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St. Cloud State goalkeeper battles back to return to ice one more time

By Janine Alder | As Told to Brian Burnsed

Janine Alder is a senior goalkeeper for St. Cloud State and a member of the Swiss national women’s hockey team.

I was the goalkeeper for Switzerland when we played against the U.S. in the world championships in April 2019. We faced nearly 60 shots, so it was a very strenuous game. It was hard on my body.

When we got back to the hotel, as I was sitting at the dinner table with my team, I suddenly felt a great deal of nausea and felt tired. One of my teammates called our team doctor. As he sat next to me, I was unable to control my body anymore. They took me to a hotel room, and I started having a seizure. It wasn’t a typical epileptic seizure where you are shaking. My seizure was more of a slow cramping of my body. I lost control, but I was still conscious. I was still able to hear people around me, but I couldn’t show that I was still there. They decided to intubate me and sedate me to ensure there was no damage to my brain.

Five days later, I woke up in the hospital in Helsinki, Finland. At first I was on so many drugs that I couldn’t really digest where I was. I was able to see faces: The team doctor and my dad were by my side as I was in and out of sleep. Seeing my dad there was very meaningful.

Physically, it was tough. I was unable to eat because I was fed through a tube for a few days. And due to the intubation, I caught pneumonia. By the second week, I started making progress. I was able to breathe on my own and walk again. I never questioned that I would be back on the ice with my teammates at St. Cloud State because I didn’t know anything else — I had played the sport since I was 4.

I was skating again by the middle of June and focused on returning in time for the season. Once I returned to the U.S., coaches told me and my teammates to write down the names of the people in the locker room who inspire us. A few days later, they called me into the coaches’ locker room. I was worried: “Did I do anything wrong?” Or maybe, I wondered, they wanted to talk about my national team schedule. Then they told me: Many of my teammates had written down my name. They wanted me to be a captain. I never expected something like this. I felt I might be a good teammate, but I never considered that they would see me as this kind of leader. I was humbled. They said that I lead by example. I’m not a very loud person in the locker room, but they saw me as an inspiration.

It meant so much to me when I wore the St. Cloud jersey again for the first game this season, this time as a team captain. Before the season started, I was planning on playing up until the next Olympics in 2022. But I suffered a second seizure after only three games this year. This was a different kind — it happened after I got hit in the head. I don’t know if I’ll make it back on the ice this season — or ever — so it was very important for me to come back for at least a few games, have this experience again and to connect with teammates on a different level.

Janine Alder is a senior goalkeeper for St. Cloud State and a member of the Swiss national women’s hockey team. She wrote a book in German, “The First Thought: A Report About Health and the Ancient Animal in Us,” about her seizure and recovery.

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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