Even after the Winter Olympics, discussion of the topic of snow boarding and concussions is far from dead. The New York Times offered its take on the subject in its sports section Friday, in a story headlined “As Snowboarders Soar, So Does Concern.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/19/sports/19snowboard.html
The gist of the story is that even snowboarders, known for their counter culture dismissal of danger, are starting to worry about the long-term impact of the head injuries they sustain.
For example, snowboarder Scotty Lago suffered a concussion in 2008 in New Zealand, when he hit the halfpipe while attempting a Can 1080, which involves making three spins. Helmet-less Lago fell 20 feet and hit his head.
Now Lago, who won a Bronze medal last month in the Olympics, during an interview with The Times cited studies that show it can be years before the true impact of concussions appears.
The issue has also come to the forefront because of the tragedy that befell snowboarder Kevin Pearce, 22, who sustained a serious head injury Dec. 31 in Utah and is trying to recover in a neurological rehabilitation facility.
Particularly troubling in The Times’ piece is the story of 20-year-old snowboarder Elena Hight, who competed in the Olympics last month. She suffered three concussions when she was 14, and one a year since then, according to The Times. That doesn’t make for a very upbeat prognosis for her later years.
Both Lago and Hight will be competing in the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships in the coming week in Stratton, Vt. And if one can believe this foolishness, that competition only requires helmets for those 13 and younger. Even the Winter X Games now require helmets.
But sadly enough, even helmets don’t guarantee safety. Pearce was wearing a helmet when he had his devastating accident. And during the Winter X Games last year, Gretchen Bleiler hit the back of her helmet and got concussion.
The problem with snowboarding isn’t just the absence of helmets, but that the sport is inherently dangerous. One mistake and the brain will be subjected to extreme forces, not just from a blow to the head, but also from the extreme acceleration deceleration forces of the “stopping” part of the fall. True prevention would make the courses safer, put limits on how dangerous of stunts are allowed. Without that happening, there will be many more tragic stories ahead.