Meet Sam Williams, 22, Worcestershire born professional cyclist who has made his breakthrough with One Pro Cycling professional team last year. Although now he lives in Girona, Spain, he comes home regularly in-between training and competitions. We approached Sam to be the ambassador of our Safe Heads campaign, and share his experience with regards to concussion. We did not know at the time of contacting Sam that his fit with our charity would be closer than we thought…
Sam suffered a concussion in July 2015 and he was taken to Hereford hospital, where he spent one night. He does not remember much from his time there, but he remembers his accident and the two things that saved his life: his helmet and his friend.
22nd of December 2016, we had a chat to find out more why he really wanted to get involved in our project.
How did your concussion happen?
“I was out training with a friend and we were on top of Clee Hill. It’s a really big climb quite high up. I was going down it about 60 kilometres per hour… a sheep ran into the road and it didn’t see me. I hit it head-on and went over the front end [of the bike], landed on my face and my head and woke up in hospital a fair few hours later.
Luckily, I was training with a friend; he pulled me out of a really, really fast road that was on a blind bend [cars could have hit me]. He thought I was dead. I was faced down in a big pool of blood. He dragged me out of the road and I honestly think he saved my life doing that. He phoned an ambulance. They took me to hospital and I woke up a fair few hours later. They nearly put me into a coma because I had a lot of swelling around my brain but, fortunately, I don’t know how, but apparently it was quite a rare thing, but I just managed to come round and woke up.
I was pretty lucky; I fractured my eye socket. My face took most of the blow. I didn’t break anything else. I can’t remember the crash at all, I can’t even remember 10 minutes before it and I can’t really remember being in hospital or even the week after it. I can’t remember lots of people who came to visit me. I was speaking to them and everything! And I can’t remember seeing them or anything like that! It’s quite difficult to come to terms with it all. It’s still a bit weird how it all happened. I’ve got some nasty photos if you want to see (laughs). So, that was it really pretty weird! “
Were you coherent when people came to see you?
“According to them [his family and friends], I was talking and everything. To be fair, I can remember parts, you know. I can’t remember the whole week. There are a lot of times where I can remember but a lot of times where I can’t; I had to go to the dentist because I knocked my teeth out and I can’t remember the first time I went. Then I had to go for a second time on my own and I couldn’t remember where the dentist was. I couldn’t recognise the dentist. I didn’t recognise the person seeing me, you know; it was a weird experience.”
What are your earliest memories regarding regaining consciousness?
“I remember waking up and seeing loads of doctors around me. I knew I’d hit something but I can’t remember what it was. I just knew I’d hit something. It’s quite strange; I remember seeing my dad and my mum which was you know… I’m not very emotional but I was really emotional. It was a crazy experience. I can’t remember anything around that period other than that.”
How long were you in hospital for?
“I wasn’t in for that long, they kept me in for most of the night and then I went home with my parents because I didn’t break anything.”
How’s the sheep?
“The sheep died unfortunately (laughs). I hit it with some speed.”
What were the after effects, were there any?
“There were quite a lot and I didn’t really help myself. I didn’t know anything about concussion or anything like that. I never suffered with concussion before, so because I didn’t break any limbs, I was actually alright.
2 weeks later I was in Poland racing there. It was a about a week-long race. I felt alright at the time. It was going well. I did feel a bit tired all the time but I thought it was because of the racing. Because it was just my face that was cut up, I thought I was fine to race but I wasn’t… I was obviously putting my body through so much stress.
Then I came back [in England] and carried on racing.
It was about a month later [after the incident]. All of a sudden I just couldn’t sleep and I was having really bad insomnia. I was going on for days without sleeping and I was trying to race at the same time and it was just really stressful.
I didn’t know it had to do with my concussion. I was a bit stupid and I didn’t tell anyone at first. I thought it was just me. I thought I was going through a bit of a weird part and I found it quite embarrassing; telling people I can’t sleep makes it feel like I’m making excuses.
I was suffering with that for a long time and my mum and my dad starting picking up that I wasn’t the same person and I was being quite… not aggressive, but I was falling out with my mum, I love my mum I never fall out with her or have fights, but I was picking for fights, being moody. It was something that I didn’t notice. But eventually it got to a point where it was just horrible and it felt like I needed to speak to someone.
I hadn’t told my coach because I was quite embarrassed about it all. I sat down with him and told him everything… got it all out and he told me “you need to see a doctor, there’s something wrong, I think!” and went to the doctors and they said “you’re suffering from post-concussion syndrome”. I think after that I started to get better, once I’d come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t actually me, but that it had to do with the crash. I could accept it and get better from it. It was a few weeks after when all of a sudden, it just seemed everything went back to normal.
I haven’t really suffered with any of the other symptoms since which is pretty lucky because I think if I wasn’t wearing my helmet at the time I would have been in a seriously bad way. My helmet saved my life or saved me from a traumatic concussion. My helmet was in pieces, so I was pretty lucky, I think! “
Do you have any messages or words of support or advice to give others who might be in the same sort of situation at some point?
The one thing I regret is not telling someone about how bad I was; I thought it was going to be a bit more of a weird thing to talk about and I’m not really an open person. I sort of, sort things out and do it.
If I went and spoke to someone straight away it probably wouldn’t have turned into anything bad and I wouldn’t have been back on my bike [so soon]. I think you also need to sit it out.
I was quite annoyed at the doctor who saw me. He didn’t tell me anything about resting; I just got back on my bike and carried on racing. I think that’s the biggest mistake I made, because I put my body under a lot of stress and my brain wasn’t ready for it and I think that’s why I was hit with post-concussion syndrome. Talk it out and see a specialist!
So you mentioned your helmet was in absolute pieces, any words of advice to those who don’t use helmets?
I think it’s such a stupid thing to not wear a helmet. It can all change instantly and at that moment, for me, it all did, but I was wearing a helmet! I can carry on being myself and if I wasn’t wearing a helmet, it could all be very different. It makes absolutely no sense to not wear a helmet. We live in a world now where everyone’s busy to get places and the roads are so busy with cars travelling at high speeds. Putting a helmet on, which takes 2 seconds, can stop you from suffering with really bad injuries. It makes perfect sense to buy one and wear one.
What about those who wouldn’t use one for fashion reasons?
I think it looks weird not wearing a helmet. But for fashion reasons… if you were going to not wear a helmet for that reason and you get knocked off a bike, your fashion might take a bit of a step back [after that]. I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse at all.
How do you feel about being an ambassador for this program?
Definitely I feel really, really excited to do something that at the time of my injury, I wish I knew more about it. It’s good to see that there’s support out there. I definitely want to help spread the word of this amazing charity I think it’s really important.
Would you advice people to take the pledge to keep their head safe?
Definitely! I definitely will be! It’s common sense – you should wear a helmet and look after ‘number one’ – your head. Nothing else works without your brain!