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    Liam Picken opens up on the concussion battle that forced him to retire from AFL football

    Liam Picken opens up on the concussion battle that forced him to retire from AFL football



    He was one of the toughest players to play the game and is a Bulldogs premiership hero. Now, Liam Picken opens up on the scary depths of the concussion problems that forced him to retire and why he wants to donate his brain.

    Bulldogs premiership hero Liam Picken has revealed he plans to posthumously donate his brain to aid future research into concussion, pledging part of his post-football future to helping to make a difference for future generations.

    In an exclusive interview with Herald Sun analyst Mick McGuane and journalist Glenn McFarlane, the retired star has spoken at length for the first time about his nightmare battle to overcome crippling symptoms from sustaining a heavy concussion in 2018.

    It comes in the wake of last weekís revelation the brain of Australian football legend Graham ĎPollyí Farmer Ė donated by his family to the Australian Sports Brain Bank after his death last year Ė proved to be the AFLís first case of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).

    Read the full Q&A with Picken below as he speaks at length for the first time about his long concussion battle, his darkest moments, his courageous pathway towards recovery and how he wants to help others as part of his own rehabilitation.

    THE INCIDENTS
    MICK McGUANE: Thanks for agreeing to speak with us, Liam. How many concussions have you suffered in your career?

    LIAM PICKEN: There were three concussions in the AFL. I had a concussion in the VFL, too, with Williamstown. You never really thought about it when you were growing up. I donít really recall the first one (in the AFL), it was so long ago. There was the one against Fremantle (Round 3, 2017), which was a big impact one, I think I got tackled to the ground. It was Tom Sheridan. I remember he messaged me afterwards. Then, there was the big one (a collision with teammate Josh Dunkley in a pre-season game with Hawthorn in 2018).

    GLENN McFARLANE: Your wife Annie put an emotional social media message out with your son in tears after the Fremantle one. How did that affect you?

    LP: I only found out about it when I got home. Your family never like to see you injured or hurting. My wife wanted me to retire after that 2017 one.

    GM: You played the week after the Fremantle game. Why?

    LP: Yeah, I played the next week (six days later).

    MM: Should you have played?

    LP: Looking back and with what I know now, I would never go back after a concussion and play the next week.

    MM: Paint the picture of what transpired at Ballarat in the pre-season game in 2018.

    LP: I just remember running for the ball. I think I tripped and hit Josh Dunkleyís hip, so there was an impact on his hip and obviously my head rotated really quickly. I came down and hit the ground. I was already out. That was the biggest concussion Iíve ever had.

    MM: When did you come to?

    LP: I remember driving home with Shane Biggs that night. My memory is just driving home with a constant headache. Biggsy was driving, of course.

    MM: What was the medical advice back then?

    LP: I canít really remember, to be honest. It was nearly two years ago. I just remember mum (Julie) being really concerned for me and my wife.

    THE SYMPTOMS
    MM: What symptoms did you have after that concussion?

    LP: When I got to the club (the next day) I knew something was wrong. I had this headache that wouldnít go away. I was just hoping it would go away. I had some vision problems. I was really sensitive to noise. I was feeling really sick and I couldnít drive.

    GM: Did the doctors say this concussion was worse than the other one?

    LP: Every concussion is different and unique. Itís just an unknown about when you recover. Everyone hopes to recover quickly, but some guys take a long time.

    MM: How long was it before you were allowed to drive?

    LP: I couldnít drive confidently for a couple of weeks. My vision took a long time. It was probably over a year to get it back (completely). There were different sort of recovery methods I used. I saw a specialist to rewire and retrain that part of my brain, to be able to fix it.

    GM: Was your vision blurry or clouded? Tell us what was the issue?

    LP: When I was running, my vision was all over the place. I was really dizzy. Just going to the football or being in a footy environment, my vision was jumping around.

    MM: Did it impact your balance?

    LP: I had to get a lot of therapy to fix my balance. That whole process of going through every individual symptom, and trying to rehabilitate it, took so long. I went from such a great lifestyle to being stuck in bed with my brain not functioning right. There was anxiety, depression, all those things that are common with brain injuries.

    STUCK IN YOUR OWN HOME
    MM: Was it true you struggled with the light even in your own home?

    LP: For the first six months, I was virtually stuck in bed. It may not have been quite that long, but it was a long period of time. My eyes had to be rehabilitated to light sensitivity. To be stuck in a dark room and unable to function was really hard.

    G M: What impact did that have on your wife, your two daughters and your son?

    LP: My wife virtually had to take over running the family. She was caring for not only the kids but for me. That impacted on her career. She could see I was really struggling. She was virtually my carer there for a while.

    GM: How hard was it on the kids?

    LP: You go from a fully functional adult playing AFL to a person disconnected from the outside world, including your teammates. You canít get out and connect with people or your kids, so it had a really big impact on them. With all the symptoms, it takes you away from your friends and family and puts you in an isolated place until you can get better.

    MM: Were you like a prisoner in your own home?

    LP: Thatís exactly right. I was able to leave the house at times, but my symptoms would flare up again and Iíd have to stay at home. The time I was leaving the house I was going to see a lot of different specialists.

    MM: Did you have any bad thoughts at the time?

    LP: I had heaps of bad thoughts. The complexity of a brain injury really impacts your mental health.

    GM: How many specialists have you seen?

    LP: I have seen them from all around Australia. I would have had over 100 appointments. There was a time when I was going once a day for treatment. It was like a full-time job rehabilitating.

    MM: Did you explore avenues overseas?

    LP: I did speak to some different athletes in North America who played professionally in the NHL and NFL. They were amazing to talk to Ė to hear their experiences, to hear how they are now and understand their recovery techniques. They have been dealing with this for the last 30 years, whereas it is relatively new in our league.

    COMEBACK ATTEMPT
    MM: Given you were always a ground-ball hunter, how tough was it doing the training in trying to make a return to the game?

    LP: Unfortunately, I never got to the stage where I got into contact again. At one stage I was feeling really good. But we were on our camp to Queensland in January 2019 and all my symptoms flared up again and I had to pull it all back.

    GM: In hindsight, were you ever a realistic chance to get back playing?

    LP: I was really hoping to get back and play. There were a lot of things that were improving. But I had this sort of headache that wouldnít go away. I had a headache for virtually 18 months. I would wake up with a headache and go to sleep with a headache. I tried so many techniques to get rid of it and had all sorts of treatments and medications, and injections into my neck and head. It just wouldnít go away. We tried everything. Thatís why I made the decision (to retire) after consulting with my family and specialists. It was an easy decision, but in saying that, it was like a sense of failure. I really wanted to prove that I could get back. You get to the end of your footy career and thatís one of the biggest things. You failed to get back Ö but you failed to recover your health.

    RETIREMENT
    MM: Tell us about the first of April, 2019, when you told your teammates you were retiring. Was there a lightning bolt moment?

    LP: It was the easiest decision to make, even though it was hard to do. I was leaving the AFL really sick and it was up to me to solve my problems.

    GM: Is the cumulative impact of concussions the thing that worries you the most?

    LP: The few years my health spiralled downwards really quickly ó one of the biggest challenges for players who suffer brain injuries is to get on with their lives. When I retired, I realised we push our bodies and minds to extreme levels. When it was over, I was left with a brain injury, lost (a) livelihood, you are disconnected from your friends and quite traumatised from the whole experience. You have to pick up your own health and your own life and get on with it.

    GM: Do you rate your own bravery in overcoming these challenges above what you achieved on the football field?

    LP: Yeah, footy is easy. Having challenges with your health and recovering, thatís the hardest thing in your life.

    GM: Do you often think about that crazy month in September 2016 when you helped the Bulldogs win the flag?

    LP: The flag will always be very special to me and I have amazing memories.

    PROTECT THE HEAD

    MM: You sent a powerful message in relation to young Bulldog Ed Richards after his incident a few weeks ago, in relation to protecting the head.

    LP: Iím always concerned when I see guys hit in the head. If we can eliminate that in any way we can, that would be good. We just need to look at any possible way to improve the safety for players.

    GM: You called for a concussion sub in AFL football. Should we implement that for the 2020 season?

    LP: It might be hard to implement straight away, but it would be good to see it happen.

    GM: Is the speed of the game the biggest danger?

    LP: We play in such a high intensity, high-speed environment that players are going to get hit at a high speed. The game is so quick. All things should be considered to slow the game down a bit, but in saying that, it is hard to change the rules.

    MM: Youíve always been a team-first, selfless player. On the back of the Polly Farmer news, with his family allowing them to scan Pollyís brain for CTE, would you be willing to donate your brain?

    LP: Yeah, Iím really open to that. I would love to donate my brain. What is it (your brain) worth to you when you are in the ground.

    MM: Is that wholly your decision, or a family decision?

    LP: I am sure they would be open to it. If you could offer valuable information to the people who are living, and to future generations Ė the kids and grandchildren Ė it would be amazing.

    GM: Have the lessons you have learnt made you a better husband and father, do you think?

    LP: I think so. As an AFL player, you sacrifice your own health when you go in hard, and I got into an environment where I neglected it, which impacted on my family and my kids. It happened when the kids were growing up and they are still developing. That sense of guilt and disappointment is one of the things that drives me today.

    CHANGING THE CULTURE
    MM: If there was one bit of advice you could give the AFL, what would it be?

    LP: Through my experience, it is all to do with education and awareness. You have got no idea what it is like until you live the experience, There are a lot of players coming out now, such as Paddy McCartin. We need greater education and awareness for coaches, players, clubs and doctors.

    MM: Are you open to being a sounding board for players of today, especially someone like Danny Venables from West Coast?

    LP: Iíve been talking to different AFL players and players from local levels, just to share my experiences. The main thing I found from my experience was it felt like my family were too responsible for my recovery and support. I have set up a website, Liampicken.com.au, which I want to use to help educate people and create a community where people can connect. I have a deep passion for educating and helping people. This year I will coach a few junior footy teams (one involving his son Malachy). One of my biggest passions is to try and help athletes understand their own personal wellbeing and mindfulness.

    GM: Do you see it as an important thing in the future to help others?

    LP: I do. I had multiple concussions and injuries, and hardly missed a game. We have got this elite sports culture, this win-at-all-costs mentality, no pain no gain Ö this culture has been ingrained at all levels of different sports, and I think that impacts on playersí wellbeing. There is so much money, there is so much pressure on players, coaches, boards, clubs and sponsors. Sometimes it can become a bit toxic.

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  3. #2
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    Re: Liam Picken opens up on the concussion battle that forced him to retire from AFL football

    THE FUTURE
    GM: What was the tipping point in your recovery?

    LP: When I played football, I completely neglected my own personal wellbeing and health. I grew up with that environment. My dad (Bill Picken), my brother (Marcus) and my cousin (Jonathan Brown) did as well. What I did to my mind and my body throughout my career, and the pain you push through, takes a big toll. I think taking ownership for my own health and recovery was essential. Once I took it on myself, with family, to go out and see different people and to see different methods, thatís where I got my biggest value from.

    MM: Tell us how you are feeling now?

    LP: Iím excited about the next phase of my life and optimistic about the future. This has had a big impact on my family. I want to give back to my wife and kids. My wife has a comedy show Ė We Want To Be Better Ė coming up at the Melbourne Comedy Festival starting later this month. I think she has stolen a lot of content off me. Iíve had a lot of treatment over the last 18 months. Iíve done so much it felt like I had a degree in neuropsychology. Learning to understand your brain, mindfulness and nutrition have played a big role in my recovery. I have been able to work with different researchers and a lot of great people.

    MM: Are you worried about your future?

    LP: No, Iím not. My understanding is once you have recovered from your concussion, thereís no point worrying about it anymore. With my lifestyle and my purpose in life, Iím not going to worry about it. I think my concussion experience will stay with me for the rest of my life, because it was so traumatic. But I donít take anything for granted now. It has led to a deep personal growth. I am a completely changed person and I am a lot better person for what I have been through.

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    Re: Liam Picken opens up on the concussion battle that forced him to retire from AFL football

    Liam on SEN discussing - here
    Premierships: AFL 1954, 2016 VFA - 1898,99,1900, 1908, 1913, 1919-20, 1923-24, VFL: 2014, 2016 . Champions of Victoria 1924. AFLW - 2018.

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    Re: Liam Picken opens up on the concussion battle that forced him to retire from AFL football

    WOOF Member 422

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    Re: Liam Picken opens up on the concussion battle that forced him to retire from AFL football

    It's paywalled but I think it's the same article anyway.

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    Re: Liam Picken opens up on the concussion battle that forced him to retire from AFL football

    Yikes that gets dark - for anyone to go through, but for Picko?

    I wonder if there's anything alternative he tried (or tries if symptoms are ongoing - that wasn't really clear from the above) I've read that CBD (extracted from hemp) really helps with concussion issues, but of course is a banned substance for elite athletes.
    Float Along - Fill Your Lungs

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    Re: Liam Picken opens up on the concussion battle that forced him to retire from AFL football

    Quote Originally Posted by Axe Man View Post
    It's paywalled but I think it's the same article anyway.
    Here is the article :-

    Bulldogs premiership hero Liam Picken, who was forced out of the AFL with head knocks, has revealed that he will posthumously donate his brain for concussion research.

    The retired star has told of his “traumatic” concussion symptoms, which included a headache that lasted 18 months.

    The West Australian revealed last week that the late Graham “Polly” Farmer was the first AFL player confirmed to have suffered chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

    The degenerative brain disease, believed to be caused by repeated head or sub-concussive knocks, can only be diagnosed when brain tissue is analysed after death.

    “I’m really open to that,” he said. “What is it (your brain) worth to you when you are in the ground?

    “If you could offer valuable information to those who are living and to future generations, kids and grandchildren, it would be amazing.”

    Picken revealed that researchers had declared his brain would be “the most researched in footy” after more than 100 appointments with specialists.

    He is pushing for the AFL to consider “heavy penalties” for any player who makes contact with an opponent’s head.

    Picken was last year forced into retirement — two games short of 200 — after suffering two major concussions.

    He was knocked out in a nasty collision with teammate Josh Dunkley during the 2018 pre-season, after having suffered a concussion in the Bulldogs’ Round 3 clash against Fremantle the previous year.

    “For the first six months, I was virtually stuck in bed,” he said. “I went from such a great lifestyle to being stuck in bed with my brain not functioning right.

    “I had a headache for virtually 18 months. I would wake up with a headache and go to sleep with a headache.”
    Liam Picken.

    Picken has seen countless neurologists and researchers over two years as he has worked his way back to good health.

    He said he was now planning to get on with life, focusing on his wife Annie Nolan and children Malachy, Delphi and Cheska.

    “I think my concussion experience will stay with me for the rest of my life because it was so traumatic.

    “It’s led to a deep personal growth. I am a completely changed person and I am a lot better person for what I have been through.”

    “This has had a big impact on my family. I want to give back to my wife and kids.

    “I’m excited about the next phase of my life, and optimistic about the future.”

    The couple’s son Malachy was reduced to tears after seeing his dad knocked out in the sickening 2017 incident, while watching the match on TV at home.

    Ms Nolan later detailed to the Herald Sun some of the challenges the family had to endure.

    “The worst thing for me is that when he actually had the knock (in 2018), I wasn’t there, but all three of our kids were in the cheer squad, so I’ve heard the story through the cheer squad,” Ms Nolan said.

    “There’s no good story without a little bit of hardship, so I really think that this is going to end in something great.”

    Picken was one of the heroes of the Bulldogs’ fairytale 2016 premiership, kicking eight goals in a thrilling finals series as well as three in the Grand Final win over Sydney.

    He has been told his brain will be “the most researched” of any football player’s — something he is already proud of as he attempts to help others who encounter similar health challenges.

    “I get a sense of pride about that. Offering myself up is hopefully going to be lead to great benefits to future footballers,” he said.
    WOOF Member 422

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    Re: Liam Picken opens up on the concussion battle that forced him to retire from AFL football

    Sober reading. Liam is a class act on and off the field. I’ve seen his family in cheer squad a few times a few years ago at AFLW at WO and they were a delight too. I hope his symptoms have disappeared or have been suppressed sufficiently so he and his family can enjoy a full and happy life together. Always admired him for continuing with (if I recall correctly) commerce/business degrees whilst playing footy. Let’s hope he can forge a successful business career-with his grit and determination and if his health allows him I would be very confident he can.

    Doubt anyone replaces him as my fave player ever (along with Scott West).

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    Re: Liam Picken opens up on the concussion battle that forced him to retire from AFL football

    Wow, that was hard to read. Brain injury is no joke, and that is essentially what we are talking about here. I had no idea he was so severely debilitated, it must have been horribly hard for his family.

    Boy, he is tough to fight through all that and come out the other side so optimistic for the future.

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    Re: Liam Picken opens up on the concussion battle that forced him to retire from AFL football

    Quote Originally Posted by Murphy'sLore View Post
    Wow, that was hard to read. Brain injury is no joke, and that is essentially what we are talking about here. I had no idea he was so severely debilitated, it must have been horribly hard for his family.

    Boy, he is tough to fight through all that and come out the other side so optimistic for the future.
    If you get a chance listen to the audio (see post 3 above)
    Premierships: AFL 1954, 2016 VFA - 1898,99,1900, 1908, 1913, 1919-20, 1923-24, VFL: 2014, 2016 . Champions of Victoria 1924. AFLW - 2018.

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    Re: Liam Picken opens up on the concussion battle that forced him to retire from AFL football

    Yes I will.

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    Re: Liam Picken opens up on the concussion battle that forced him to retire from AFL football

    Will have to take the time to read that and listen to the audio.
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    Re: Liam Picken opens up on the concussion battle that forced him to retire from AFL football

    Truly truly frightening
    Liam’s making a massive difference , just as he did on the field

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