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Reporter’s Notebook: Health is your most valuable asset

Sickness and injuries, especially concussions, can bring a quick end to your career

I am having one of those winters where I seem to catch every germ that is circulating.

Being sick brings out my inner whinger. I hate curtailing my physical activities. Missing work days stresses me out, especially during the busy winter season. I also feel a latent guilt over taking sick days or even getting someone else to feed horses for me. I think this is a common thing for those of us who grew up in a rural culture that endorses being tough.

But then I think of Bev McPhee’s sage advice. McPhee was one of my grad school instructors, and also a corporate consultant. A consultant’s most valuable asset is her health, she told us. I think that advice applies to everyone, no matter how a person earns a living.

Resolution to avoid career-ending injuries

By far, the closest call I’ve had was my concussion a few years ago (although on the plus side, I did get a decent column out of it). It was actually my second one. I’d incurred a less serious injury years earlier while horsing around with friends in Edmonton and smacking my head on the sidewalk. That first concussion didn’t really affect me, and I forgot about it for years.

My second concussion was the result of Bear, one of my horses, tossing me. I still have Bear. For a while, we were very nervous with each other, so I eventually sent him to a horse trainer, Cliff Elliott. Between Cliff’s work with Bear, and my work on my own tension, Bear and I now get along pretty good. Non-horse people are often amazed that I’d keep a horse that injured me, but horse people get it. Any horse can be dangerous, and accidents are usually the rider’s fault.

I haven’t had any real long-term problems from the concussion. The only potential effect that lingers has to do with my writing. I sometimes substitute the word I meant to write for a different word. Usually it’s a word with somewhat similar spelling. This happens a few times a week. I usually catch the mistakes while editing, if not right after typing out the errant word. But it’s possible that I did this before I smacked my head, and didn’t notice. It’s also possible that something else is to blame, such as social media.

I’ve been lucky. But I now know better than to take that luck for granted.

Head injuries aren’t just for football players

There’s been a lot of focus in the last few years on head injuries in athletes. Repeated knocks to the head have been linked chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative neurological disease that can only be diagnosed after death, by examining the brain.

There is no cure for CTE. Right now, the only way to prevent it is to avoid incurring multiple concussions.

Football, hockey, and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) have been getting most of the media attention over CTE. But bull riding ranks right up there.

Last November, the Globe and Mail published an in-depth piece looking at head trauma in bull riding (you can find it online by searching “bull riding globe and mail”). The article examines the life and death of Ty Pozzobon, a talented Canadian bull rider who killed himself in January 2017 at the age of 25. He became bull riding’s first confirmed case of CTE. Pozzobon left behind heart-broken parents, friends, and a young wife.

The time Pozzobon died, he’d been knocked unconscious while riding bulls at least 13 times. He’d suffered concussions as far back as age 17. He’d had 20 brain bleeds.

There’s a terrible irony in that, considering all the focus on the welfare of rodeo stock these days. It’s hard to imagine rodeo organizers putting in a bull with the types of injuries that the cowboys ride with.

Of course, the other part of the equation is the culture of toughness and stubbornness in bull riding. It’s like the ranching and farming culture on steroids. Many bull riders compete with broken bones, and they often hide or downplay their concussions.

There are people working within the sport to bring in much-needed changes. A big part of that is changing bull riders’ aversion to acknowledging their own vulnerability. As bull rider Tanner Girletz put it, you don’t feel too tough when you’re carrying your friend in a casket.

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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