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Matt Brammeier

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Matt Brammeier

Matt Brammeier

Concussion never crossed my mind

Professional athlete Matt Brammeier has dedicated more than two decades of his life to cycling.

He spent his teenage years battling it out for first place in races against his best friend Mark Cavendish, and met his wife and fellow athlete Nikki Brammeier through the sport.

Cycling taught him not only about sport but life and society in general, and gave him a cause to feel driven and passionate about.

But as is the case with many sports, Matt feels the topic of concussion was never addressed.

He's now determined to make sure the sport that has given him so much moves with the times and starts to educate cyclists around the issue of concussion.

It was only when his wife Nikki was diagnosed with concussion after a crash that Matt realised he may be suffering from the long-term effects himself.

The 32-year-old is now passionate about raising awareness of concussion among other cyclists, and encouraging cycling bodies to introduce official concussion protocols.

"Before Nikki's crash I had no idea about the lasting effects of a concussion,” said Matt.

"All I knew were the immediate symptoms of a concussion and you should probably seek medical advice if you were having headaches, dizziness and nausea.

I was never aware of the dangers of a second concussion or of returning to a mental and physically demanding activity too early.

The early days

After watching his dad's first cycling race, teenage Matt was instantly intrigued and wanted to give the sport a go. 
But he was worried what his friends might think.

"I was a bit of a scally at the time, living in Liverpool, and was in two minds about the Lycra and shaved legs," said Matt.

"For the next 12 months I used to cover my cycling kit with my favourite Lacoste tracksuit until I was out of town.

"I'd hide the tracksuit in a bush and put it back on when I rode back into town."

Matt realised that he had a talent for cycling at an early age and would often share the podium with Olympic legend Mark Cavendish, who soon became his best friend and training partner.

But when he was just 22, Matt broke both his legs in a collision with a cement mixer. Doctors warned he may never race again.

Matt after the crash in Utah

Matt after the crash in Utah

Matt was determined to recover and was soon back on his bike, although he now feels he got back on the road far too soon.

Then, in 2015, during stage six of the Tour of Utah, Matt crashed head-on into a car while travelling at high speed.

"I was in top form before that crash," said Matt.

"Everything was running perfectly and I was really happy and enjoying my cycling.

"I had just crested the penultimate mountain and I was just behind the first group of cyclists.

"My team mate Natnael Berhane was isolated in the front group and I wanted to reach him to help him into the final mountain.

"Only a kilometre into the descent some race cars ended up in my way at a series of technical and fast bends.

"I ended up colliding with a race vehicle at a pretty high speed.

The car that Matt collided with

The car that Matt collided with

"Luckily I don't remember anything about the accident; my last memory before the crash was coming into the corner.

"After that I don't remember anything until I came around in hospital a few hours later."

Matt suffered severe injuries including a broken pelvis, broken ribs and a punctured lung, but he says his head was never really mentioned.

He said: "I had brain scans looking for bleeding but the word concussion was never mentioned to me. I never even thought about it.

Even a few months later when I came across the massive damage to my helmet I still didn't really think about it.

It was only when Matt's wife Nikki, also a professional cyclist, had an accident at the European Cyclo Cross Champs in 2016 that he became aware of the symptoms of concussion.

"Nikki crashed pretty heavily, landing head first," said Matt.

"She had some pretty bad lacerations to her face and mouth and was feeling immediately nauseous, dizzy and had a bad headache.

"Over the next few hours her headache gradually became worse and she started to vomit quite frequently."

Nikki and Matt visited two different hospitals and she underwent brains scans, which came back as all clear.

But Matt wasn't convinced that everything was alright and started to reach out to as many people as he could to have Nikki checked over again.

The couple were put in touch with some of the leading concussion experts in the UK, leading to Nikki being examined by Professor Antonio Belli, a professor of trauma neurosurgery at the University of Birmingham.

Professor Belli diagnosed Nikki with a heavy concussion and gave her a strict recovery process to follow.

Matt said: "No screen time and a gradual return to activity were things that we would never have thought of.

"Luckily, knowing all of this at this early stage helped massively and Nikki is well on the way to a full recovery."

Professor Belli's diagnosis started Matt thinking about his own crash, and its lasting impact on him.

"After my crash, concussion never crossed my mind," he said.

"I'm 99% sure it doesn't cross most sports people's minds either, especially so in cycling.

We see head injuries almost every day we race.

"People crash and bust their helmets into two pieces and just get up and continue riding with full-blown concussion symptoms.

"Then they are branded heroes for being able to finish the race.

Nikki was injured at the European Cyclo Cross Champs in 2016

Nikki was injured at the European Cyclo Cross Champs in 2016

"It's only now I'm aware of the dangers and implications of concussion it makes me realise how bad it is that cyclists are not made aware of the dangers and lasting effects of not dealing with concussion and head injuries properly.

"When I see cyclists have had a knock on the head I try my best to explain the dangers of concussion and give advice.

"But most of the time it falls on deaf ears until they start to feel the full effects and it's too late."

Matt would like to see cycling organisations implement a suitable concussion protocol to protect athletes.

Matt and Nikki back on the road

Matt and Nikki back on the road

He said: "I would love to see all professional teams sign up to a code of practice regarding concussions.

"Things like baseline testing for all riders, mid-event accident protocols and post-accident recovery protocols would be an amazing start.

"Also I would love to see our team's staff and management trained and educated about the dangers and prevention methods of concussions."

Matt hopes the UK's cycling bodies will sign up to Headway's Concussion Aware campaign, to raise awareness among athletes about the dangers of concussion.

Matt said: "Headway's campaign seems to be leading the way to raising awareness of concussions.

"The simplistic explanations, videos and information on the website are amazingly effective.

"The links and associations with sports governing bodies and teams are raising awareness among all sports.

I can only hope we can add cycling to that list as soon as possible.
 

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