California BMX Racing Pro Reflects on What He Thought He Knew

{Editor’s note:  Is it finally OK for BMX Racers to talk about concussions? This is MY sport and I feel like awareness in the racing ranks has been more difficult to achieve than in many other sports. BMX racers are a slightly different breed mentally and physically, to put it lightly. Most of us think that we were forged in iron until it’s irrefutably proven that we weren’t. By then, the damage is done and the regret is incredible. 

Today’s knowledge comes Straiiiiiiiighttttttt out of Fresno, California. If you’ve followed the National USABMX Racing scene, you either know or have heard of Austin. I first heard of this blazing fast grommet on the tail end of my own career as a washed-up cruiser racer. He was about 15 years old and lighting tracks up. Now, he’s a pro and in his early 20’s. He has learned some things over the course of his career that he’d like to pass on.

It’s so important to understand that if you hit your head one weekend, you can’t just take a couple of days or a week off and show right back up to the track and pick up where you left off. You’ve got to have a competent concussion doctor evaluate you and give you the all clear. These docs exist and you can visit www.concussionclinics.org to find one near you. Thanks to Austin for tackling what has been such a difficult conversation in our ranks.   –Jay}

By Austin Hiatt

hiatt3The concussion… My concussion story starts in late February of 2015, at the opening round of the USA BMX Pro Series. In my third qualification moto I took a nasty fall going over the front end of my bike, head first into the following jump. I went from roughly 30mph to a dead stop. This left me unconscious for 4 minutes and with a less than lovely 6 day visit on a trauma floor in the hospital.

I didn’t know what to expect as this was my first concussion. It wasn’t simple like the previous injuries I had, at least it didn’t seem like it. When you turn your foot backwards, break an arm, wrist, or elbow, you see the injury, you feel it. With a concussion you can’t see it. I struggled with that. Like any injury I had ever had before, Doctors and friends who have experienced it tell you what to expect. A doctor tells you 6 weeks on a simple fracture. In your head, you’re thinking “Sweet, I can be back in 4”. Every injury I had ever had, I healed way before the doctors expected date. At first, I thought this would be the way that it was with a concussion. After all, it’s nothing more than a serious headache right? Wrong. For the first time everything Doctors said that I would feel, I felt. What I thought was an injury that would put me out for a week, put me out for 5 and a half.

I was very fortunate to have a great system around me. I was able to meet with a doctor weekly and constantly evaluate my symptoms. The first two weeks it seemed like it was nothing but headaches and low toleration for bright light and loud noise. It wasn’t until the end of the second week were I realized I was having pretty crazy mood swings. I was incredibly irritable and easily frustrated through this time. One minute I could be perfectly fine, the next minute I was throwing a pillow across the room because I was so frustrated.  Most of the frustration came from the anxiety and fear that came along with the concussion. If I couldn’t remember a word, a person’s name, or a number, the first thought into my head was it’s like this because of the concussion. Then it was a downhill mini anxiety attack from there. Each week all of this progressed, I would feel exponentially better. After 5 and a half weeks my doctor gave me the clearance to begin my full training load and I was back in action.

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Looking back, I would say I took the proper steps. I was guided well from the hospital in Phoenix to my doctors and coach back home in Fresno.

Fast forward the story to a weekend in early August in Grand Junction, Colorado. This is my fourth race returning to competition. On the final day of racing I had a fluke crash in a turn. Unfortunately, I hit my head. With this crash in the semi final, my weekend was done and over with. I noticed that I had a headache following my crash. My helmet had scratches from where my head hit the asphalt and the inner foam shell had been cracked. I got a new helmet as soon as I got home and decided to take it easy for a few days. I noticed myself being exhausted throughout the week. When I returned to training on Wednesday, I felt weak and slow. As soon as we started doing anything with high intensity, I would begin to feel light headed followed by a headache. At first my coach and I chalked this up to a race in higher altitude. The following two weekends I had races, both of which I did not feel 100% at. After my second bad weekend of racing, I went to the doctor who confirmed I had almost certainly had another concussion. I could not have done things more wrong the second time around. In the back of my head I knew I had hit my head. But, I also knew I was scared from my first experience. I knew I had races coming up that I wanted to be at. I knew I just didn’t want another concussion to be the case. I am incredibly lucky and grateful that I had not hit my head again in the weeks following the crash in Colorado.

What I want you to take from this article is if you ever hit your head, if you know you have a concussion, if you even think you might, take the right steps. Do not follow in my footsteps of how I handled my second concussion. Taking the right steps is such a vital part when dealing with this injury. As doctors are learning more and more about the long term effects of concussions, we are learning how seriously we need to take brain related injuries. Do yourself the favor of making sure you make that full recovery as fast and as efficiently as possible. It is the best thing you can do.

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