The dangerous nature of extreme sports is one of the big draws for the thrill seekers that excel at them, but it also interests researchers who are hoping to understand injuries, especially brain injury.
Most snowboarders and skiers will attest to having at least one concussion throughout their career, and they occur more frequently when the pressure to compete is on and athletes are pushed to try even more extreme stunts than normal. That is why the Winter Dew Tour annual ski and snowboard competition has become the site of a four year long study on TBI, beginning this last winter.
At the Dew Tour, Weber State University students had larger sample sizes than normally available to researchers. This allows them to utilize a variety of research techniques including helmet sensors and video monitoring.
“As a student, this was an incredible opportunity,” WSU student Tiffany Vlahos told the WSU Signpost. “Rarely do you get the chance to work with athletes at such a high level of performance.”
The researchers have been attempting to validate recent studies suggesting that biomarkers in the blood are reliable indicators of TBI, and they have used blood samples among other tests to create a baseline value on almost all participants. Then, when an athlete suffered an injury, they came to the researchers where their post-injury blood work and test performances were compared to the baseline results.
Notably, the athletes appear to be as excited to be involved in the study as the students. Whereas some NFL players appear to be frustrated by the high-profile conversation about brain injury, the extreme sport athletes were “eager to participate” according to Vlahos. “It showed that they were invested in their health and well being and wanted these advancements in care just as much as we did.”