NASW-NC Student Liaison talks about his football career-ending trauma
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Posted by: Valerie Arendt
Marlon Nolen is the NASW-NC Student Liaison for the JMSW program at N.C. A&T and UNC Greensboro
Nolen, former WSSU player, suffered career-ending injury in 2001
Marlon Nolen, finishing up his master’s degree requirements in Greensboro, heard about Wednesday’s serious injury to Winston-Salem State’s Marquise Gaddy and had a flashback.
It was Nolen, now 33, who suffered a stroke during a WSSU practice in August 2001 that left him in a coma for a week. He also suffered partial paralysis for many years and was in a wheelchair for a while.
“You don’t want to see anybody get hurt like that but it did bring back memories for me,” Nolen said Friday.
Nolen was a sophomore linebacker in August of 2001 going through a two-a-day practice when he hit his head early in the day at the first practice. He didn’t think anything of the headache that soon followed the hit.
“It was really a weird deal because between two-a-days I had a nap, and I woke up and I still had the headache,” he said. “It wasn’t until later when I became disoriented in our second practice did I realize it was bad.”
Nolen said that the two practices were so spread out that day that they had a team picture in between. It wasn’t until later that an ambulance wound up taking him to a hospital shortly after the second practice started.
“I didn’t think anything about (the headache) because as a football player you are supposed to be tough, but what actually happened was that the hit I took on my helmet earlier that day started the process of a blood clot to my brain,” Nolen said.
Nolan eventually moved back to Morehead City after several months of recovery in the hospital.
After being out of college for more than a year, Nolen enrolled at East Carolina where he earned his degree in health services management. By 2003, Nolen was named to the National Dean’s List Honor Society, and while at ECU, he tutored 8-year-olds at a local community center.
He also gave talks to two local high schools in Greenville detailing his trauma of how and when his football career ended.
Nolen is finishing up his degree requirements in a joint masters program with N.C. A&T and UNC Greensboro. His degree will be in social work, and he would one day like to open a private practice.
Nolen is working as a paid intern at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Salisbury three days a week.
“I want to impact others with my experiences and how all isn’t lost just because you suffer an injury playing football,” he said. “My story is something that I don’t mind telling.”
Nolen, who was part of WSSU’s CIAA championship team in 2000, says that today he’s nearly fully recovered from the stroke. Many don’t even know he has anything wrong with him. For a while he used a cane after he no longer needed a wheelchair. In the last 20 years, the only two serious injuries within the WSSU football program have been to Nolen and Gaddy.
Nolen says he realizes the stroke he had is different than the spinal cord injuries that Gaddy incurred after a tackling drill Wednesday, but Nolen says the road to recovery will be a long one.
“I was in a wheelchair and couldn’t walk at all,” he told the East Carolina alumni magazine a few years ago. “My speech was slurred. I couldn’t do anything like I wanted to do.”
Nolen told the magazine that he set small goals for himself during the recovery and then started to set major goals.
“After two weeks or so, I started noticing a little movement in my left side,” he told the magazine about his rehab from the stroke. “I started to take little steps with my left foot on the balance bars. I was really determined.”
After more than 15 years since the stroke, Nolen said his determination now is about helping others.
“I feel bad for (Gaddy) and his family, and I even thought about contacting somebody at Winston-Salem State to maybe reach out to him,” Nolen said. “I know that there are others who can recover from those types of injuries so I wish him the best.”
Read Winston-Salem Journal article here.