Worcestershire professional cyclist, Sam Williams, has joined forces with Headway Worcestershire by becoming the new ambassador for the charity’s latest campaign, SafeHeads.
The Worcester-based organisation that improves life after acquired brain injury is now focusing on educating young students on the importance of wearing cycling helmets during leisure activities, particularly cycling to and from school.
Through their campaign, Headway Worcestershire hopes to appeal local schools to take the pledge and encourage them to actively advocate pro-use of cycling helmets.
“We feel that it is important to share Sam’s story as it demonstrates the point of SafeHeads. We acknowledge that some people argue that wearing a helmet might entice drivers to leave less space when overtaking a cyclist. However we it’s not always cars on the roads that cause accidents involving cyclists. The weather, the road itself, nature and other causes that have nothing to do with people can turn someone’s world upside down entirely.”, said Julia Protesaru, Marketing manager at Headway Worcestershire.
ONE Pro Cyclist Sam, who suffered a mild traumatic brain injury in the form of a concussion after his accident whilst out training on Clee Hill in July 2015, remembers the two things that saved his life that day: his helmet and his friend.
In his interview, the cyclist offered some shocking insights into his accident story. According to Headway, brain injuries cause the highest rate of disability in young people.
“Sam was lucky enough not to be left with any further damage after his accident. However there are over 1000 new people in Worcestershire every year who will suffer long term effects of an acquired brain injury” continued Julia.
Sam starts: “I was going down a hill… 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. 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 managed to come round and woke up.
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.
Sam was never advised to “sit it out” after the accident, nor was he told anything about concussion during the time his face was healing.
“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 thought I was actually alright.
2 weeks later Sam was in Poland completing a week-long race. Although his face was still healing, he assumed it was the only after-effect to deal with after the accident. “I did feel tired all the time but I thought it was because of the 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 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.”
Head Sports Director at ONE Pro Cycling, Matt Winston said “It’s great that Sam is an ambassador for Headway, rider safety is paramount in ONE Pro Cycling. I remember Sam being involved in the accident whilst out training and it was a worrying time for all involved. We encourage all our athletes to use helmets whilst on the team as they really can make the difference. I feel Sam will be a perfect ambassador for Headway.”
Headway say that often they come across people who have been suffering in silence for years before anyone recognised their symptoms as being due to an acquired brain injury.
“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 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.”
“There are very few people who will recognise that the subtle changes in someone might be due to a brain injury. Often families see first-hand the difference in a loved one when they start losing temper easily or even change habits or personality completely. It’s extremely hard for the carer to provide adequate support when they themselves do not know what they are dealing with”, comments Julia.
Sam continues, “I hadn’t told my coach because I was quite embarrassed about it all. I went to the doctor’s and he said “you’re suffering from post-concussion syndrome”. 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. “
I haven’t really suffered long term 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! “
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. If you were going to not wear a helmet for fashion reasons 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.
Sam advises that “you should wear a helmet and look after ‘number one’ – your head. Nothing else works without your brain! “
Sam’s full interview is available here.
If you wish to read more about Safeheads, or take the pledge, please click here.