Two-time Olympic medalist and U.S. bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor has pledged to donate her brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation and hopes more female athletes do the same.
In an interview with USA Today published Tuesday, Meyers Taylor noted women suffer more concussions than men, and yet repetitive head trauma in females are largely underrepresented in research studies. She said she’s had at least four concussions that she knows of.
"Anytime you hit a curve or you hit on the side of the wall, you hit against the side of the sled,” said Meyers Taylor, who won a silver as a driver in the Sochi Games and a bronze in Vancouver as a brakeman. "We’re taking four to five, sometimes six or seven Gs on our body every time we go down the track. And then the crashing.”
One crash in particular almost ended her career. In January 2015, Meyers Taylor’s sled smashed into a wall at a world cup event in Koenigssee, Germany. Diagnosed with a concussion, she was cleared to race again the following week.
She ended the season with her first world championship title, also the first for a U.S. woman. But all was not well. She began having headaches again, started having some light sensitivity problems, and her personality changed.
"A really big symptom of mine, that we didn’t realize (was a symptom), was emotional," Meyers Taylor told USA Today. "I was not myself at all. I was acting out. And my husband was the one to really notice it because I’d take it out on him. If my emotions were out of control, he was the one who would see it.”
She returned home to Atlanta in July and sought treatment at Cerebrum Health Centers. Cleared again to train, she began competing later that year but her symptoms returned and her coaches sent her home.
"I really lost a year of my life due to that concussion," Meyers Taylor said after recovering.
According to Pink Concussions, a non-profit organization focused on female brain injury, women are often an unseen part of the concussion story even though they suffer more concussions than males, have more severe symptoms and are slower to recover.
"Females have been neglected in traumatic brain injury research. They’re almost non-existent in CTE research, and that’s something that needs to change," Chris Nowinski, co-founder and executive director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, told USA Today. "We do know there are differences between a male brain and a female brain, so we’d expect there to be differences in how they respond to brain injuries."
After working with a new team of doctors, Meyers Taylor is now symptom-free and committed to helping other athletes long after her days as a bobsled pilot are over.
Meyers Taylor joins American hockey gold medalist Angela Ruggeiro and four-time hockey gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser of Canada, who also announced this week they will donate their brains to concussion research.
The women’s bobsled competition begins Tuesday, Feb. 20 on NBC.