March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Brain injuries can be hard to diagnose, treat, and recover from, often leading the affected person to feel isolated and depressed. This year’s theme, the Change Your Mind campaign, provides a platform for educating the general public about the incidence of brain injury and the needs of people with brain injuries and their families. The campaign also lends itself to outreach within the brain injury community to de-stigmatize the injury, empower those who have survived, and promote the many types of support that are available.
As part of Athlete Intelligence's commitment to traumatic brain injury awareness, we will using our platform to interview athletes, advocates, coaches and health care professionals throughout the sports industry to share their experiences with brain injuries.
Today, we're interviewing Crueliette Lewis, one of 2018's Boston All-Star Skaters for the Boston Roller Derby.
Tell us about Boston Roller Derby; how long have you been skating?
This will be my eighth season of derby. I started with New Hampshire Roller Derby in 2011, after attending a Boston Roller Derby new skater bootcamp in the winter of 2010. I transferred to BRD from NHRD in the summer of 2015.
Boston Roller Derby is Boston's premier flat-track roller derby league. What is it that you think excites people about the sport?
I think people are surprised when they hear there is derby in Boston. It's nostalgic for a lot of people, who remember watching it on TV in the 70s and 80s. Once they see it in person, they realize that it's a totally different sport than it was back then - much more athletic and competitive. I also think that people are drawn to the camaraderie of the sport. We spend an hour beating on each other, but there is a lot of fun being had on the track and we buy each other beers afterward. We respect our opponents on and off the track.
How concerned are you about the skaters you play with receiving sports-related injuries?
Fairly concerned. I am the Coaching Committee Head for Boston Roller Derby and safety is my number one concern for our skaters. I spend time with all new skaters going over how to properly adjust helmets, as I see a lot of people wearing ill-fitting or improperly adjusted helmets. I wish that retailers would take the time to show people how to make sure their helmets are fitting correctly. I even see it on cyclists all over the place and it blows my mind. I think having a helmet on gives a false sense of security too often - people don't realize that a helmet must be worn correctly to offer protection, and if you're wearing it incorrectly you're putting yourself at more risk than if you weren't wearing one at all. I also think that people incorrectly assume that helmets protect against concussion.
Roller Derby allows skaters to play one of three different positions: Pivot, Blocker and Jammer. What position do you find receiving the most injuries?
I don't think any one position incurs more injuries than any other. All positions involve collision-type contact which puts us all at risk for injury.
Have you or anyone close to you ever had a concussion or other skater-related head injury?
Yes. I have had two concussions in my lifetime, neither of which were from derby (both were from gymnastics). A fair number of my teammates over the years have suffered concussions.
What is your typical protocol handling a concussion? Does the Boston Roller Derby have a standard 'Return to Play Protocol'?
BRD does have a 'Return to Play Protocol'. If anyone suffers a blow to the head, we immediately remove them from play and ask one of our medically trained league members to evaluate them. If there is any sign of headache, dizziness, or nausea, the skater will not be allowed to return to play that day, we will arrange for someone to drive them home, and we fill out an injury report. We also require them to get clearance from a healthcare provider if they exhibit any symptoms of concussion before being allowed to return to play. We follow the guidelines laid out by the WFTDA (Women's Flat Track Derby Association) for concussion protocols.
What are some of the ways you address the topic of sports safety, especially concussion prevention and awareness, with the athletes you play with?
We talk about the protocols and procedures with the coaching committee, members of which are responsible for insuring injuries are addressed appropriately. We discuss injury prevention and recovery with all of our new skaters as well. We want to lay out expectations for new skaters early on and make sure they understand that getting treatment for injuries and taking the time to recover is more important than skating. I do think we could do more, however.
Do you find the concussions and sports-related brain injuries are misunderstood? What do you you think Roller Derby could be doing more of to prevent sports-related brain injuries?
I do. The roller derby community has done quite a bit in the last few years to increase awareness and understanding of sports-related brain injuries in the last few years, in particular the WFTDA. They've introduced these protocols and have worked hard to educate member leagues. Many people who play roller derby have never played a sport before and don't have any experience with recovering from sports-related injuries in general, but I also feel that those with sports backgrounds might need more education to update the pre-existing ideas and assumptions about brain injuries. Information has evolved as more research is done, and that information needs to be shared widely. I think the more individual leagues can do to make sure that their members are getting information and that these injuries are being taken seriously, the better.
When did you first become aware of the dangers of sports-related brain injuries?
When I got my first concussion. I was 16, it was at gymnastics. I was doing a warmup and just overshot my flip, landing on my head/neck rather than my feet. No one was around, and I got no medical attention. I brushed it off but decided to leave practice. Later on, I experienced vertigo, and my symptoms of dizziness and overall confusion lasted for about a week. I never saw a doctor, although my mother is a nurse. It's very possible that I didn't tell her the extent of my symptoms.
Are you seeking more tools, resources and information in regards to head injury detection and prevention?
Yes. I'm always reading any new articles about it and sharing whatever information I can with my coaching committee and the league's members. I'm committed to helping educate skaters about head injuries and prevention.
Do you feel like Brain Injuries are overlooked or stigmatized in our society?
Yes. I feel it's one of those silent injuries. It's misunderstood as well. People think that you have to take a huge blow to the head to get a head injury, but there are so many other factors. Race car drivers experience head injuries from the sheer force of the speed of their vehicles, boxers from their heads snapping back, extreme athletes from falls that don't necessarily even involve landing on their head but from a whiplash type collision. The range of ways that head injuries present is so huge that there is no "one" symptom or set of symptoms. It's not very well understood even by the medical community and I feel that research and understanding has a long way to go in general.
Our thanks to Boston Roller Derby and Crueliette Lewis for taking the time to talk with us. If you would like to learn more about Boston Roller Derby -- Boston's premier roller derby league -- be sure to follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For a full schedule of events, visit: bostonrollerderby.com/schedule
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