Speedskater Brittany Bowe After Concussion: “I Wasn’t Sure Returning To Sport Would Even Be An Option”

By Brittany Bowe, Four-Time Speedskating World Champion | Oct. 19, 2017, 9:40 p.m. (ET)
Brittany Bowe poses at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

 

Brittany Bowe is a long track speedskater who transitioned to the ice in 2010 after successful careers in inline skating and basketball. Since making her Olympic debut in 2014, Bowe has earned the title of world champion four times – twice at the world sprint championships, as well as in the 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter. She has also earned two silver and three bronze world championship medals, as well as the title of grand world cup champion in 2016. Bowe is writing for TeamUSA.org on her journey to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

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For those of you new to my journey to the 2018 Olympics, I should start by explaining that I suffered a concussion last season that led me to the decision to end my race season early and focus on my health. A number of challenges arose after my injury. After showing signs of vestibular dysfunction for a prolonged period, I was diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome – not uncommon after sustaining a head injury. Another issue, which isn’t as common, is called “POTS.”

I was diagnosed with POTS back in October 2016 after having fainted on more than one occasion, and little did I know this relatively unknown diagnosis would become a daunting part of my everyday life. POTS stands for postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, and essentially means the body does not control blood pressure or heart rate as it should after you stand up. This can make you feel dizzy, lightheaded and lead to fainting.

After the diagnoses, I began a vestibular rehab program, began monitoring “POTS” episodes and continued to train to the best of my ability, with hopes of competing in the world single distance championships and having the chance to defend my world sprint championship title. After months of having more downs than ups, I realized that there was more than salvaging a season that I needed to be worrying about.

I needed to do myself a favor and heal. I went home to Florida to escape the thought of “pushing through” and give my body the time it needed to repair itself. They say time heals, and it does… but in this case, going home to Florida to take time to relax only escalated dysfunction for me. There were days I would walk outside to get some fresh air and after about 10 minutes of being on my feet, my heart rate would be in the 140s and I would nearly faint.

Scared, frustrated and completely demoralized, I wasn’t sure if returning to sport would even be an option for me. In the beginning of March, I packed my bags and headed to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where I was put under the care of a number of world-class doctors and specialists who came together to “debunk” my situation. After many assessments, I began a vestibular rehabilitation program and was put on a strict “POTS” workout protocol. Vestibular rehab began with the smallest eye movements and my workout program began with just a few minutes on a recumbent bike.

Feeling far from a world-class athlete, my doctor told me to print photographs of myself – as the world champion, as the world-record holder – and hang them where I can see them every day as a reminder of who I am and what I’m working for. Such a simple yet powerful reminder kept me pushing forward through the rough times, and trust me, there were a lot of those times. After three months of what seemed like the hardest work I’ve done to date, I received approval from the team of doctors to take the next natural progression – to return back to Salt Lake City to begin skating-specific training with the U.S. national team. This has been another transition to make, another step to take, and I have taken it with a heart filled with gratitude for all of the time, patience and expertise of the team of doctors who have worked with me and my case.