Olympic medallists latest concussion victims

ALISON KORN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:57 PM ET

TORONTO - Concussion is not just a hockey issue, but cuts across many sports, including Olympic ones.

That became especially evident this week as two 2010 Vancouver Olympic medallists divulged they’ve been diagnosed with concussions — speed skater Kristina Groves, after a fall at the Berlin World Cup last weekend, and snowboarder Mike Robertson, injured while training in New Zealand this fall.

Women’s 2006 Olympic hockey gold medallist Katie Weatherston knows what they’re going through. It’s been nearly two years since Weatherston’s last concussion — probably the second or third one in her career — forced her to stop playing. She is still, she says, “dealing with my head.”

“I still have headaches really bad, I get really bad tension too, through my jaw and my neck and my shoulders,” said Weatherston, now the director of her own female hockey school at www.katieweatherston.com. “It’s very hard to pinpoint what’s the number one thing that’s going on that needs to be dealt with. Every head injury is so puzzling and it’s very unique to the individual.”

Earlier this month, a ground-breaking study on Canadian junior ice hockey published in the November 2010 issue of Neurosurgical Focus uncovered alarming head injury/concussion data and trends that raise many questions about the safety and well being of teenagers and young adults who participate.

But for all the attention given to hockey concussions, there are comparable risks in plenty of other sports too. It’s scary.

Groves, an Olympic bronze and silver medallist in Vancouver, wrote on her blog that while racing the team pursuit on Sunday, everything was going according to plan until “the ice just broke away from under my foot.”

“Before I knew what was happening I was on my tush hurtling towards the mats. No time to think, I instinctively got my legs and blades out of the way, hitting the mats with my back first, then my head. Oops.”

Groves got up without any problems, but knew right away that at the very least she had a bad case of whiplash. Her coach urged Groves to finish the race but she refused. A doctor suspected a concussion and it was later confirmed.

“I’ve never had a concussion before and it’s a little disconcerting, but the fact that I’m writing this and that it is mostly coherent means I have at least not completely lost my marbles,” Groves wrote. “I like to think things like this happen for a reason, and maybe the reason is that I need to go home and take a little break.”

As for Mike Robertson, the Olympic silver medallist snowboarder, he’ll miss the front end of the 2011 season as he sustained his second concussion in less than six months at a training camp in New Zealand earlier this fall.

Advised by the medical staff at Canada Snowboard, Robertson will re-evaluate his health after the Christmas break. The 2011 FIS snowboard world championships will be held in La Molina, Spain, Jan 14-23.

Through experience, Weatherston knows that having had one concussion makes you more prone to more. Her first was in 2006 and her head has been fragile from then on. She’s also had minor bouts of depression.

“I think there’s one hit that changes your life and it changes how sensitive your head is to injuries, and for me that was the one,” she said. “It can be so dangerous. It’s good to educate people. My advice to anyone who has had one concussion is to really monitor yourself and be aware if little things are changing in your day-to-day routine. Try to stay on top of those things.”


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