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Former CWHL Star Karolina Urban Committed to Concussion Research

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Having balanced the obligations of CWHL hockey while also pursuing a PhD, Karolina Urban embodied the empowering spirit that defines women in sport. Although Urban is not on CWHL ice this season, her dedication to the game remains strong. Currently involved with Toronto’s Holland Bloorview Concussion Centre, which is also Canada’s largest pediatric rehabilitation hospital, hockey still holds a special place in Urban’s heart.

Part of Urban’s efforts is highlighted by the fact that Holland Bloorview has partnered with the CWHL and Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) to provide concussion education and health services. With a career at the CWHL level that included appearances with the Toronto Furies and later, the Calgary Inferno, Urban was part of a pioneering time for women’s hockey in Canada.

Among an empowering group of women that proved there was still plenty of competitive play that remained after university, they would evolve into role models for youngsters, showing that women could stake their claim while participating at the highest levels of their sport.

One of the greatest legacies of remarkable athletes like Urban was the fact that their status as role models also extended off the ice. During her time as a student-athlete at the University of Toronto, playing hockey for head coach (and former CWHL star) Vicky Sunohara, Urban embodied the meaning of role model as she was an Academic All-Canadian.

Bringing a determined focus, defined by a future where concussions will no longer have a terrible impact on the game, allowing the next generation of women to follow in Urban’s footsteps with a stronger sense of safety, it is part of the character that still makes Urban a role model.

Of note, the Three Pillars of Holland Bloorview involves education, research, and clinical services, which sees Urban focused on the research aspect. Information is a powerful learning tool and Urban wants to see concussion safety is essential at all levels of the game, from administrators and coaches to the families and their young skaters hoping to make their own hockey dreams come true.  

While an average day for Urban at Holland Bloorview consists of a wide-range of activities, including the measuring of brain activity during dual task performance, with the goal of seeing if there any changes in the brain following a concussion, her work has proven to be a labor of love,

“Currently I am finishing course work as part of my PhD in addition to being at Holland Bloorview. Right now before we begin recruiting for the neuro-imaging studies, I do a lot of reading, writing and choosing the best possible methods. This involves creating research protocols and testing them to ensure they are evaluating the things we would like them too.

Additionally, because of the baseline testing program and partnerships with leagues I spend time contacting people within the hockey world to tell them about the concussion education and services we offer.”

Concussions have emerged as the biggest health concern in women’s hockey, one so severe that it even attracted coverage from the New York Times, focusing on Sochi silver medalist Josephine Pucci and how her career came about to an abrupt end. Sadly, her teammate from Sochi, Amanda Kessel was inactive for almost two years due to similar conditions.

Having also suffered from concussion related problems herself, it is a cause close to Urban’s heart. Considering that she is still in her twenties, Urban should still be on the ice, rather than off it. While she has managed to maintain her competitive spirit by competing in ball hockey, contributing towards Canada capturing the gold medal at the 2015 ISBHF Worlds, Urban is now part of a bigger team, where concussion education is a key focus.

Being able to give back to the game by educating others about concussion and hopefully preventing them is part of a new chapter in her life. Having earned a Master’s Degree in Neurosciences from the University of Calgary, her focus as a PhD student is in the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute and collaborative program in neurosciences is admirable. 

“For me, this is critical as I have had several concussions while I played. I would have greatly benefited from a better understanding of brain injury and why it is so important to take the appropriate steps to get back both quickly and without putting yourself at greater risk for a more severe injury. I always felt like there was a lack of translation from research to the general public and this is one of the reasons I am proud to be a part of the Concussion Centre team. 

In addition to the education, there is a lot of research being done to better understand the injury, create better rehabilitation protocols and really helping kids and their families deal with the injury. After my concussions, I noticed that there was a gap between the type of research being done and the applicability to real life situations. This has become a main focus of mine as I continue to work through my PhD.”

As a former player in the CWHL, Urban is very happy to see the league partnering with Holland Bloorview. For her efforts, Urban was recognized with the Holland Bloorview Spotlight Award. This follows another honor that Urban was the recipient of. In 2015, she was recognized as the Social Media Buzz Feed ISMRM Top Influencer. Taking into account her multiple scholarships, she has displayed a remarkable leadership that extends her legacy as a valued teammate.

“I honestly could not be more proud about this partnership. Since arriving at the Concussion Centre, it was my goal to have this partnership. I think that it is great of the CWHL to continue building into the community and supporting organizations that encourage youth to play sport and get back to playing hockey with safety and health in mind.

I believe that we need to continue encouraging sport and hockey as the life lessons of team work, leadership, time management and pursuing your passion with dedication and commitment to goals (that) are learned while playing. Also, I am very excited to have the Concussion Centre support the CWHL in its venture towards a professional league.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/urbankarolina

To learn more about Holland Bloorview, please visit: http://www.hollandbloorview.ca/Home

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