We hear all the time about athletes hiding or living in denial of serious cases of TBI so that they can chase their dreams of athletic glory. We also know from all of the recent studies how dangerous ignoring a brain injury can be. Risking a second brain injury, especially when the first one was more serious, puts an athlete at a risk for death.
Sometimes the decision to keep going after a brain injury is ego, sometimes it is lack of education, but just as often athletes hide potentially serious injuries because they are concerned about the longevity of their career. They ask, “why would any team bring me back if I have to sit out a big game because of a common concussion?”
Jay Panther surely had similar worries, though he wasn’t a regular league like the NFL. No, Panther was a potential Olympian, who had already acquired a coveted spot on the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team when he was faced with the prospect of never competing again.
Yet, Panther listened to his doctors, and now he is competing to win the same spot he had to give up just two years ago.
His story began at Lake Tahoe, where he decided at a young age that he wanted to one day be on the Olympic skiing team, but he faced his first hurdle when his family moved away to Kentucky, while Panther was just 12.
“When I got there, obviously, there was no snow in Kentucky,” Panther told Ashley Kewish. “So I focused on other sports.”
And Panther did well at those other sports. He earned a full-ride scholarship to Vanderbilt University for baseball, and looked to have a promising future, when he took the huge leap that would let him chase his real dreams once more. He left college, returned to Tahoe, and immediately began training.
In 2010, Panther won a U.S. selections event that landed him on the Olympic team, but he wouldn’t be there long. In 2011, while preparing for a competition Panther crashed and hit his head hard. A functional MRI showed a severe concussion, which put Panther in a troublesome position. Risk the rest of his life for the looming Olympic Games, or put his dreams on hold.
After going through a specialized treatment program, including hour-long hyperbaric oxygen chamber sessions and functional light simulations, Panther was cleared to finally return to the slopes.
Panther’s recovery was extraordinary. His recovery was quicker than average, and by this season he looks to have a real chance of finally competing for the gold at the biggest sporting event in the world. His story just shows that dreams may be delayed, but if you take the care you actually need, and train hard when you are finally healed, those dreams can be achieved.