Penn women’s lacrosse senior Julia O'Mara has suffered four concussions in her lacrosse career. Simply put, she has been unlucky when it comes to injuries — but she's made the most of a challenging experience.
O’Mara’s fourth concussion came in her sophomore year during practice. While playing zone defense, a hard pass struck her on the helmet and brought her to the ground.
“I just remember after I got hit that I was hoping I would feel better, because I’ve had so many concussions that I know what it feels like,” O’Mara said. “But I guess the fog never lifted.”
The gloominess continued on that night at dinner, according to her twin sister Lauren O’Mara, who is also a senior on the team.
“My parents were there and I was crying because we’ve just kind of been dreading that day when even a helmet couldn’t prevent a concussion from something as simple as a pass,” Lauren said.
That errant pass would turn out to be Julia’s final play on the lacrosse field. Under the advice of her doctors — who were not certain about how her brain would react should she suffer a fifth concussion — O’Mara broke the news to the team in the fall of her junior year that she would no longer be playing the sport.
“At that point, you start to look at the rest of your life and you need your brain,” she said. "I’m an Engineering student so academics are very important and it was clear that [it] wouldn’t be worth the risk.”
O’Mara’s premature retirement has given her sister, Lauren, even more motivation on the field. In fact, the senior defender is now one of the captains for the Quakers.
“It definitely makes me play harder; I’m even more grateful that I get the opportunity to be out there," Lauren said. "I know I could complain about hard days and hard practices but at the same time, Julia would kill to be in my spot to compete once again.”
Despite no longer playing on the field, Julia is still on the roster and has the opportunity to watch her sister play in every game.
“We’ve always been competitive growing up, but not [in the sense that] if Lauren was playing and I wasn’t then I would be upset,” Julia said. “I’m always so excited for her to be on the field, and I’m there to pick her up if she [is] ever down.”
Additionally, support from the rest of her family and friends has enabled Julia to stay upbeat. Besides lifting weights and working with the goalies, she has also worked to foster a competitive spirit in the team in the offseason, during which the team has to go through run tests that occur every Friday morning at 7:00.
“I remember during the first [run test], we had quite a number of people fail, so I actually started a breakfast club for running,” O’Mara said. “At 6 a.m. on Tuesdays, I would be out there with a bunch of other girls running [for] 30 minutes, because these girls really wanted to pass their run tests."
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed by Corbett.
“She’s been a tremendous example of having a sport taken away from her and accepting her role and finding how she can be important [to] the team,” Corbett said. “For some kids, it’s really hard to find a motivation to run. She really pushed them, and all the ones that worked with her passed the run test, so that was incredible.”
As for O’Mara herself, she was able to redirect her competitive spirit toward running. Last spring, she successfully completed her first half marathon during the annual Philly Love Run.
“It did feel a little bit [like a replacement for lacrosse],” Julia said. “I just needed a goal that I really wanted to push myself towards, and that was to complete the half marathon in under a 7:30 pace mile. I ended up running a 7:07 pace mile so I was very happy about it. I kind of called it my 'game day' because I was actually out there racing.”
Injuries are always an athlete’s worst nightmare, not to mention career-ending ones. But O’Mara's story can teach a valuable lesson on how to overcome adversity with determination and positivity.