There is a literally endless supply of news about traumatic brain injury coming out every day. We hear what the laboratories, researchers, and scientists all have to say and the continuously worsening case against sports which put athletes at a high level of risk for brain injuries.
Mostly we hear about the NFL. It makes sense. Football is America’s favorite sport right now, and the professional league shows no signs of waning. Writers give their opinions, those scientists focus on the brains of former football players, and the higher-ups in the league occasionally declare their commitment to brain injury research and prevention.
What we don’t hear are many honest and extensive personal stories of living through a brain injury. Some retired players will give their opinions years later and briefly recount their tale, but time has passed and the former players are more concerned with their later-appearing symptoms.
We don’t hear many true explorations of what it means to live and recover through a brain injury because our focus is on a sport which cannot survive with constant attention and care for the more severe brain injuries. Players feel the need to downplay symptoms and recover as quickly as possible, otherwise their career could easily be over.
Other sports which deal with concussions are a bit different, but they get less attention. Winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding frequently cause brain injuries which can be much more severe than those of football players, and yet we rarely talk about these injuries because the nature of the sport is to push the boundaries. Sadly, these sports also have a higher death toll from brain injuries than more mainstream sports like football. But, the surviving extreme athletes who have suffered brain injuries have their own stories to tell.
Sally Francklyn is one of those athletes. She has been a beloved figure within the freeskiing industry, and has acted as a public face for the sport through her writing and commentary. Unfortunately, she has also become the face for skiers who have suffered serious traumatic brain injuries after a terrible fall in March 2012, which came close to ending her life.
This month, ESPN gave Sally the chance to tell the story from inside. If it seems familiar, it is because thousands of winter sports athletes have gone through the same trials and pains of traumatic brain injury and trying to continue living when you aren’t the same as before the injury.
It is easy to say athletes “knew what they were getting into” and to dehumanize the gladiators and high-flyers pulling incredible athletic feats for our entertainment when all we see is the glory on the field, but Sally’s story gives insight into the personal trials and tribulations which follow.
She, like most athletes, doesn’t condemn the sport which led to her injury, but it reminds us that these athletes are people just like us. They aren’t superhuman, and their injuries are very real. As Franklyn says, “It can be hard sometimes, but so much has to get better, so hard is good.”