5 Tips for Pursuing Sports After a Traumatic Brain Injury

I sustained a traumatic brain injury in 2014 at 21 years old. I was always an athlete, but after my injury I couldn’t participate in sports like I used to. Now I’m proud to call myself an adaptive athlete, participating in adaptive sports ranging from snowboarding to biking to kayaking. I enjoy reaching out to others with brain injuries and letting them know they aren’t “stuck,” as I used to think.

When you have a brain injury, whether it’s mild or severe, you may not be as coordinated as you used to be. You may have forgotten how to move or use your muscles in a different way. For me, the basics were a big struggle. From walking to talking to holding a fork, I was back at square one. So, I understand if you feel like you just can’t figure out what to do. I totally feel your pain. Here is a list of things to remember when you are giving your favorite sport a go again.

1. Your brain may not be ready — and that’s OK. Let me repeat — it is OK. You know why? Because when you keep on practicing, your brain will slowly remember what to do. You’re training your brain again. In your mind, you’re like “OK, I’m going to kick this soccer ball,” but you try and it just isn’t happening. Your brain is like “Woah, slow down. Let me figure this out.” Take things one step at a time. Literally. And keep on doing that until it becomes easier and easier.

Courtney snowboarding.
Courtney snowboarding.

2. Take a lesson. If someone told me this two years ago, I would have laughed in their face. I snowboard. I also have a lot of pride. I know I’m not the only one who hates the whole “asking for help” thing. But I would have never been able to snowboard again without the help of my coaches. Please look into adaptive sports. I go to a fantastic program called New England Disabled Sports in Lincoln, New Hampshire. I would recommend this program for anyone, even a person without a disability. My coaches there have gotten me standing up on my board and actually snowboarding. Although I don’t ride like I used to and I fall, my coaches don’t let me sit there and be mad at myself very long.

Adaptive sports has come such a long way. There are programs all over the world, and they will get you set up and going. I could go on and on about how much adaptive sports has done for me.

3. Have a support team. Having a group that will support you in your goals is very important. When you feel down on yourself or too lazy that day, they’ll be there to keep on pushing and motivating you. Heck, I’ll be part of your team! There is no better feeling than having a bunch of people supporting you through this new journey!

4. Wear a damn helmet. If you are pursuing a sport that requires a helmet… just put the damn thing on. Your brain is already damaged; it’s even more fragile. Another small whack to your noggin could be ten times worse than it is for an average person without a brain injury. I know being younger, not wearing a helmet can be the “cool” thing to do, but it’s not a smart thing to do. You can even clutter your helmet with cool stickers and decals. You should see mine!

5. Remember you have a brain injury. When your brain is damaged, it may never be the same again. You may not recover all the way. Don’t push yourself to do difficult things right away. Make small goals for yourself.

I used to be a college soccer player, so you could say that I was pretty good at running. I decided to go to the track and walk 2 miles. I started getting really pumped. I was convinced I could jog the rest of the way. I start kind of running, but my legs got tangled and forgot what to do, so I ended up falling. That was a big ego crusher! Moral of the story — take it slow! Make a plan and go over it with someone, such as your physical therapist, and see if you are at that point in your recovery. You can even ask your physical or occupational therapist to implement your sport of choice into your session.

Disabilities should have no boundaries. Don’t let people tell you that you are unable to do the things you love. There are always other ways to do them. Adapt and overcome.

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