photo Credit: Rosario Loforti
There are certain sports known for being dangerous – and even cheerleaders in the USA suffer serious head and spinal injuries as a result of the stunts they have to perform during games. Cheerleaders have a high risk of fractured skulls and neck or spinal injuries, showing that even the most exuberant sports are not just all about waving pom-poms and smiling.
In the UK, fandom at sports matches is more vocal and less physical, but certain sports still carry a warning tag and can result in catastrophic, life changing head/brain injuries without any warming – and without the injury being anyone’s fault.
In 1982 – just one year after turning pro – Barry McGuigan’s career was thrown into doubt after he was traumatised by a punch he landed on his opponent, which resulted in Nigerian boxer Young Ali suffering traumatic head and brain injuries from which he died after five months in a coma.
McGuigan courageously carried on with his career in an attempt to win the British featherweight title in Ali’s honour, which he did – but he admits he never really recovered from the trauma he felt at the unforeseen and tragic outcome of his own boxing skills.
However, many holidaymakers also suffer catastrophic brain injury as a result of taking part in sports – perhaps for the first time – simply because they are in the holiday mood and things get out of hand.
Activities like horse riding, quad biking, jet skiing, hang gliding – and even the obligatory Banana boat ride – can end in someone suffering a traumatic or even fatal brain injury if they are not wearing protective head gear and have not been properly trained or supervised for the activity.
Setting off with your posse or the family on horseback without hard hats, training or being on a leading rein may seem like a great holiday adventure – but if you are a novice rider and your mount is feeling a bit perky, landing with a bump could mean suffering brain injury and even catastrophic, life changing head injuries.
Holidays are all about doing things on the spur of moment – and trying new activities; but more young Brits are returning home with spinal injuries and head/brain injuries after taking part in risky activities such as tombstoning and climbing over balconies, sometimes after alcohol, recreational drugs or simply without having had much sleep on their holiday.
Sportsmen are successful at what they do – whether boxing, riding or wild diving into the sea – because they have trained and have learned to judge the situation.
But even the most highly trained sports people suffer catastrophic injury or lose their lives because of factors which cannot be predicted, such as the million-to-one chance that circumstances will go against their judgement and training, with a tragic outcome simply unavoidable.
And if the most highly trained and experienced sports people can come a cropper under certain circumstances and with a devastating outcome, what chance two mates with a hangover on a quad bike speeding along a beach or busy road – or a nervous novice rider cantering along rocky terrain for the first time, with no hard hat and a horse which doesn’t speak English and has the bit between its teeth?
For sports novices and enthusiastic holidaymakers, here are the top 10 sports with the highest risk of head/brain injury – take note and make sure your holiday does not end in tragedy:
- Boxing – blows to the head can kill even with protective headgear and even a simple concussion can develop into something more serious if a blood clot results, so leave the boxing moves at home and simply walk away if you find yourself in a confrontational situation on holiday
- Boating – when a boat flips over, a blow to the head or being trapped beneath it without an air pocket can result in catastrophic head injury or life changing brain injuries resulting from oxygen deprivation, so take care on the water
- Bungee jumping – what goes down will hopefully come back up without hitting its head; but a burst blood vessel in the brain, pressure on the neck or spine, or stroke or cardiac event are also possible, especially if you suffer from high blood pressure, so wear the right safety equipment and get some training
- Climbing – falls can be fatal even with the right headgear and altitude sickness can be another problem even for the most experienced climber, so again, get some training first
- Diving – diving from height and high-risk diving from balconies or cliff tops should be left to stunt divers and not you on holiday, as more young adults are returning home with permanent head/brain injury as a result of risky behaviour at height
- Free running – looks easy, but could easily end in a catastrophic head/brain injury if you don’t know what you’re doing and don’t have the physical training and aptitude, so don’t try this at home or on holiday
- Horse riding – not really a pet but more like a motorbike with four legs and a whole lot of horse- and willpower. Wear a hard hat that fits properly and don’t go out for a hack without expert supervision or a leading rein if you are a novice
- Jet skiing – wind in your hair, sea spray in your face could be the last thing you remember if you don’t wear protective headgear and take a responsible attitude – which includes being aware of other people on the water, including swimmers
- Motorcycling – live fast, die young from a head/brain injury if you don’t wear a cycle helmet and get some training – as well as looking out for other road users who may not see you on the road, plus oil spills which could send you into a dangerous skid
- Quad biking – seems like a good idea at the time and its looks like a big boys’ toy, but quad bikes are notoriously unstable and in the hands of a novice can kill, maim and cause traumatic, life changing brain injuries; so wear head gear, get some training and don’t take risks or speed (in every sense) on a quad bike.
Remember that any sport involving speed, a heavy piece of machinery, a large animal or a potential impact to the head, neck or spine at speed can wreck your life and leave you permanently paralysed.
Holiday activities may seem like the adventure of a lifetime – but when in doubt, head back to the sunlounger, apply the Factor 60 and leave the dangerous sports for someone else’s Facebook page.
Leo Wyatt is a freelance writer & journalist who graduated from Birmingham University and has particular interests in cars, sports, parenting, safety, politics, law and health. Leo has worked for several newspapers in the midlands but now spends most of his time writing articles for companies, websites and businesses on a freelance basis, primarily the brain injury experts who offer brain injury support and rehabilitation for individuals.