Embracing New Challenges
Jordyn Sak, 23, sustained two concussions while on her college diving team and has since recovered to pursue new challenges.
Jordyn Sak, 23, grew up athletic in her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to doing gymnastics until her sophomore year of high school, she tried soccer, track and field, volleyball, swimming and diving.
It was diving that stuck. After being accepted to the biomedical engineering program at Georgia Tech, she made the diving team.
“I was so grateful to make the team,” Jordyn says. “I could transfer skills I learned in gymnastics like flipping and twisting into a new sport!”
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Jordyn pursued school and sport with determination. During a diving practice in the spring semester of her sophomore year, she jumped from the diving platform and, as Jordyn puts it, “hit the water wrong.”
“I got really nauseous, had trouble with lights and sounds, and couldn’t hold a conversation,” Jordyn recalls.
Jordyn had sustained a concussion. As her symptoms persisted, she decided to sit out of competitive diving until the end of that season. A study-abroad trip that summer gave her a break and time to recover. She returned to diving in the fall of her junior year, ready to start anew, but unfortunately, she would meet a similar fate.
“It was right before Thanksgiving in 2018,” Jordyn says. “I hit the water wrong again and was not feeling well. I had some trouble with visual tracking with my eyes, some vestibular symptoms and headaches that persisted too long. This is when I decided to go to the Complex Concussion Clinic.”
Shepherd Center’s Complex Concussion Clinic (CCC) serves patients ages 12 and up who are experiencing symptoms from a concussion or mild brain injury. Typically, concussions resolve within a week or two as headaches and other symptoms subside, but about 20% of cases present a more complex scenario with complications that fall beyond the scope of primary care physicians. In Jordyn’s case, she needed specialized care to handle the lingering symptoms she experienced.
“I received therapy for about two and a half months in early 2019,” Jordyn says. “I would go twice a week every week – once for physical therapy and the other for occupational therapy. They worked on tackling both my visual tracking and balance issues.”
At first, Jordyn had doubts about whether she was overthinking her symptoms. The results from her testing helped provide clarity.
“It’s like a light bulb went off,” Jordyn says. “They printed out my testing results and talked me through them. Now, I could understand my symptoms and have a plan of action to address them. By the time my treatments were done, I was feeling good, and my symptoms subsided.”
Jordyn was able to finish out her diving career at school by slowly easing back into it.
“I took a semester off from diving to pursue a co-op working on medical devices with Johnson & Johnson for my major,” Jordyn says. “When I came back, I wasn’t sure how my diving would be, so I got back into it slowly. I ended up having the best season of my career!”
She has also funneled her experience with concussion into several worthy pursuits. For her capstone project in biomedical engineering, she was accepted to a special project for the U.S. Army Rangers.
“Broadly, the project’s goal was to help mitigate traumatic brain injury among the Rangers,” Jordyn says. “I thought, hey, I have some familiarity with mild concussions, so that inspired me. It was nice to relate to the Rangers with my experience and work on how I can help service members prevent injury.”
Jordyn also became involved with Shepherd Center again, not as a patient, but as a mentor through the hospital’s SUCCESS program. SUCCESS, or Success in College after Concussion with Effective Student Supports, is a research and development project to develop a peer mentoring program for college students recovering from concussions. The program pairs newly injured college students (mentees) with students who have sustained concussions and successfully recovered like Jordyn.
“It’s been so rewarding to turn a negative of getting two concussions into a positive by mentoring,” Jordyn says. “I know I would have enjoyed having someone to talk to during that time in my life.”
Jordyn graduated from Georgia Tech in December 2020. Now, she’s pursuing her next challenge — hiking the entire 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail for six months.
“At first, I thought, oh, maybe I’m crazy!” Jordyn says jokingly. “But the more I looked into it, the more I fell in love with the challenge. I want to take time to enjoy every moment and every day.”
Written by Damjana Alverson
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.