*Article courtesy of Jeff Jacobs, Hartford Courant
*Photo courtesy of Michael McAndrews, Hartford Courant
No Coverup At Trinity: Tapsall Discards Wig, Inspires Others
Athletes often take off their gloves, their pads, their caps before they start an interview. Liv Tapsall takes a seat on the bench at the Trinity field hockey field and takes off her blonde wig.
She plays bald.
"We did this exercise in preseason where each of us wrote down six words about ourselves," Tapsall said Thursday. "And then we had to guess who everyone was. I wrote, 'Most aerodynamic player in the NESCAC.' "
None of the Bantams needed two guesses.
Liv Tapsall plays bold, too.
The junior forward was diagnosed with alopecia at age 10. It started with small bald patches in her scalp. She'd get cortisone shots to restart the growth. She was able to continue to wear her hair down to her shoulders.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that, according to the National Institutes of Health, affects nearly 2 percent of Americans of both sexes and all ages and ethnicities.
In the summer of 2013, however, her life changed dramatically. She broke her foot and sat out the first half of the Trinity season. Suddenly, she wasn't talking about losing patches of hair.
"I didn't know this until the time, but alopecia can be triggered by frustration and stress," Tapsall said. "We're assuming because I was so frustrated by not playing, just sitting there watching, missing out, that it triggered it to go universal."
Her overactive autoimmune cells attacked her hair follicles. It was alopecia areata universalis. As she sat there before Trinity practice on a beautiful late autumn afternoon, Liv Tapsall has no hair on her body.
"None," Tapsall said. "All of it fell out. It started in November of last year, most gone by February and completely bald by May."
You see bald guys like Michael Jordan, Seal or Bruce Willis over the years and it looks cool. Sure, UConn fans, who know every little thing about their players, know Charlie Villanueva has alopecia, but thousands upon thousands have watched the NBA and had no clue. Charlie just looked like a bunch of other guys in the league.
Whether it's the ignorance and insensitivity of others, self-esteem issues or a society that places far too much weight on appearance, it sure seems that women with alopecia face a more daunting vision in the mirror. Losing all your hair can be awfully traumatic.
"It was pretty bad at first," Tapsall said. "But I've always tried to stay positive."
Tapsall comes from an athletic family. Her mom, Catherine, was an All-American soccer player at Harvard and also played lacrosse there. Her dad, Ian, is from England, competed for Southgate in the U.K. and has played field hockey his entire life. Her uncle Manzar Iqbal was captain of U.S. field hockey at the 1984 Summer Olympics. Liv's younger sister Emilia plays field hockey for Virginia.
"I chose Trinity because it has a great field hockey program," said Tapsall, who went to Greenwich High before transferring to Greenwich Academy. "I also played club with our two captains here from Darien, Sophie Doering and Courtney Wynne, and I've known them for a long time."
As a freshman, Tapsall was tied for most game-winning goals, was second in goals and third in assists. Despite missing six games, she was tied for most assists for Trinity last season as a sophomore and was named NESCAC player of the week once. With four goals and four assists through a 7-2 start this year, she is third on a team ranked 17th in Division III after defeating 2013 national champion Bowdoin.
Yes, Tapsall has an athletic gene. She also has a genetic predisposition.
"One thing I did was because the steroids and cortisone stopped working was I wasn't getting shots anymore," Tapsall said. "I went a homeopathic route, vitamins, acupuncture and learned how to meditate. That helped for a while. But there was no regrowth happening, so it was, 'OK, I might as well start getting the shots again,' and that went on for three quarters of a year."
Starting last Thanksgiving, she began gathering hair pieces. In all, she has four, including two full pieces. The steroids, meanwhile, suppress the immune system and give the hair a chance to grow back, but they also made it much more difficult to lose weight, with so much water retention, and to get in top condition. So she stopped the injections before the season and will resume afterward.
"Except not getting into the shape you need because of the steroids, I've felt totally healthy," Tapsall said. "There's no way to know if my hair will regrow or it won't. I've focused on not being stressed or frustrated. It's not that I'm more stressed than the average person, but it affects me differently.
"Obviously, I care so much about field hockey. It's a stressful sport. There's no way I'd start growing hair again during the season. Hopefully, afterward, I can begin the regrowth process."
Tapsall played with a wig over the summer for her club team, Fairfield County United, and while shooting around with her dad and sister. She'd also wear a hat, so the wig wouldn't fall off. It was far too hot.
"There's no way to let out all the sweat," she said. "It's like wearing a giant knit hat."
When she returned to Trinity, Tapsall made the move. No wig.
"With the wig, there was no way I could play as hard as I could," Tapsall said. "I'd be dehydrated. I'd be exhausted."
So how did it feel to go bare?
"It was pretty awesome," Tapsall said.
So, too, was the feedback from her teammates.
"As of right now, I still wear my wig to classes, because everyone at school doesn't know what my condition is," said Tapsall, who also played ice hockey and lacrosse in high school. "A lot of my teammates only recognize me now without my hair and think it's weird when I wear it. They're encouraging me not to wear it.
"One of my friends not on the team, we were going to Whole Foods for grocery shopping and she's like, 'Liv, you're not allowed to wear it in the store.' I was like OK. That's where the push came from, really, and it has been really helpful for me. I want to be comfortable with it."
She is the bold, bald Bantam. And, as it turns out, someone who can inspire others.
There is a program called Team IMPACT that matches children facing life-threatening and chronic diseases with college athletic teams. Teams in Connecticut have done it. The kids are drafted onto the team and become an official member. Give them lockers. Make them part of everything. It has brought some cool, motivating stuff.
Tapsall didn't know all the particulars, so I looked it up. At the beginning of September, the Hamilton College field hockey team added 12-year-old Sophia Johnson from Newport, N.Y. She is fighting medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor.
"This little girl, who was put on the team through this program," Tapsall said. "She has cancer. She was wearing a hat during the game. She took it off after she saw me playing with no hair [in a Sept. 6 NESCAC game at Hamilton].
Sophia has lost her hair, too.
It turns out Hamilton's Eva Rosencrans, Tapsall's friend and a former Greenwich Academy teammate, texted her about it.
"Eva said she was so inspired she just took it off," Tapsall said. "That's one of the best things that has ever happened to me in my life. I was shopping with my friends, got the text and burst into tears in the middle of the store and immediately called my mom. It was the coolest thing."
Turns out being bald isn't only cool for men.