Marco Sullivan missed nearly all of the 2010-2011 season after sustaining a concussion while training in Bormio.
No, this is not a DUI stop or the entrance exam for a snooty preschool.
I’ve come to the Park City Medical Center to meet face to face with Melinda Roalstad about the health of ski racers’ heads. She’s the founder
of Think Head First, a program dedicated to raising awareness about the
seriousness of head injures.
My heart still hammering from the nerve-racking test, I sit down with Roalstad as she flips through my “grade” printout. “Pretty good,” she says with
a slow nod. I take it my test results don’t reflect the lightning reflexes she
regularly sees in her patients who dodge slalom gates on the World Cup
tour for a living.
The test I’ve taken is called Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and
Cognitive Testing, or ImPACT, a computerized neuropsychological evaluation tool that Roalstad and her colleagues use to test a person’s cognitive
abilities and reflexes before and after a brain injury such as a concussion.
Ski racers get their bells rung plenty, of course. But in the past year, concussions have gained more scrutiny thanks to Lindsey Vonn’s head injury
and the resulting controversy over her decision to almost immediately return to racing.
Last spring, the USSA and its members nationwide were required to adhere to a Utah law that puts strict regulations on the responsibilities of parents and coaches when even the slightest hint of a concussion is noticed
in a minor athlete.
Roalstad, a licensed physician’s assistant with 15 years of experience with the U.S. Ski Team (first as a physiologist
and then its medical director) says she saw the need for more awareness of concussions after leaving the USSA.
“I started Think Head First after working with the USSA and returning to the general population,” Roalstad says. “I
realized how much it was needed because there was just not a lot of knowledge out there in terms of practical application for what to do for kids in sports and returning them from concussive injury.”
The ImPACT test, she says, seemed a reliable way to evaluate concussed athletes. “While doing research in how
to best help athletes return to the sport after a concussion, we found ImPACT, which looks at cognitive functions,
things like memory for words, visual memory, patterns within a pattern and reaction times,” Roalstad says. “All of
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