October 16, 2013

One Rough Ride by: Curt Tomasevicz

There has been lots of attention paid to concussions and brain injuries in sports in the media recently. The NFL and NHL are changing their rules to attempt to make the sports safer and reduce the number of injuries that come from hits to the head. The results of several studies have shown that repeated blows to the head can have both short term and long term damage. But the sports are far from becoming extinct. Players know there is the potential for injury every time they step on the field or ice and yet they rarely hesitate to consider the risks versus the rewards.

Many jobs are dangerous. I know farmers in Nebraska that have lost fingers and even arms to auger accidents. Combines and tractors have hundreds of mechanical moving parts that can be dangerous. Electric fences, grain dust, and livestock that weigh hundreds of pounds, carry the potential for injury, both short and long term. But with the proper precautions, injuries can be avoided.

Bobsled is not a gentle sport. Our 4-man sled weighs 1400 pounds including the athletes and can reach speeds of 95 miles per hour. Many people believe that a bobsled ride is like a smooth roller coaster. Wrong! I heard one person compare their first (and last) bobsled ride to a “controlled car wreck”. It is sixty seconds of a violent shake that rattles your brain inside your skull like someone is scrambling an egg in a bowl. There is no Zamboni machine that smoothes out the ice before we slide. Mother Nature controls how soft or hard, rough or smooth the ice is. And when humidity or even precipitation is added into the equation, the result is a violent headache. And that is before I even mention the 15 to 20 curves of pressures that can pull up to 5 G’s of force on the neck and head.

Take a couple minutes and watch this video put online by Manuel Machata, a German bobsled driver. The camera is looking up at the brakeman from inside a 2-man sled.

Trust me. Riding in a bobsled is as comfortable as it looks in the video. But just like many NFL players, I am doing what I can to prevent the short and long term effects of head trauma.

I recently took the IMPACT test and the SCAT3 test which will serve as a baseline so that, if I am in a bobsled crash or I do show the initial signs of a concussion, I can retake the test to see if my results have varied. And even though study results may not be completely conclusive, I constantly do things that will promote brain activity and cerebral function.

I try to do the USA Today crossword each day. I won’t claim that I am able to complete the puzzle every attempt, but I’d say I score about 80% on each endeavor. I consistently have at least two books open on my Kindle. And I love critical thinking riddles and quizzes. Just like physical exercise helps strengthen my body, mental exercise helps keep my brain resilient and neurological pathways firing. (Read one of my recent blogs on Intelligent Jocks).

Safety is always a top priority, but sometimes…when the task is flying down an icy chute in freezing temperatures, in a fiberglass shell, with no seatbelt, wearing only a spandex suit, going for an Olympic gold medal for the USA … the headache is worth it!

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