An eight-month absence from the playing field didn't drive Krista Fulton crazy, but inactivity had a disturbing effect.
"I'd skip breakfast and lunch almost every day," the Howard High soccer goalkeeper said. "It got to the point where I was so skinny, my friends were force-feeding me. I lost almost 30 pounds."
"Sports is like 95 percent of my life," said Fulton, 16, a 5-foot-10 junior who also plays basketball and softball for Howard and maintains an "A" average in the classroom.
Fulton, a two-time Maryland State Team goalie, started for the varsity as a freshman. As a sophomore, she was a first-team All-Howard County selection, making 83 saves and allowing just seven goals.
Her second varsity basketball season also started with promise, but a frightening collision changed that on Dec. 21, when Fulton ran head-to-head into an opponent while going after a loose ball. She tumbled to the floor, rolled over and lay still, then realized she felt numb from the neck down.
The feeling gradually returned to her limbs during a night of tests and X-rays at University Hospital's Shock Trauma Center. Doctors released Fulton the next morning after they could find nothing wrong.
But two weeks later, she removed herself from a basketball game after complaining of sudden, severe neck pain. Doctors ordered her to wear a neck brace and to suspend athletics indefinitely.
The uncertainty and inactivity didn't sit well with Fulton.
"I'd go home, watch TV and talk on the phone until I went to bed. I wouldn't do homework. I didn't want to do anything," she said. "It was the most depressing experience of my life."
Krista's mother, Donna Fulton, said: "That period of indecision -- of can she play or can't she -- was very difficult to deal with."
During a five-month stretch beginning in February, nearly a dozen doctors examined Fulton. Although she felt no more paralytic sensations, doctors couldn't explain her ailment but were nearly unanimous in recommending she give up playing sports.
The spring season passed while Fulton, feeling no discomfort in her neck, shed the brace and began jogging lightly. But medical clearance for sports wasn't forthcoming.
That is, until the Fultons met Dr. Joseph Torg, director of the sports medicine center at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital.
After examining Fulton in June, Torg concluded she had experienced a spinal-cord concussion, an uncommon but not life-threatening injury. Torg said that if Fulton followed his exercise program to build strength in her neck and didn't experience pain, she could resume playing.
Six weeks later, on Aug. 15, Fulton was cleared to play. The next day, she joined a surprised Howard soccer team.
Howard opened the season Sept. 5 against defending county champion Oakland Mills, a team the Lions never had beaten. Fulton's seven saves led Howard to a 2-0 upset.
The game included an anxious moment, when Fulton hit the ground after taking a knee to the head. She lay for several minutes "just to make sure all the body parts were in order," then left for three minutes, returned and didn't miss another minute.
Fulton has 32 saves in her past three games, including 15 in the mud Friday to lead the Lions (7-1) to a 1-0 victory over Centennial.
"She's got a cleat mark on her forehead from Friday night," Lions coach Jane Sherman said. "She's always been a tough player, a player willing to take chances. Now, she's gained her confidence back and is taking control of the field again."