Tag Archives: snowboarding helmets

The long road to recovery from traumatic brain injury

New documentary on snowboarder Charlie Elmore’s recovery from traumatic brain injury resonated with me strongly, for a number of reasons.

Nearly 19 years ago I was in a car accident in which one of my friends suffered a brain injury that left her in a coma. Unlike my friend, I still remember the moments after the crash vividly. Miraculously no one else was seriously hurt, but J, who’d been sitting in the middle of that backseat, had been thrown to one side and was unconscious. There had been no impact and were no visible signs of injury, but her brain had been shaken enough to cause severe brain injury that would change her life forever.

Charlie Elmore snowboarder

Snowboarder Charlie Elmore

For many years that accident made me a very nervous passenger and fastidious about wearing seatbelts (although I must point out that my friend was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident) but my caution did not necessarily carry over to the ski slopes.

As a snowboarder, I’ve taken many a tumble, hitting my head on countless occasions. It’s a horrible feeling. Not so much the pain, but rather the dull thud, and realisation that it could have been so much worse. Hearing that thud means that, on that occasion, you are one of the lucky ones, but it always makes you take stock and reflect on the fragility of your brain.

When Charlie Elmore hit her head while riding the Penken Park in Mayrhofen, she knew nothing about it until she woke up in hospital ten days later, and even then, had no recollection of the incident.

Charlie Elmore snowboarder

Charlie in the park before the accident

BBC Three’s excellent documentary “Me and My New Brain” charts Charlie’s journey through rehabilitation and beyond, as she tries to rebuild her life. While, four years later, she appears to have fully recovered, the documentary focuses on the more subtle psychological effects that can endure after such trauma to the brain, and which often go unaddressed or even unnoticed.

Incredibly Charlie was back on her snowboard after just a year, determined to resume her career as a snowboard instructor in Verbier. However, she soon discovered that, despite her remarkable progress, she still had a long battle ahead. After realising that fitting back into her previous life was not going to be as easy as she’s envisioned, Charlie decided to train to be an adaptive snowboard instructor so that she could help others with disabilities to enjoy the ski slopes. However, even that has proven to be a struggle. She also runs the GBOT2018 Campaign to help fund Paralympian and Invictus athletes.

Charlie Elmore rehab

Charlie in rehab

The effects of my friend’s injuries were much more severe than Charlie’s and it was a very long time before she was able to lead any semblance of a normal adult life. However, like Charlie, she’s an extremely determined individual, and against all the odds she eventually returned to university to continue the law degree that she’d only just begun before the accident, with a view to eventually helping others with brain injuries. She’s also an active political campaigner. It took a lot of persistance, but she’s now living a relatively normal, independent life. However, like so many other people who’ve suffered from traumatic brain injury, the obstacles that I’ve seen her overcome will only have been the tip of the iceberg.

For me, one of the most poignant moments in the documentary is when Charlie talks of a lack of ongoing support, and how, despite receiving messages, cards and visits from over 200 friends at the time of her accident, she could now count on two hands the number of friends who continue to offer support four years down the line. Her revelation sent a pang of remorse through me, as I know that I probably haven’t offered my friend enough in the way of continued support over the years.

It’s impossible not to be inspired by people like my friend and Charlie, who’ve not only overcome traumatic brain injuries, but have used their experience to help others. It’s a position no one would want to be in themselves, but you can only hope that you would be as strong and altruistic, but the brain is such a complicated thing that anything could happen.

Charlie Elmore adaptive snowboard coach

Charlie training to be an adaptive snowboard coach

The fact that I could just as easily have come off worse in that car accident, or in any of my many snowboarding and mountain biking crashes, is not something I reflect on often. If I did, maybe I would have been more sensitive to the need for ongoing support and understanding for people who’ve suffered traumatic brain injuries. It’s undoubtedly one of the documentary’s overriding messages, and if it makes as much of an impact on everyone else watching it as it did me, it will hopefully go some way towards helping those recovering from TBI to reintegrate more easily into society.

As a snowboarder and mountain biker, another message I took away from it was the importance of wearing a helmet. The fear of it happening to me is not enough to stop me doing the things I love, but I always do what I can to minimise the risk of injury by wearing a helmet. After all, as the consultant who treated Charlie in intensive care told her, it was the helmet she was wearing that saved her life.

The BBC Three documentary “Me and My New Brain” is available to watch on iPlayer and is well worth a watch.

The great helmet debate

Helmets are becoming the norm on the slopes

Helmets are becoming the norm on the slopes

The debate over whether or not wearing a helmet should be made compulsory has been brewing for a while, and it’s recently been reignited by the news that an insurance company has decided to make helmet use compulsory on their winter sports insurance policy. The move by Essential travel is bound to see other insurance companies follow suit, and may end up taking the question of whether or not to wear a lid, out of our hands. In Canada, certain resorts in eastern Canada have taken things a step further by making it compulsory to wear helmets on their mountain. To be honest, I rarely wear a helmet. It’s not because I feel invincible, as I’ve learned, to my peril, that I’m not. It’s more that I previously hadn’t found one that I felt comfortable in. I found them to be quite cumbersome, and while I knew that I really should wear one, I always found a way to convince myself I’d be ok without it.

Reluctant helmet wearer

Reluctant helmet wearer

Fortunately I have been, but that’s not to say that I haven’t had my fair share of tumbles. I’ve broken several bones and whacked my head on many occasions, so I’ve probably had a lucky escape… so far. There’s nothing worse than the hollow thud of your own head hitting hard packed snow (or is that just mine?!) and every time it happens, I vow that I’ll start wearing a helmet. I’m now starting to feel like a Cat (capital C intended) whose nine lives are rapidly running out. So, this season I’ve decided that I’m going to find a helmet that I feel comfortable in, and then wear it all of the time (well, on the mountain at least!) My mission got underway a couple of months ago, when the new kit started to appear in the shops, and I think I might have found a winner, the Salomon Poision. It feels super comfy, light, and doesn’t make me feel like I want to take it off the minute I put it on! Hell, I’m even comfortable enough in it to post a picture online, which is definite progress!

Bern helmets looks pretty awesome... Just not on me!

Bern helmets looks pretty awesome… Just not on me!

I also love Bern helmets, but just don’t think they‘re the right fit for me, as I have a pretty small (as well as hollow!) head. There are some great helmets out there, which not only feel comfortable, but look great too, so it’s easy to see why they are starting to become the norm, rather than the exception. Personally, I’m all for helmet use and can’t see many arguments against it, other than the comfort/vanity factor, or cost. I’ve used the latter as an excuse too, but seeing as I’ll happily shell out for yet another jacket that I really don’t need, that excuse really doesn’t hold much weight. I probably need the push of it being made compulsory, but then again, I do feel people should be able to make their own choices. It’s a tricky one… What do you think? Do you wear a helmet? How do you feel about the idea of them being made compulsory? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your views… Thanks, Cat

Ten track mind

I’ve just booked a last minute trip to the mountains and am super excited. I can’t wait to get my board on all that snow that’s been falling in the Alps after drooling over all the photos for weeks.

There are only three days until we go (I’m actually counting the hours), but I’ve got loads I need to sort out before then; organise my work schedule, plan a couple of meetings for my return, arrange transfers, insurance, excess baggage… but what seems to have taken priority is the creation of a new playlist of tunes to shred to!

And it’s not something that can be taken lightly either. It’s a lengthy process requiring much deliberation, trawling through a vast itunes library, reacquainting myself with forgotten gems, listening and re-listening to ensure that they are the right tempo, evoke the right mood, fit in with the other contenders…

To be honest, I could listen to anything, or nothing, while riding and still experience the same level of elation, but there’s no doubt that the right tunes can enhance an already awesome experience. It’s certainly a far cry from pounding a treadmill in the gym, where you need something to distract you from the monotony, and the splashes of sweat flying off the guy next to you. I have abandoned many a gym session on the realisation that I’ve forgotten my ipod, but could ride all day just enjoying the peace and serenity of the mountains.

The majority of helmets are now audio compatible

Of course, riding while listening to music is a contentious issue. Is it possible to be fully aware of what’s going on around you when you’ve got music blasting in your ears? Probably not. Personally, I only really do it when I’m riding on my own (something I did quite a lot during my ski seasons and actually quite enjoy!), when I know the slopes well and when it’s quiet. And even then I keep the volume low and invariably only wear one earphone.

Besides, the number of products on the market that facilitate listening to music on the hill (helmets with built in headphones being the most obvious and contradictory example) certainly doesn’t give the impression that it’s something to be discouraged.

So, back to the job in hand… what’s going to make up this year’s playlist? It may be a bit predictable and unimaginative but a few tunes from my favourite snowboarding movies usually make the cut. This year I’ll probably include a couple of tracks from the soundtrack to the awesome, all-chick shred flick “5 more minutes… please?!” so that I can pretend to be Aimee Fuller or Jenny  Jones while ripping up the mountain. I might need to avoid the park while listening to those though, just in case I start to get delusions of grandeur and throw myself off something stupid! I might use a couple from “The Art of Flight” soundtrack too, although I don’t think any tune could make me feel remotely like Travis Rice et al.

I’ll probably also include a couple of tunes from old playlists to evoke memories of epic shreds gone by. I only need to hear the first few bars of MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” or “Kids” to be instantly transported back (sadly only mentally) to amazing times spent cruising around Vail’s Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin.

The majority of the tracks will undoubtedly be my favourite tunes of the moment. The ones I’m currently listening to at the gym or out running, with a few more chilled ones thrown in to mix it up a bit. And then there’ll probably be a couple of old favourites that I stumble upon while trawling through my itunes library and can’t resist putting on. Anything from Blondie to the Beastie Boys has been known to creep on there!

It’s all still very much a work in progress so any suggestions would be more than welcome! Or maybe you have views on riding with music? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Anyway, better go and book those transfers and travel insurance…