With the 2018 Winter Olympic Games fast approaching, athletes and audiences alike are gearing up for 2 weeks of action, competition, and national pride. South Korea and the city of PyeongChang is preparing to welcome the world. Athletes are gearing up, and there is plenty of snow in the forecast. It is a time for excitement, pride, culture, and competition. The 2018 Games also boast the greatest number of women’s and men’s mixed events in Olympic history.
One of these events is snowboard cross. As CBC sports research has found that 1 in 3 of Canada’s Olympic hopefuls has suffered a concussion so continued discussion and investigation into athlete safety is especially relevant. HeadCheck Health had the opportunity to catch up with 2014 Olympian Kevin Hill. A native of Vernon, British Columbia, Kevin is projected to join Team Canada in PyeongChang this upcoming February.
Do you always wear a helmet? Was there ever pressure not to?
I started snowboarding when I was 9 back in 1995. At that time there wasn’t really snowboard or ski helmets yet in existence.
From what I can remember, Burton RED started making the first helmet I ever wore around 1997. I have been wearing one ever since. Throughout my career, there have been times where it has not always been “cool” to do so. I have always stuck with it, it is the right choice for my brain.
Have you ever had a concussion?
I suffered my first and only concussion while snowboarding when I was 18. I was doing a 720 spin over a 50 ft table jump when I under-rotated my spin by 90 degrees. I landed backward and to the right and caught my heel edge. It sent me flying and I hit the back of my head on the ground. My helmet split open on impact. Oddly, I recall everything quite clearly until I was knocked out. I slide unconscious down the landing of the jump, about 30 feet. I recall being able to hear but not see or move. When I was able to move again I sat up and immediately felt dizzy. However, I was able to remember what had happened.
What is the procedure for rehab and recovery?
It is difficult for me to answer this one as it was quite a while ago. I was not currently sponsored or part of a team. I didn’t have anyone to tell me how long I needed to rest for or how I should rehabilitate. I remember I stopped snowboarding for at least a month; the only person I had was the doctor at the hospital telling me to take a few weeks off. I took an ambulance down from the mountain to the hospital and got very car sick in the process.
How do you feel about concussion safety in your sport?
I think they do their best for concussion safety in my sport. Each team has their own protocol that they follow. It is also difficult because the culture of my sport still places the focus of decision-making (about recovery) with the athlete. I have seen some kids have full knockouts for over 30 seconds and then I’ve seen the same kid racing a few weeks later. I’ve also seen guys have multiple concussions and been told they should retire and they have come back and raced within a very short time. Ultimately, regardless of the caliber of medical treatment or protocols available to you within your team, riders often make the final decision on when/if they go back and most just want to race.
I think by adding six riders to my sport instead of four it has increased the crash rate. This also increases the chances of head injury.
How do you feel about your own knowledge and understanding of concussion science?
I think the Canadian National Team has done a very good job of keeping everyone aware of concussion safety and science.
What is the culture around concussions among snowboarders? Do they try to hide them?
Like most athletes, I think that snowboarders are naturally inclined to downplay or hide the severity of a concussion or related symptoms. Personally, I have had some pretty bad luck by being taken out by other riders in the past few years, which has caused me to crash and hit my head. I feel I’ve been very lucky to not have any concussion symptoms from those crashes. Now I make sure to always monitor myself honestly after these events.
Do safety standards vary between competitions?
Safety standards are always the same at competitions as far as rules and regulations go. However, the problem usually occurs when a course isn’t properly built or tested for six riders. This causes lots of crashing during testing or training.
How would you like to see concussion safety improve in snowboarding?
This is difficult to answer as I believe that, in snowboarding, race directors and builders are always looking for riders to go bigger and faster. They build courses with the intention of making the competition exciting for the audience and TV viewers. As I mentioned, my sport was changed from 4 to 6 riders. This allows more athletes to qualify for finals and fewer people sitting on the sidelines. Although it is advertised as “safe”, it has caused a sharp increase in crashes and injuries. This can cost athletes their careers, cognitive abilities, and even their lives for the sake of entertainment. I believe that this adjustment has negated the advancement of concussion and safety in my sport.