By Will Estel
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Oklahoma Sophomore Carrie Whigham began participating with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer program at the age of 15. She quickly found success at the international level and in the spring of 2010, was named captain of the U-18 team.
Playing in the Ten Nations Tournament in La Manga, Spain, Whigham’s career ran into a road block head on – literally.
“We were playing Norway, and I went up for a header. We hit head to head,” Whigham said. “I split open my head and received 10 stitches.”
It was not until she returned to America that she discovered the extent of her injury. Doctors in her home state of Arizona discovered Whigham had suffered a concussion. She was left with just 60 percent of her inner ear function and her equilibrium was greatly affected.
"My primary concern was for Carrie's well being; knowing that soccer is a significant piece of her identity and that she was determined to impact our program in her first year,” Oklahoma coach Nicole Nelson said. “Carrie was the most high profile defender we had ever recruited here and one of the most decorated players to come into the program; so without question, I expected her impact on our program both as a player and a leader to be immediate and significant"
There was doubt that Whigham would play again. As her freshman season approached last season, she finally received the good news. Carrie’s mother Kristy explained that three different doctors, including Dr. Brock Schnebel of Oklahoma athletics, agreed she was healthy enough to play.
Last season, Whigham started all 23 games and she persevered despite continuing to suffer headaches. Unfortunately, the pain has worsened; the migraines and cluster headaches have become more common and more severe. Whigham is currently resting until she returns to 100 percent.
“I think the most difficult part is not being able to play and just having to watch my teammates from the sideline,” Whigham said. “I had to learn how to be a leader off the field. It’s hard, but it’s important for me to help my team as best as possible.”
Whigham’s parents have been impressed by with the care and support their daughter is receiving.
“We couldn’t have asked for better care than what we’ve seen at OU,” Kristy Whigham said. “What they have provided to support Carrie has been above and beyond anything we could have expected. We feel very lucky that she chose Oklahoma, and even though this injury didn’t even happen on their turf, they’re taking her and supporting her in it. That says a lot for the university. They truly do believe in their athletes and their students.”
One example stands out for Kristy Whigham.
“Last year, at a game in Norman, the athletic director (Joe Castiglione) came up and said hi. He said, ‘Oh, you’re Carrie Whigham’s mom and dad. How is she doing?’ He knew all about it,” Kristy Whigham said. “I thought to myself, ‘This is unreal.’”
Still, through her perseverance, some wonder how and why Whigham continues to push forward, including her parents.
“When you’re in pain 24/7, you go to bed with a migraine and wake up with a migraine, that’s the part that’s taking a huge toll on her; how much pain she’s in on a daily basis,” her mother said. “Most people would say ‘Why are you still doing this?’ but she still wants to do it.
“It’s just that love of the game. I think that’s what it’s always been.”
Her coach sees similar characteristics in Whigham.
“Carrie’s personality is one of perseverance. She has a drive that is unmatched,” Nelson said. “I continue to be amazed at how well she has handled the continual adversity with this injury. Her strength is something I admire.”
Whigham, who wears a necklace from her mom that has the message “keep calm and carry on,” sees her injury as a chance to grow as an individual.
“I’ve realized you grow stronger as a person when there are challenges. You can’t give up or you’re being defeated,” she said. “I am a stronger person from it.
“It was kind of gut wrenching and one of the most difficult things I’ve been through because soccer has always been my life, but I think I’ve grown to be stronger person from all this.”
Being sidelined by injury has not dampened her desire to rejoin her teammates on the field.
“It’s not over,” said Whigham. “I’m here at the University of Oklahoma trying to win a Big 12 Championship and go to the NCAA, so now I have these new dreams.”