EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Part 2 will appear in Monday’s edition of the Denton Record-Chronicle.
Mikala Farmer’s teammate Taylor Kennedy easily could have written about herself for a college essay, but she didn’t.
The topic she was required to write about was how soccer affected her life and made her a better person. Kennedy could have written about her own knee injury, knee surgery and rehabilitation process, but she didn’t.
Instead, in three paragraphs, Kennedy wrote about the resiliency of her friend.
“Mikala was a fighter, a strong player who would win any 50-50 ball in exchange for a goal or a chance at one, regardless of the result of a concussion,” Kennedy wrote.
Farmer, a Denton graduate, played her last official game almost three years ago. Multiple concussions have permanently sidelined Farmer from the game. Instead of fending off defenders, she’s now fending off seizures and headaches as she tries to tackle a list of goals she’s pursuing with the same passion that made her a formidable force on the field.
As to what she clinically has, Farmer prefers to keep it hidden from sight — a place those around her are familiar with.
“I don’t feel like I should if I’m doing so good right now,” Farmer said. “It doesn’t really matter.
“I’m done with it. I spent almost every day in the doctor’s office, and I really don’t want to go back anymore.”
Before the seizures and headaches, Farmer scrapped her way onto select soccer teams, into the heart of her head coach and was headed toward TWU’s roster.
Farmer is pursuing a nursing degree at TWU, chasing an occupation she learned all about while spending countless hours in the hospital.
The green-eyed, blond-haired 20-year-old looks like she still could make others look foolish on the field.
It’s been highly recommended that Farmer refrain from competitive soccer after she suffered concussions, seizures and other long-term effects while playing for Denton for three years.
In a time when concussion problems throughout football and hockey have been well-publicized and well-documented, Farmer’s plight is one shared by many young girls throughout the nation.
Headstrong from the start
Kaylin Farmer said that since Mikala was a toddler, her daughter was a determined, headstrong girl who was hard for Kaylin and Bill Farmer to raise.
Kaylin Farmer said she’d always go see her parents when she contemplated how to deal with her oldest child. She was quickly told it was the daughter running the mother, not the other way around.
Mikala’s difficult, aggressive personality needed an outlet, her mother said. It was apparent Mikala needed to play something. Anything.
“I realized at a very young age that we had better do something very physical every day,” Kaylin Farmer said. “You’d better get outside and you’d better run. If it was raining outside, we went to the mall. We would move. She had to have a lot of movement.”
Mikala picked up soccer and scored her first goal when she was 4 years old. Kaylin Farmer wanted her daughter in gymnastics, but the scrappy child had made her choice.
Most kids around that age had to be told which goal they should be running toward, Kaylin Farmer said. That was never a problem with Mikala.
“The very first goal she scored, a lot of the parents asked me if she had been watching the guys play on TV, because a lot of times they’ll rip their shirt off and do all that stuff,” Kaylin Farmer said. “She never ripped her shirt off, but she went running around the field with her hands up.”
She started playing soccer because a lot of her friends were playing. One of her friends couldn’t stand it and only stayed one season. Soon enough, it didn’t matter that Mikala wasn’t going to have anybody she knew on her team. She was hooked.
When former Denton head coach Iseed Khoury got ahold of Mikala Farmer, he knew he had a very good player on his hands. The only problem was calming her down and leveling out her intensity so she didn’t waste energy on the field.
Khoury is a 59-year-old, gray-haired Manchester United fan born in Nazareth, Israel. He has been in Denton since his sophomore year of high school. Khoury assisted Telmo Franco with starting youth soccer in Denton.
Franco and Khoury took the town’s first youth soccer team — a team composed of kids ranging from 10 to 12 years old — to Schultz Park near Idiots Hill.
Farmer’s family is as entrenched in the community. Her parents were married at First Baptist Church of Denton, and her grandmother was named queen of the town’s centennial ceremony.
Khoury said the Denton coaching staff tried to slightly adjust Farmer’s game so her head wouldn’t take punishment when she attacked the ball. But there was nothing Khoury and his staff could do. Mikala’s habits couldn’t be changed.
On the field, there were plenty of people who didn’t love Farmer’s aggression.
One time against Lake Dallas, Farmer was run over by another player. When Farmer got back up, she said she was kicked in the face and firmly planted back into the ground.
Mikala said she got up and uttered “some very mean words” and cocked her fist back as if to hit the Lady Falcon. Out of nowhere, the referee jumped in, blew his whistle and got between the attacker and soon-to-be attacked.
Farmer picked up a yellow card and was taken out of the game. She was furious on the sideline and wanted to get back in the game. Denton needed the win to get into the postseason.
Finally, Khoury relented and put her back in the contest. Farmer then scored a goal so ugly her mother couldn’t forget it. Farmer admits that if the goalie was any better, she would have saved the wretched chip shot.
But Khoury had his own reasons for taking her out of the game.
He had the team’s trainer look at her, and she looked good enough to return to the game. Khoury kept an eye on her and said she played well, but she was going to play well no matter what. After the game, on the team bus, she was a little unbalanced and a bit woozy. She complained of blurry vision, and that’s when Khoury realized how serious things were.
“As a coach, you start to reflect on what could you have done to have improved the situation,” Khoury said. “So you start putting some blame on yourself. You start looking back at the Lake Dallas game, saying ‘I wish I hadn’t put her [back] in the game.’
“You wish you had taken her to the hospital sooner, found out more about her sooner. I started dealing with it as if I was dealing with my own daughter.”
Signs of the end
Shortly after Mikala started having problems, Kaylin Farmer began keeping a log of her daughter’s concussions and health history — partially to track what happened and partially as a journal for herself.
Mikala Farmer’s first concussion occurred in April 2009. According to the unofficial documentation, Farmer was taken to a hospital where a brain scan said everything was fine. She then was taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, where once again everything was fine.
Farmer was told to stay off the field for two weeks. Her mother kept her out for four weeks.
Almost immediately after the four weeks of rest, Farmer suffered her second concussion and began to develop short-term memory loss.
The summer before her senior year, Farmer plunged into a depression that lasted for a couple of months. If Farmer wasn’t in bed sleeping, she was out on the field.
“That was the only thing that was getting me out of bed,” Farmer said.
She kept getting out of bed and onto the field as her senior year approached.
She didn’t tell her parents about the blurry vision she started having. Her coaches were unaware that she was seeing double when she leaped to head the ball out of the air. And that’s the way Mikala preferred it.
“I knew they were going to pull me out of soccer,” Farmer said. “I think I really didn’t want to face the consequences myself, honestly. I really didn’t want to think that something was wrong. So I never said anything about it.”
Farmer now was playing with protective headgear and beat out a slew other girls who tried out for Texas Spirit 93. But she knew that if she was hurt, she wasn’t going to play. She also knew that she worked too hard to sit on the bench instead of manning the midfield.
Farmer accepted a scholarship to play at TWU the next year. Prior to the start of her senior year, she went to Oklahoma with her select team in August 2010.
She was clotheslined by a girl a lot bigger than her. She hit the unforgiving Oklahoma ground so hard that those on the sidelines could hear the impact.
They thought it was her shoulder hitting the ground. It was her head.
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.