While awareness of concussions and their long term implications is becoming more and more common in a number of sports figure skating seems to be lagging behind. Not just in media, but I didn’t actually find a single peer reviewed article on the topic when searching. So, are figure skaters somehow protected from these devastating injuries? NO! Every skater I know, myself included, has had at least one event that they self identify as a concussion and a number of falls that they believe may have had serious consequences. So why haven’t concussions made it into figure skating?
- Appearance counts for a lot – wearing any protective head gear will raise a multitude of arguments from figure skaters about throwing off balance and changing the feel of a move. So why not explore technologies that might offer some protection at least without changing the feel? Because it would mess with the hairdos.
- We can’t change the performance surface – you might get similar arguments about balance and protective equipment from gymnasts but they can at least modify the surfaces they perform on to be less dangerous, ice is ice. And yes, I know skaters do practice in jump harnesses and on mats, but that only reduces the number of times they fall on ice, it doesn’t eliminate them completely.
- Mental health problems still aren’t attractive – skaters are trying so hard to convince everyone that they are ready and able, and that includes being happy and well adjusted. Mental health has never been discussed in a rink I’ve seen, other than eating disorders, but those are “an artifact of the beauty” and not seen as indicative of any other concerns an athlete might have. (Arguably, this is a slow thing to change in any sport but at least some of them are trying). As a consequence, any emotional effects of a concussion do not get discussed, and if they do, they typically aren’t associated with a heavy fall but with the mental strength and resilience of the athlete.
With just a quick search, here are three recent examples that concussions are a problem:
The Gazette in Colorado Springs published a brief in 2015 that Joshua Farris, the 2013 world junior champion was retiring due to lingering effects of a concussion.
In an article about U.S. pairs skaters Denney and Frazier there is a small note that the team of Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea withdrew from the 2017 U.S. Nationals after Kayne suffered a concussion from a fall in their short program earlier in the competition.
American singles skater Ashley Wagner has recently revealed in the San Jose Mercury News that she suffered significant post-concussion syndrome after repeated blows more than a decade ago. She didn’t get checked out. And she started struggling with classes that she had once found easy.
The tricks are getting bigger in figure skating, but because there is no research, we’ll never know what the consequences are of the race to jump higher, move faster, and spin more for the risk of concussion.
In honour of Bell’s Let’s Talk day, I wanted to write this post on a topic that is largely under the radar. Concerns about mental health are always connected to body image in figure skating, concussions haven’t even really made it to the table yet. But concussions and the mental health concerns of concussions are real, and they need to be addressed.