When Nic Pierog was a senior at Clarkson University, he missed two games due to a concussion. For any player, missing games isn’t ideal but if it means a future without mental health issues due to concussions, sitting out a few games can’t be that bad.
In his third professional hockey season, Nic Pierog has not only cemented himself as one of Indy Fuel’s top goal scorers but he has been one of the largest advocates for the Headway Foundation. Headway is an organization that aims to spread concussion awareness by taking a peer-to-peer approach to keep athletes in the game for the long-term. They also provide resources to those who have experienced sports-related concussions at all levels.
Pierog started with the foundation during his college days and has since become the Director of Outreach and Operations for Headway. “I was playing in the ECAC at the time at Clarkson University,” said Pierog. “(The co-founders) graduated from Harvard and Yale so they also had the ECAC connection and that’s how Headway started out. By doing a concussion awareness week for just the ECAC in Division 1 hockey. We kind of grew from there.”
Founded in 2015, Headway began by hosting a Concussion Awareness Week with just one division in men’s college hockey. Since then, the campaign has grown to involve over 800 teams across several different sports. “It’s just been awesome to see the growth and the support we’ve gotten on social media from professional teams, collegiate teams, prep schools, youth hockey,” Pierog said. “That was the big goal we had last year and this year to grow the youth involvement. We’ve done a good job at that and we’ve branched out to not just hockey anymore but alpine skiing, volleyball, basketball, any sport we’re now trying to work with.”
Concussion awareness is just one of the many seeds Headway wants to grow. Advocating for mental health awareness, teaching meditation techniques and connecting those who have dealt with concussions is paramount to forwarding the progress of Headway. “I don’t think it is something that anybody can see. It’s not an injury that’s external, it’s something that’s going on internally,” said Pierog. “The more research and more awareness that is around that, the stigma of mental health, we can only benefit moving forward. That’s where concussion awareness advocacy just as an organization for Headway, we want to impact as many people and create those connections with as many people out there to tell them there are multiple resources on the Headway Foundation website to go to for different situations, for different athletes, for different people and we’re just trying to be that outlet for people.”
In order to promote Concussion Awareness among athletes, Headway introduced the #NewTough pact. A campaign asking athletes to take action by reporting symptoms of concussions, supporting teammates with injuries and playing smart to avoid unnecessary injuries. As part of the #NewTough pact, Headway is asking athletes to be a supportive teammate. “A lot of athletes try and cover up symptoms and play through it,” said Pierog “You could almost say, in the past, it’s been a sign of weakness that you’re not playing through injury. You don’t want your teammates to judge you the wrong way. So we ask every teammate to be supportive whether their teammate is going through any type of injury, especially a head or neck-related injury.”
“My senior year at Clarkson I had a concussion and I was out for two games. When you have supportive teammates texting you and asking how you’re doing, it means the world to you when you’re not at the rink with the guys.”
This season, the Indy Fuel and the Junior Fuel youth organization are proud to partner with Nic and the Headway Foundation to raise awareness for concussions. To help support Headway and concussion awareness, the Fuel will be donating $100 for each Indy Fuel goal in Friday’s game to the Headway Foundation as well as wearing Headway stickers on their helmets during Friday and Saturday’s games at Indiana Farmers Coliseum.