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The Winter Olympics: A Hotspot for TBIs and Physical Injuries

 

The Winter Olympics: An Injury Filled Competition

Doing what we love and getting paid for it, is every person’s dream. For a select group, that dream is a reality. Professional athletes get to play their sport and get paid to do it! However, people must realize that each athlete’s body is their respective livelihood. If something happens to their body and they are unable to participate in competition or continue in their sport, then everything they worked for is potentially finished. Sadly, that is a harsh and prevalent reality in the sport industry. With the Winter Olympics coming up in just over a week, Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) become more and more prevalent.

Take Ellie Furneaux for example, a potential British super star in the sledding sport skeleton who was forced to retire due to countless brain injuries. After slamming her head into the ice going upwards of 75mph during an accident in 2018, she now suffers from TBI symptoms every single day and most likely will for the rest of her life.

Picture of an athlete participating in Skeleton Sledding.

The Trials and Tribulations of the Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics are what every winter sport athlete dreams to qualify for and an event to potentially earn a medal for their country. However, no one talks about the potential physical and mental harm that accompanies the rigorous training to qualify and eventually compete in the Olympic competition itself. 

A study about injury and illness was taken from a group of more than 2,500 Olympic athletes who competed in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. The findings suggest that more than one out of every 10 athletes from around the world that competed in the 2010 Olympic games sustained an injury. That is an insane statistic to think about! Additionally, this statistic references serious injuries, not just aches and tears that every athlete faces during preparation and competing. If we were to include these everyday minimal injuries, then the rate of injury would be much higher. From the 2,567 athletes within the study, it was found that 287 injuries, including over 20 diagnosed concussions, and 185 illnesses were recorded. Imagine how many of those injuries resulted in some form of brain injury that was undiscovered or pushed to the side?

The Will of Athletes

Although the risk of injury varied by event (with highest being in Ice Hockey), every event carries some sort of risk for the athletes involved to end up with serious injuries or conditions.

Top 6 Most Injury Prone Events in 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics:

  1. Ice Hockey
  2. Alpine Skiing
  3. Bobsleigh
  4. Snowboard (Cross)
  5. Skating (Figure)
  6. Skating (Short-Track)

 

 Picture of a Bobsleigh accident.  

Seeing how potentially dangerous each sport can be, athletes still go out there every day and compete injured or healthy.

So where do Federations draw the line on having athletes return to play?

They don’t really.

The federations mostly stay passive and put the initiative of whether an athlete is capable to compete on the athletes themselves or the athletes’ coaches. In fact, athletes have chosen to compete even if they are injured. Sometimes even turning a temporary injury into something more permanent.

The fact is, that there should be more of an emphasis on screening and testing for brain injuries throughout the competition. Many of the athletes that compete are dealing with hitting their head in some shape or form. Ellie Furneaux’s story is a great story to showcase about the improper screening that athletes go through.

After her final accident where she managed to crack open her helmet by hitting her head on the ice, she was finally screened for a concussion and potential brain injuries. Unlike other incidents when her team merely asked her if she “felt okay” and “was good to go”. After speaking with her neurologists, it was revealed that Ellie and her coaches had been misinterpreting and ignoring TBI symptoms for years. Even crazier was the fact that she was most likely experiencing mild brain injuries every time she went down the track by her head shaking at upwards of 75mph.

Picture of Ellie Furneaux after sustaining her TBIs.

“The scary thing is you can still figure out a way to slide when your brain is injured, and that is when it is most dangerous.” - Ellie Furneaux

 The one good thing to come from this horrible incidence was the initiation of a snowball effect of sport federations implementing more concussion and TBI protocols. Hopefully more athletes and the teams they surround themselves with, will become aware of potential brain injuries that can occur while playing their sports and seek more information or tests about it.

Meet Sallie®

If you or someone you know has sustained a TBI, then you understand how overwhelming the symptoms can become. Sallie® aims to ease this feeling, by being an incredibly easy to use, and free, symptom tracking dashboard. Using the dashboard at the beginning of one’s recovery can help them to identify symptoms and triggers. The robust data collection approach includes a multitude of varying symptoms for our users to track. Whether you are an athlete or not, using Sallie® for your TBIs can lead to a better recovery. 

Register for Sallie® here.

 

Works Cited:

Neale, Todd. “Winter Olympics a World of Hurt.” Medical News, MedpageToday, 9 Sept. 2010, https://www.medpagetoday.com/orthopedics/sportsmedicine/22096.

Eleanor Furneaux.” IBSF, https://www.ibsf.org/en/athletes/athlete/263239/FURNEAUX.

Futterman, Matthew. “She Seemed Destined for Olympic Glory. Brain Injuries Ended That.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Nov. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/20/sports/olympics/skeleton-concussion-bobsled-head-injuries.html.