Quadruple speed skating world champion Brittany Bowe is favorite to win gold at the Beijing Olympics next month. She’s a powerhouse on skates and racked up 32 world championship medals as an inline skater before hitting the ice. Since switching to winter sports, she won a bronze medal at the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018 and broke the world record for the 1,000-meter sprint.
But a concussion in 2016 almost derailed it all. “I wasn’t even sure I could skate at all,” she said in a new interview with Team USA.
As with so many things in sports, women face a gender gap when it comes to concussions. Female athletes face a “significantly higher risk of head injury,” according to Nature. There is no consensus as to why, a fact that is not helped by the gender gap in medical research. Women are grossly under-represented in medical studies, which means that doctors often work with data from a population with vast physiological differences. Concussions are no different as most of the existing medical research has been done with male athletes. “We take all of this data, mostly studies on men; we apply them to women. It just has to change, ”said Michael Gray, a neuroscientist at the University of East Anglia. Nature. Early research and theories on why concussion outcomes differ in female athletes suggests everything from differences in brain structure to hormones to training styles.
In addition to the higher risk of sustaining a concussion, women also experience disproportionate side effects, take longer to recover and often suffer from longer-term complications, research shows. And that’s exactly what happened to Bowe.
In 2016, Bowe suffered a concussion after a collision in training. She was allowed to return to the ice after a few weeks, according to NBC Sports, but continued to experience lingering symptoms. “A number of challenges arose after my injury,” she wrote in an essay for Team USA in 2017. She had prolonged symptoms of vestibular dysfunction, which has symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, dizziness and problems with balance. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, which can last for months, according to the Mayo Clinic, and is more common in women.
But Bowe also suffered from another less common complication of his concussion: Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). The condition has become an “intimidating part of my daily life,” Bowe wrote in 2017, and it ultimately forced her to cut her season short.
“I needed to be of service and to heal,” she wrote in the same essay. “I came home to Florida to escape the idea of ’pushing’ and giving my body the time it needed to repair itself… but in this case, coming home to Florida to take the time to heal itself. relaxing only made the dysfunction worse for me. There were days when I would walk outside to get some fresh air and after about 10 minutes of walking my heart rate was in the 140s and I almost passed out. Scared, frustrated and completely demoralized, I wasn’t sure returning to sport would even be an option for me.