After concussions: finding a silver lining

By April Frawley Birdwell
Concussions ended Aliyah Snyder’s dream of competing in the Olympics. Now she is working to develop sports concussion assessment tools and raise community awareness.

Concussions ended Aliyah Snyder’s dream of competing in the Olympics. Now she is working to develop sports concussion assessment tools and raise community awareness.

Speeding headfirst down a perilous winding chute of ice at speeds more than 70 miles an hour sounded crazy to Aliyah Snyder’s mother. But to Snyder, a surfer, a rower and a generally adventurous type, the obscure winter sport “skeleton” sounded fun.

After watching the sport and trying out in Lake Placid, N.Y., Snyder joined the Israeli national skeleton team in 2007 and competed for two years, aiming to make the 2014 Olympic team. But before she could realize that dream, a series of concussions, coupled with the constant shaking from barreling down the icy track, ended her career

“The neurologists told me I had something similar to shaken baby syndrome as an adult,” Snyder said. “After the last concussion, it took me two years to recover.”

With a range of symptoms from headaches to cognitive and visual impairment that left her unable to drive and work, Snyder medically retired.

Slowly, she started to recover, and she realized she wanted to focus on a new goal — helping other people avoid or know how to deal with sports concussions. Last year, she joined the college as a doctoral student in clinical psychology and she is focused on developing assessment tools for sports concussions as a member of the Health IMPACTS for Florida team.

With another grad student, she also launched Athlete Brain, a group of volunteers that is raising community awareness about sports concussions.

Looking at her life now as a Ph.D. student poised for a new career, Snyder said it feels surreal compared to where she was just two years ago.

“It was very scary, but it allowed me to move into the area I am in now. If I had not gotten injured I would probably still be in Lake Placid,” she said. “While that is something I would have been very proud of myself for, the dreams and goals I have here are more fulfilling than an individual goal.”

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Spring 2013

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