Seven neat stitches in the middle of the head, in the middle of the shaved hair, stand out clearly from the top of the pictures. Katariina Kurikko29, looks at the photos he took a couple of years ago like an outsider, even though the memories from that time are strong.
– It feels wild to look at these pictures, as if you were looking at someone else’s life, he admits.
– It is such an absurd idea that this has happened to me. And the fact that I say out loud that I’ve had two brain surgeries.
At the moment, Kurikko feels relieved, just like he felt after his second surgery. That’s when he knew that his dream of Ringete’s home championship could still be possible.
However, the worst year of his life was behind him.
One symptom woke up the doctor
The roller coaster of emotions is a well-worn metaphor, but it is probably also the most apt when Katariina Kurikko thinks about her previous years.
Three years ago, Kurikko lived his dream. He had fulfilled his junior dream and played in the Canadian Premier League for the Cambridge Turbos team as a semi-professional. In order to achieve this, Kurikko had left her permanent job in an advertising agency, used her savings and had to move into a long-distance relationship with her husband.
The games went great, Cambridge won the eastern division and was going into the championship tournament in a strong mood. In addition, Kurikko had won the world championship with the Finnish national team in the World Cup finals played in Barnaby. It was his third World Cup gold.
Then the corona struck, the series were interrupted and the world closed down. Kurikko returned to Finland at high speed.
Shortly after returning to Finland, Kuriko began to experience migraine symptoms – headaches, dizziness, feeling sick and sensitivity to light. Since there had been migraines in his circle of friends, Kurikko didn’t panic, but asked the doctor if there was a treatment for it.
The doctor listened to Kuriko’s symptoms and picked up on one of them: once when Kuriko had felt weak, one of his legs had failed and he had lost feeling. The doctor sent Kuriko for MRIs just to be sure, even though he believed it was probably just a migraine.
It wasn’t, and with the discovery of the magnetic images, Katariina Kuriko’s rollercoaster started a downward spiral lasting a couple of years.
The phone call pulled the rug under the rug – twice
When Kurikko arrived home from magnetic resonance imaging two and a half years ago, his phone rang almost immediately. The call came from the hospital. Kuriko was asked where he was, he doesn’t just drive a car and how he was feeling.
– That was the moment when I knew something bad was about to happen. You don’t ask that kind of thing anyway, says Kurikko.
– It stopped and scared me a lot.
Kuriko had to immediately go back to the emergency room in Meilahti, Helsinki, and that started the investigations that lasted a couple of days. On the first day, it was possible to conclude that the situation was not acute.
Based on the research, Kuriko had an unknown change, perhaps a cyst, between the two ventricles of the brain, and it prevented the normal circulation of spinal fluid in the brain. Kurikko was able to undergo surgery already in June.
The surgery was successful, and Kurikko gradually returned to sports after a month’s break. Two months after the operation, he was already on ice.
When the season started, Kurikko enjoyed playing. Kiekko-Espoo, which he represents, played a strong first season, and Kurikko felt that he was lucky. He wondered what would have happened if he had been in Canada when the migraines started. Would he have gotten treatment? Would the change have been found?
– I got a feeling of empowerment from that and a wake-up call that life shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Kurikko received a further reminder of this awakening when a year had passed since the surgery. At that time, the control images showed that the change was not a cyst. And now the change had grown.
Again, Kurikko received a phone call that pulled the rug from under his feet.
– I went into shock. I have a strong memory of the things that were highlighted in that call. It is suspected that it is a tumor, and it is in a really difficult place, but it is not known what can be done, Kurikko recalls.
– I have only realized in retrospect that that phone call was the most traumatic moment for me. I received such news over the phone, and practically no other information that I needed at that point.
From that phone call, months of waiting began, because the doctors wanted to see how the tumor would behave and take the next pictures only after six months.
The end of summer and autumn became a dark time for Kuriko. He tried not to waste energy on what-if scenarios, but at that moment, nothing was helping.
– I felt like my world collapsed. It was really hard to keep my thoughts together. The summer vacation went completely in a fog and crying.
When Kurikko returned to work, he was diagnosed with severe depression and was on sick leave for a long time. He wasn’t fit to play from the beginning of the season either, but he was on the ice from time to time. It was a routine that kept Kuriko alive.
– Everything that I had considered safe was almost taken away. One of the things that remained normal was the ringette.
However, going to the hall was not easy for Kuriko. He had told his teammates about his situation, but he wasn’t his energetic self in the locker room. It was still an escape for him.
It was important for Kuriko that he was given space by his teammates. He was allowed to come into the hall as himself, and that kept him afloat.
– Even though I came to the hall as an undersized child, I couldn’t help but laugh when the younger players flashed next to me. I got a lot of energy from them and my thoughts were completely elsewhere, even for that hour or two.
Outside of training, Kuriko’s thoughts revolve around his health. He had many questions in mind that he wanted answered. He tried to get an appointment with the surgeon, but even that took several months. When he finally got the surgeon on the phone around November, he was able to provide reassuring answers: the tumor is small and growing very slowly.
With this information, Kurikko continued to wait for December’s pictures.
The control images confirmed that it is a tumor, and they want to take a sample from it. The surgeon hoped for surgery within 2–4 months, but the situation was complicated by, among other things, the new corona wave and the nurses’ strike. At some point, Kuriko was told that the surgery might drag on into the fall.
At that point, it was hard for Kuriko not to think of worst case scenarios. What if you notice in the fall that nothing can be done about the tumor, but something could have been done about it in the spring. He even had to face the thought of death.
In the midst of all this, Kurikko was also thinking about the World Cup home games. If the surgery was only in the fall, it would have known once and for all that the World Cup dreams were ruined.
– The clock was ticking all the time. The further we went, the less time I had. Although sport was the smallest thing here, it was still a dream.
Kurikko started to prepare himself for disappointment and was already mourning the fact that he would not be in the World Cup team. He put things on the scale and decided to go ahead with health. The most important thing was to get to the surgery.
When Kurikko was about to go to the weekend national team camp in May, he received a notification on his phone that the surgery would be the following Thursday. At that time, he was overwhelmed by a great rush of emotions.
– I didn’t know what to do. I was really happy, really relieved, but at the same time sadness and excitement erupted. It was a very confusing situation. Then I just had to pull myself together because I was competing for a national team spot!
“The first surgery was more difficult. I clearly felt worse there, because there the brain pressure had been able to increase.”
“I had a really good time during the second surgery. I was really relieved, and you can tell by the fact that I’m smiling in the pictures. I knew at this point that my racing dream could still be possible.”
“The last few years have included the fulfillment of dreams, a total collapse and everything that can actually fit between this emotional scale.”
“The worst thing was the lack of awareness and uncertainty. I was really alone with it.”
The support of loved ones was invaluable to Kuriko. At the beginning of the year, he found a therapist with whom he has been able to go through his feelings and fears.
Big emotions ahead as well
Kurikko physically recovered from the second operation even faster than from the first. He worked closely with his physical trainer all summer, and even though he sometimes fell into exercising too much, he knew how to rest. Mental recovery was more difficult.
The national team teammates’ updates on social media about hard power training could cause anxiety, when Kurikko himself had only gone for a half-hour walk. From time to time, depression also reared its head, and he had to stop training because his mental capacity just wasn’t enough. However, Kurikko is satisfied that he knew how to be kind to himself and allowed all his feelings to himself.
The women’s national team gathered for the last test camp in August and the national team was announced soon after. Kurikko received a phone call from the head coach Pasi from Kataja shortly after camp.
– I just remember that the tears started to flow. After the phone call, I went to the living room to tell my husband that I had been selected for the team, Kurikko recalls and still gets emotional.
– It was a really big deal.
After the first surgery, Kurikko was not allowed to do any strenuous movements for a month. In the following month, he was able to gradually return to sports.
Kuriko’s quick recovery from surgeries was influenced by his strong sports background.
“I’ve been a top-level competitive athlete, played at the top of the world, and suddenly I can’t do things the way I used to. It was hard to accept at times.”
“I wouldn’t have had the fire and motivation to force myself to train if I hadn’t known that I had a chance for this World Cup dream.”
The team chose Kuriko as vice-captain before knowing anything about his difficult journey to the World Cup.
“I am really taken and humbled by this matter. Being vice-captain means a lot to me.”
Kurikko says that he is still processing everything that happened. Although the end result was the best possible, and he is very grateful and happy, a year is a really long time to live in uncertainty. According to current information, the tumor will not affect Kuriko’s lifespan, but in the future it will always be treated by surgery.
Mentally, Kurikko is also getting back to normal. He has noticed that he was able to maintain some kind of role during these couple of years.
– You never know what kind of burden another person carries behind a smile. It is such a big lesson for me that I want to cherish and develop even more in myself. That when I meet another person, I would remember these things.
Ringette is still Kuriko’s great love. The sport, as well as the ringette community, were there for him when he needed it. That’s why Kurikko, who currently works as a communications and marketing manager at Ringetteliito, also wants to give back. He wants to offer others similar experiences, experiences and memories in the sport that he has had.
– The team becomes another family. We spend so much time in the hall and the players remain friends even after they stop playing. The sport is small in common perceptions, but our community is really tight.
The World Cup dream came true for Kuriko, and he can’t wait to play in his home hall with the support of his loved ones and family. The fact that these competitions might be the last of Kuriko’s career – at least home competitions – also arouses great emotions.
– This journey that I’ve made… I think that the first time we stand on the blue line and listen to the Maamme song, it’s a pretty big moment for me, Kurikko sighs.