Flagler freshman introduces Obama at concussion summit
Victoria Bellucci spent much of her life as a star on the soccer field, but after five concussions, the incoming Flagler freshman was forced to hang up her cleats.
And while her story is not uncommon, it was Bellucci who caught the eye of the White House, earning the chance to introduce President Obama at a recent summit on sports concussions.
“(The White House) called my mom who actually works at my school and they were asking if I would just be there at this conference,” said Bellucci. “A couple days before, they called me and told me they wanted me to speak and introduce the president.”
The event brought together representatives of professional and college sports associations, coaches, parents, young athletes, doctors and others to try and jumpstart a national conversation to teach parents, coaches and young athletes about concussions.
“It was honestly the most awesome thing that could have happened for me,” said Bellucci. “Normally I’m terrified speaking in front of other people. But now I feel like I could handle anything.”
Bellucci’s career at Huntingtown High School in Maryland is full of accolades: three state championship appearances, four regional titles, three conference championships and individual honors like Athlete of the Year. Her story became known when a local reporter found out she would not continue her career at the college level.
“I got picked first team All-Metropolitan Team and had to get my picture taken and was asked where I was playing next year,” said Bellucci. “Like a month later the reporter wound up doing an article on how concussions in women’s soccer are on the rise and asked me to be a focus for it.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, concussions in woman’s soccer aren’t just on the rise. They are the leading cause of concussions for females in high school sports. Soccer as a whole is second only to football.
“It’s not really heading the ball like most people think,” explained Bellucci, who had to turn down a scholarship to play soccer at Towson University in Maryland. “It’s misjudging when you go to head a ball with someone else and colliding heads or coming down and hitting your head on the ground.”
Bellucci says she got her first concussion during her sophomore year and didn’t think it was a big deal. She played in a big game the following day and got her second.
“It put me out of a school for a long time,” said Bellucci. “I was really dizzy. I couldn’t remember things. I couldn’t focus. It gave me headaches.”
Bellucci would have another concussion in her junior year and then two more the summer of her senior year.
“The symptoms were horrible, but it really took an emotional toll on me more than anything else. My mood would change drastically. I was quick to get angry at people for no reason or I’d get really sad,” said Bellucci. “I knew I had to make a change. Soccer was important, but not as important as my health.”
Bellucci said she’s happy that stories like hers are getting attention, but that she hopes that they don’t scare kids away from playing youth sports.
“I think most importantly people shouldn’t be afraid to play,” she said. “Playing a sport helped shape me into the person I’ve become, but we need to be more knowledgeable about safety to prevent these long term problems.”
As she heads into her career at Flagler College purely as a student, Bellucci said the transition has been weird but exciting.
“There was a time where I played on four teams at once. I always had practice. I always had games. It was all I knew,” she said. “Now I’ve finally begun to discover other things. I have a social life. I can work. I help coach.”
Bellucci said she’s coming into college undecided on her major, but she’s considering the sport management program.
No matter her decision, it’s hard to hide her excitement at being a Saint.
“Honestly as much as I liked Towson, it wasn’t my first choice academically. I’d always had my eye on Flagler and have had family and friends that went there,” said Bellucci. “So even though things didn’t go exactly as planned, it’s still like a dream come true.”