17-year-old Ashley Jones continues to thrive in tennis after a health scare brought on by two severe concussions.
© Matt Smith/The Express-Times
By Michael Gladysz, special to USTA.com
At a bleak point in her life, tennis lifted Ashley Jones from darkness.
Jones, a 17-year-old graduating senior at Bangor Area High School in Upper Mount Bethel Township, Pa., was twice knocked down with severe concussions. It all started for Jones as a freshman, when the multi-sport standout athlete took a bad fall near midcourt while playing for the school’s basketball team, landing with a hard thud — and all of her body weight — directly on her chin. Several months later, Jones was practicing her goalkeeping during a soccer practice when she suffered her second concussion. While diving to save a ball during a drill, a teammate’s knee collided with Jones’s head while airborne.
It was after that second concussion that Jones’ health took a turn for the worse. The impact altered many aspects of her life. She endured piercing migraines that prevented her from regularly attending school, and the trauma in her brain was so serious that she couldn’t be exposed to light for several weeks. In that time, Jones began realizing the impact her injuries had.
"I had to be in my basement for two months, and I couldn’t use my cell phone or watch television, or really do anything," she said. "I literally just laid on my couch and cried. I didn’t go back to school that year. I had a long way to go."
Doctors warned Jones that there was a chance that one more concussion could keep her out of sports permanently. It’s an epidemic that affects millions of American high school athletes each year, sidelined with headaches or migraines, dizziness, blackouts, seizures and other traumatic brain injury symptoms. What’s more, according to a 2013 study by The Centers for Disease Control, once an athlete has suffered an initial concussion, his or her chances of a second one are three-to-six times greater than an athlete who has never sustained a concussion.
That final play of her soccer career meant the end of contact sports for Jones. Yet the competitive mindset remained, so a new challenge for Jones meant a new sport. It was then, during her sophomore year, that Jones picked up a tennis racquet and decided to give a shot. She began by hitting the ball back and forth with her father, Brian, on the street and quickly took to it.
"I remember getting my tennis racquet out of the garage, getting my dad and just going back to the roadway where I began learning," said Jones. "The lights were hard on me, so I wore big sunglasses and we hit the ball back and forth. That was the first baby step for me in a lot of steps. At the start I just didn’t want to hit the cars on the street."
Jones kept hitting and improving, and eventually she contacted the school’s tennis coach, Mike Cohen, expressing her desire to play. Soon thereafter she earned a position on the varsity roster. In three years playing for Bangor, Jones rose from No. 2 doubles to leading the Slaters to a league championship playing No 1 singles. Last October, Jones was recognized by USTA Middle States with the Eastern Pennsylvania District Courage Award.
"She showed more heart and determination than any player ever has," Cohen said. "She is a superstar."
Jones is still fighting migraines, but she believes she is getting close to a full recovery. She went through summer school to catch up and got back on track for graduation last year. This fall she will attend West Chester University of Pennsylvania, concentrating on earning a degree in education and earning playing time for the school’s girls’ tennis team.
"I’ve been helped by a lot of people and was lucky to fight through this," said Jones. "Today, I feel like tennis got me out of my basement and back to being me again."
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