

With James on one arm and Christian on the other, the two helped Dickens hobble down Bridgewater's Kinsmen field toward the bleachers, where they would set her up in a camp chair. She wore sunglasses and watched the game through her camera, snapping pictures throughout.

"Because I couldn't remember what would happen...I would sit and look at the pictures afterwards in order to know what the kids had done."

She recalls only missing one practice, "and that was because I was so sick that I couldn't get out of bed."

Her voice breaks recalling how the kids would cheer when they saw her coming down the field.

"They ended up all becoming my kids," she says, choking back tears. "I got so excited watching them."

Dickens says the team members still visit. "I had two of them here last evening."

As time progressed, she went on to help her daughter Mackenzie train with the Seahawks Adams girls team, aligning her own conditioning with the players', spurring them on.

"The kids would make it an event - see if we can beat Sam.'"

There were times when she overdid it and ended up vomiting, but she slowly regained her muscle tone and improved her heart rate.

It was when she had the chance to watch the Halifax Xplosion team play at Saint Mary's University in Halifax earlier this year that Dickens decided she wanted to get directly into the game.

"I was just twitching. I wanted to get out on the field."

Having heard her story, the team coach said he would "find a spot" for her.

But he warned her, "'I don't want you getting direct hits, and you're not going to be the QB (quarterback).'"

She recalls replying, "'I can't throw balls to save my life.'"

In May, Dickens hit the field with the team, playing "guard, offensive line, left or right tackle, depending what side they need me at the time.

"Basically, I stop people from getting to my quarterback."

While her husband was wary of her playing at first, as a football coach himself he's no stranger to the draw of the game. Dickens recalls him telling her, "'You've gotten this far, you might as well go for it.'"

All three of her children play football and are determined to see her on the field again next year.

Dickens herself is keen to continue, if her health permits, though she admits, "It was a rough go.

"And it's still not gone. I still have a pretty bad stutter and word-searching thing that I deal with. I still have headaches every day."

There are days when the whole thing comes flooding back, and you sit there and go, 'I can't believe I made it through.'"

Dickens recognizes the potential for serious injury with the game. But she's quick to remind, "There's the potential for me to injure myself walking out the door."

Pointing to her son, the tears well up in her eyes again.

"Football gave me my life back," she emphasizes. "If it wasn't for him, I'd still be in bed."

Moreover, Dickens says she loves being part of a team.

"And that's what football's all about. You strive to make each other better," she says.

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