Scrimmaging Canada earlier this fall during the U.S. Olympic Women’s Team’s Bring on the World Tour marked Josephine Pucci’s return to competitive hockey after suffering multiple concussions two seasons ago.
And earlier this month, she helped Team USA take third place in the Four Nation’s Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Those games should have been major emotional and physical milestones for the Harvard University defenseman who withdrew from school for five months after the most recent concussion occurred on Aug. 19, 2012, while playing against Canada with the U.S. National Under-22 Team in Calgary. Marking those milestones, however, were not luxuries the psychology major can afford herself as she guns for a spot on the 21-player roster that will compete in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games in February.
“I feel like you can’t afford to think like that,” she said. “Instead of thinking, ‘Oh this is my first game back,’ I’m thinking, ‘This is a big game tonight. I need to do this and this and this.’ … I’m just playing and trying to improve as a player like everyone else on the team.”
She did say she feels grateful for this second chance to play the game she loves.
“For a long time I wasn’t able play on a team or play hockey at all,” she said. “Now coming back, doing this, I feel every day so motivated and I’m having a blast. I’m not taking anything for granted and enjoying each and every moment.”
During the darkest moments of her hiatus, Pucci said she did consider the fact that she might never return to the game at the international level.
“It’s obviously a thought that goes through any athlete’s head that has to take off a long time, and I was out five or six months,” she said. “The thing with concussions is the uncertainty. To have a full recovery, I had to take the time needed. I took care of myself, ate right and rested. I’m just grateful I had a full recovery and have been blessed with an opportunity like this.”
After allowing herself a full recovery, she methodically built herself back into an elite athlete. And the mental aspects of that process were just as important as the physical ones.
“I would say coming back on ice, if you are afraid and playing with hesitation, it’s not worth it,” she said.
Pucci didn’t even want to spend more than a few moments considering those thoughts during a telephone interview.
“All I’ll say is I definitely took the time I needed, even after I was back on the ice and I wasn’t playing contact yet,” she said. “I just did everything I could to be safe, and when I felt totally comfortable, that’s when I went for it and started to play. You have to take baby steps; that’s for sure.”
That first baby step on the ice came at the Carrick Brain Center in Atlanta, where she worked with Dr. Ted Carrick, who is known for handling high-profile patients from the National Hockey League such as Sidney Crosby.
On the ice with the exercise physiologists from the Carrick Center, Pucci worked on such basics as basic as shooting the puck and skating without experiencing symptoms of her concussion such as fatigue, dizziness and headaches.
She also spent several months in her native Pearl River, N.Y., where she spent quality time with friends and family and also watched her sister Victoria play for Connecticut College and her sister Samantha play for Utica College. Pucci finally moved back to the Boston area in February of last year to ramp up her training.
Having the game taken away from her for so long made her realize that she had to continue to live in the moment and not feel sorry for herself.
“I realized you can’t think about what you are missing,” she said. “You have to make the most of the situation. There are many other ways to grow, and there are a lot of things to learn. I basically realized there is always something to work on, and it’s not always about going 100 percent all time.
“Sometimes you have to slow it down, look at the big picture as a whole.”
With that said, Pucci said if she makes it all the way to the Winter Games this February she would not allow herself too much time to soak up everything or to pat herself on the back for such an amazing comeback.
“I think it will be emotional for a second, but when you get there you have to be ready to compete,” she said. “I think that if I’m fortunate enough to get there it’s kind of like, oh you’ll take the experience in, it would be emotional for a second, and then all of a sudden you realize you are there and ready to compete and that you have a job to do.
“Everyone knows there is a goal to accomplish. Whoever goes to those Games, there is a goal to accomplish. They are there to do a job.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.