Like so many athletes, Kristina Groves didn't realize right away that she had suffered a concussion.
After taking a tumble during a World Cup race in Berlin back in November, the Canadian long-track speedskater had a sore neck, but thought she'd be fine after a couple days rest.
When she still wasn't feeling right four days later, the Ottawa native knew it was more serious.
"I felt exhausted, like I didn't want to move," she recalled during a conference call Monday to announce she is pulling the plug on her season. "I never really had splitting headaches, it was more a feeling of just this foginess and wooziness."
She was also sensitive to light and loud noises.
The four-time Olympic medallist had never experienced a concussion before but as soon as she relayed her symptoms to the team doctor, he knew right away what the problem was.
Realizing that she needed more than a couple days rest, Groves headed home to Calgary. She hasn't skated since the Nov. 21 crash.
"I basically just laid around and tried to sleep and rest," she said.
Groves is feeling significantly better now, but the 34-year-old has decided she doesn't have time to get back into shape will take the rest of the season off.
The injury happened in just the second World Cup of the season in Berlin when Groves hit a bad patch of ice during a team pursuit race and went down on her behind, slamming back-first into the safety mats.
"I just didn't have time to recover and I was down before I knew it," said Groves, adding that she doesn't recall ever falling in a World Cup race before.
She said she didn't hit her head very hard but suffered a bad case of whiplash, which she believes contributed to the concussion. She's even had trouble determining which symptoms were from the concussion and which were caused by whiplash.
While her health has improved and most of the symptoms have subsided, Groves says she's still feeling the effects of the whiplash in her neck. She has recently resumed mild physical activity, including cross-country skiing, pilates, light cardio and weight training.
"It's manageable, but it's not anything that I think will be long-term," she said of the whiplash symptoms. "Whiplash injuries tend to take a few months at least to clear up."
With NHL superstar Sidney Crosby sidelined with a head injury, the issue of concussions in sports has been making headlines in recent weeks.
Groves said she was totally supported in her decision to take time off and didn't feel any pressure to return to racing before she was ready.
But she's sympathetic to athletes like Crosby who may not receive the same level of understanding.
"I feel bad for him because I'm sure there's a lot of pressure for him to come back," she said. "I mean these guys are paid a lot of money and there's a lot riding on their team's success. It's a different situation in that it's a team thing and they really need him to perform whereas I'm capable of making this decision myself and say these races aren't worth it, I need to be 100 per cent healthy and fit until I come back."
For now she's enjoying the break from being on the ice. Groves admits she was struggling with her focus before the injury occurred and even called the concussion a "blessing in disguise" since it has given her a much-needed break.
"I kind of laugh about it now, but I'm literally standing on the line at these World Cups with giant question marks in my brain like 'What do I want to do with my life,"' she said. "It was kind of ridiculous really."
Groves still isn't entirely sure what she wants to do with her life. She even contemplated retirement after the injury but eventually realized she's not ready to make that decision yet.
"I'd be lying if I said that didn't cross my mind," said Groves. "But at this point, honestly, I think I'm just completely focused on getting better, getting back into the shape that I'm used to being in without feeling the constant pressure to perform."
After winning silver in the 1,500 and bronze in 3,000 at the Vancouver Olympics last February, Groves took three months away from training. But there wasn't much time for rest as she spent most of the hiatus appearing at speaking engagements and other events. She returned to training in June, with the world championships as her main goal.
"As the season went on, I kind of felt myself struggling a bit with focus and motivation and not being quite there," said Groves, who will finish the season with just one bronze medal in the 3,000 metres.
The World Cup season resumes this weekend in Moscow before a stop in Salt Lake City in February and the World Cup finale in the Netherlands in early March.
The world allround championships are slated for Calgary next month with the season-ending single distances world championships in Germany in mid-March.
If she decides she's going to continue competing, Groves expects to return to skating in late summer or early fall.
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