Warning – this could be a distressing read to those that have experienced a traumatic brain injury or suffer with any poor mental health related to brain injuries in Sport.
“This accident changed my life and has continued to shape my perception of safety in cycling”.
Originally a triathlete and now more commonly road cycling and gravel racing Brad shares his journey and experience of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in Cycling.
“After nearly 40 years on a bike, I thought I knew and had seen it all, until that fatal day in spring of 2009 when I was out on my new road bike cycling”. “It was just a training ride, and I was training for an Iron Man” I was just a few weeks away; I also had the hope and the view to try and get a spot to the World Championships in Hawaii at that time.
It was springtime 2009, “I was riding down the road, minding my own business as I normally do.” “Off I yield, somebody coming on a right-hand turn, through the traffic lights, I did not know they were there, I did not see them, I did get this kind of feeling that something was not right and the next thing I knew, I was hit by a car from behind.” There was no warning. He must have been coming round and down the corner so fast, he was coming from the right and turning in, usually I am very perspective and spatially aware, I am now more aware after this accident but up until that point I had been cycling for 40 years.
“The next thing I know is that I am on the ground, under the wheel, but not under the car, I then also see my bike twenty feet away, it must have been launched into the ditch.” I was so shocked, and my adrenaline was flowing, that my first instinct is that I jump to my feet.
“I do remember looking and thinking, oh my goodness, I cannot believe my bike is over there. In all honesty I was more concerned about my new bike that I had just got about a month before, compared to my body and me being injured. There was a bunch of witnesses, they helped me at the scene. I of course had a few curse words to the driver, who did not get out of his car.” From there everything is foggy, from what I remember, the ambulance came, I got a ride to the hospital, in and out of consciousness. I did ask “Am I really in an ambulance, was I really hit by a car?.” “I do remember getting to the hospital and being more worried about my bike, than I was about my condition”.
I ended up getting x-rays, seeing a doctor, this was 2009 so there was not a lot of awareness or research on head injuries in cycling, “I don’t think it was taken all that seriously”, you hit your head, does not matter if you slipped in the shower or banged it on the concrete. It was just “you seem fine, we can’t find anything,” “no broken bones,” “no broken neck.” Brad went onto explain, “They released me about two hours later from the hospital, my wife came to collect me, at first, I could not remember my wife’s mobile number, but I did remember my bosses, because I was concerned that I had to be back for 7pm for work as we were doing interviews. It is crazy how your brain works like that. My wife came and met me, took me home”.
Long road to recovery:
“You would think this is something that would just go away with time” – We asked Brad about his recovery and rehab, he went onto say: “The neck issue and pelvis were two massive issues for me – this was because I was thrown down onto my hip. I was struggling to walk, and this physical injury was so obvious, I was working on rehabbing myself back so I could walk and move again properly. I remember being at home that night and thinking “I will get over this in a couple of days.” My head was foggy for days and weeks, but it did not really kick in for a couple of months. I kept working past this, I was determined that it was not going to affect me. I knew nothing about head injuries, and the long term affects.
Looking back 13 years now, it is a different story in terms of what I have suffered and what I thought the road was going to be, it was ten plus years of on and off good and bad days. After 6 months I decided I could not work, my doctor then supported this. I could not focus on anything, it was that vertigo, everything looks surreal – for me, the neck pain was so bad and that is something that I think affected my brain too, because when the neck was not in proper alignment the brain would not function as well as when it was in alignment. From a HIT point of view, we were keen to learn how Brad sought out that help and advice. Brad continued onto say: “There was just no literature, or research out there – so I am out here on my own trying to figure out what is going on and trying to read and educate myself.
“When you go to all your medical appointments, yes you find out that you have post-concussion syndrome, but they do not have any answers for you, or ways to help you rehab your brain back. My GP who was awesome did not have any answers for me and he kept sending and sign posting me to specialists and neurologists.” Brad then went onto say “Biggest problem is that you are trying to manoeuvre around this, figure it all out, but the issue is that you are not in a good head space.” It is not a blame game; it is just that nobody from a medical stance really knows what to do and this just adds to the anxiety and stress around you suffering from a brain injury.
For me I found something called Neuro feedback, psychologists will do that, it is not very well known, and it is not medical, it does have research behind it. It is changing how your brain is firing, for example using music or visual, so you are re-training your brain, it’s through videos, the way I went through it was auditory, it was like a mirror to your brain, the computer would show your brain how it is functioning, it helps you to reconnect the neurons that you already have, that have been sheered and broken, that was my biggest thing for doing it for many years and I worked with a psychologist for many years and again the neuro feedback, not a well-known thing, it does work for some and it may not work for others, the best thing about is it, is that it is non-invasive – I was willing to try it as it wasn’t something that could hurt me. You must be very persistent with it, it is not a miracle, it does not happen overnight, it is like exercises for the brain. In summary the two things during my rehab that helped me most where the neurofeedback and exercise.
Culture around head injuries:
As our conversation with Brad continued, we started to understand the full circle of his traumatic brain injury, Brad stated: “They still will not call concussion officially a traumatic brain injury. I always come back to this; do I really have a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury)? I was not lying in a bed in a neck brace, or a coma. I do not have pictures of me like this, I always downplay is it really a TBI? It really is, but my brain wants to downplay it and that is where I see the issue. I do not speak to my friends about it, I am not particularly open about it.” As our conversation with Brad continued, he went onto add that “People also think that you have to be knocked out for it to be a concussion, but you do not have to be knocked out for you to have a concussion. I have heard of people slipping in the bathtub and being worse than I have been.” This is where I want to see change, for us to improve that understanding of head injuries, TBI’s and concussion in Sport and general life.”
I genuinely would have got back on my bike the day after my accident, if my bike had not been broken, I just was not aware of the damage and brain injury I had suffered and that is why I like the HIT device – it shows you that force that has been sustained, gives you a visual, gives you data to then assess, where’s when I had my accident I didn’t have any tech and I wonder if I had such a sensor at that time, would that contributed to my understanding in how serious my accident was? I feel like it would have made me more aware of the brain injury and helped me to understand it for example, I also reflect on my time in the hospital, like how many CT scans did I have? And each time they did not show anything, that is the issue with brain injuries, majority of the time they are invisible.
Advice from Brads experience:
Here at HIT we find immense value in speaking to people like Brad, to gain his own experience and insight into the traumatic brain injury that he suffered during his road cycling accident. We wanted to delve deeper into his experience, in which we asked, “what is the advice or key learnings you would share with others, based on your experience”?
“The biggest one I would say is that you really need to assess where you are at, because you are not in your right or best shape mind, if you are like me you will want to be right back at your activity / sport. My biggest worry was when am I getting back to cycling and training. I think for my family they noticed a difference; I did not go to any family events; I could not spend time in that noise, I also could not drive, my wife did a lot of the driving. What was very interesting was that I was not told that I should not drive, nobody from a medical point of view told me not to drive, this was a personal Individual choice I actively made, because I knew I was not fit to drive, and it was not safe for me and other road users. I had vertigo and noise sensitivity. For example, many times we tried to go out for dinner, and I just could not, it was also the same when we went to shopping malls, there was just too much going on in terms of noise, movement, and lights. I had to leave and go back home. I just could not cope with how I was feeling in these environments.
One other thing that is really important to recognise is that I was bad for comparing myself to before and after the accident, in my local region I was in top 5 / top 10, I was not elite, but I put in the time do be able to earn those results. So, after my head injury I felt like this was taken away from me, I had to accept that it was no longer me or my performance benchmark. From this I learnt that you just gotta do what you can do. In my head I was not happy with the results, but I did finish competitions. Sometimes you are dealt what you are dealt to teach you stuff. So, the biggest and probably most soundest piece of advice I can provide is to assess where you are at, you must be honest with yourself and how you are feeling, brain injuries are serious, and they require a lot of patience, you cannot compare yourself to the person or athlete you were before the injury because that is not where you are at.”
To all readers, we hope this advice is as impactful for you as it was for us, we thank Brad for being so open and honest with his reflections around his traumatic brain injury and we praise him for his ability to eloquently putting this into words that will hopefully help others out there that have or may in future suffer from a sport related brain injury.
HIT hopes that Brads experience of suffering from a road cycling traumatic brain injury helps to educate, inform, and influence others to become more brain health aware when taking part in Sport. HIT is committed to raising awareness of concussion and traumatic brain injuries through case studies that share real lives and real stories, we also want to take you as readers on a journey for which you can understand the place that our technology plays within helping to recognise, remove and assess any suspected head impacts to help mitigate risk.
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