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Facing brain injury head-on: Melissa ‘Birdie’ Khoury

Not many Australians have achieved what Melissa Khoury has in Futsal, but a lot of us have more in common with her than you might think.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 700,000 Australians are living with brain injuries, and three in every four of these individuals are under the age of 65.

A few years ago, one of the AFA’s most-decorated ever Futsal goalkeepers was forced into early retirement. A crushing diagnosis shattered Melissa Khoury’s world but it wasn’t long before Birdie spread her wings again.

The former Australian international has set up a podcast, ‘BrainCast’ to raise awareness for brain injuries in sport and to open a dialogue to allow players, coaches, volunteers, parents and spectators to talk about and understand brain injuries.

For Birdie, her brain injury is not an excuse, it is a fuel. Her lived experiences serve as important lessons and provide a platform for victims to share their story.

She said: “I want to make people feel understood.

“I created BrainCast to really create awareness as well as to ensure other people felt supported. When I was first going through my injury and the emotions of that, I didn’t know where to go and I didn’t know how to deal with the symptoms.”

Speaking on her own difficulties with her injury, Melissa added: “Sport had been such a big part of my life, whether that be Futsal or any other sport that I’ve played, it’s been such a big part of my life and playing sport and having that adrenaline and team experience made it very hard to find those feelings in anything else in life. Going into coaching is what saved me in that way because you still do get that element of team in coaching.”

She started her Futsal journey aged 15 when her outdoor soccer performances saw her recruited to compete in schools’ nationals in her first year. But why Futsal?

“Once I got to indoor, I was addicted! There’s shots on goal all the time, you’ve got more impact on the game, it was just an addiction.”

Birdie’s healthy obsession with the game turned into an unrivalled on-court spirit as she charged on to win multiple national titles and earn selection for the IFA Women’s Futsal World Cup in 2017. On playing for Australia, Birdie explained:

“It is a different feeling, especially when before the game they are playing that anthem. It doesn’t matter who you are, it gets the adrenaline going. We weren’t expected to do as well as we did, the reason we did was purely because the players on the pitch weren’t selfish. We played as a team and really blended well together as a team”

Unfortunately, it was not long before Birdie’s career was cruelly curtailed, and it all started from one of the proudest moments of her career, playing for Australia.

“I had a few concussions in the 2017 season, they were mild concussions at the beginning, and I actually even got one in the warmup for the Sweden game, but obviously I didn’t tell the coach that.

“In another game shortly after, I hit the back of my head and later on lost a lot of my body function and memory. I did play one more year of nationals after that, but I got concussed again in that nationals and broke my nose and my jaw. After that last concussion I was told, ‘that was it’, I’m done.”

Birdie can no longer play Futsal, but she has not left the nest just yet. Her coaching and podcasting endeavours pass on her expertise to the masses for the benefit of Australian’s Futsal landscape. As the next generation of Futsal stars begin to hatch, we hope brain injury visibility can improve and we hope to break the stigma surrounding concussion in sport. Birdie is flying for us, let’s fly with her. With increased awareness, dialogue and conversation, brain injuries in sport will no longer be taboo and we can provide quality support for all victims.

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