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In the summer of 2019, Steve O’Mara was racing a local triathlon when a dog jumped out of a car as he biked by—at least that’s what he was told. He doesn’t remember it.
At first, it just seemed like one of those crashes that lots of triathletes are familiar with: a few broken ribs, a concussion, a bad hip bruise. He was most annoyed about not being able run, since he was preparing for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship.
Then, a few weeks later he started having bad spells of wobbling and losing his balance.He’d get dizzy and lights would become overwhelming. His head would feel like it was splitting and he couldn’t figure out what was going on. He tipped over and collapsed at work once and in a pizza restaurant another day. “They probably thought I was nine or 12 drinks deep, but instead I’d had nothing to drink,” he said.
He was in and out of the emergency room and doctors told him it was just post-concussive syndrome.
Until one week in October, the symptoms got worse and worse. The last thing he remembers is throwing up in the waiting room of the emergency department and watching it spray through a hole in the bag a nurse had given him. He woke up two days later with 200 staples in his head.
It turned out he had suffered from a slow brain bleed for the previous three months. Over two centimeters of blood had accumulated under his skull—pushing his entire brain to one side—and he was, in one sense, lucky they had finally caught it in time.
This week’s Triathlete Hour episode is unique: Steve is also our host’s husband, so the two of them share all the details of what it’s like for an athlete to work through those challenges, symptoms to watch out for, lessons they’ve learned during recovery, and how exercise can help with traumatic brain injuries.
They also talk about how as he recovered he was able to improve in cross-country skiing and hit the Olympic standard as one of three athletes for Ireland. What is the Olympic qualification chase really like (especially for someone coming back from a brain injury)? And why didn’t it quite work out for him in this journey?