Once Olympic Hopeful Inspires State to Enforce Head Protection For Young Athletes
By Sarah Johnson
The world is watching Sochi as thousands of athletes take their spotlight on the Olympic stage to compete for gold. You may have seen Russian history play out during the artistic and fanciful opening ceremonies. During the athletes’ march, crowds at home applauded the army of Americans proudly representing the land of the free, and they celebrated tiny delegations, with just one or two participants for their country, most of whom, enthusiastically and vivaciously waved their flag! For each champion, the journey to the Olympic platform represents courage, triumph and life long commitment to excellence.
For one American, Jenna Sneva, this year’s Olympic games should have been a welcomed opportunity to race for a medal. She is currently USA’s downhill skiing national gold medalist, and her Achilles’ heel is brain injury.
As a child, Jenna’s passion for sports easily marked her as a star athlete. She loved skiing, but also participated in softball, soccer, wake-boarding, and more. After enduring more than a dozen concussions over the years, her doctors, including the Seattle Seahawk’s team physician, Dr. Stan Herring and OHSU’s Dr. James Chesnutt, have told her one more bad hit and she could be paralyzed, or even die. So she has permanently put away both her skis, and the dream of competing ever again.
Symptoms of her condition, known as Post-Concussion Symdrom, have included severe depression, and debilitating head aches. If she would have allowed her brain to heal more fully after each concussion, by sitting out for 3 weeks, she would not now have to choice between actually living, and living her dream.
Rather than burying herself in grief, she has rallied her home state of Oregon to pass legislation that will help prevent other young athletes from facing the same fate. No one should be made to choose between their passion of sports and their life. Jenna’s Law, Oregon Senate Bill 721, went into effect on January 1, 2014 and provides protection for kids who have experienced concussions in all sporting events, including at schools and with club sports.
Jenna’s motto is, “It’s not worth playing on a concussion. It’s not worth hiding. You need medical help. You get a concussion, you’re out three weeks. I’m out the rest of my life because I didn’t go get help.”
And even after everything she has been through, Jenna still encourages youth to participate in sports: “There’s such a social component. They bring out leaders, inspire teamwork, problem solving. I advocate sports. But I also advocate sitting out.” To learn more about Jenna’s law, click here.
Utah legislators passed a similar bill in 2013, you can read more about it here.