His Catastrophic Bobsled Crash May Have Saved Him

Doctors say career-ending crash at 21 kept Joe Sisson from suffering later brain damage
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 9, 2022 11:35 AM CST
His Catastrophic Bobsled Crash May Have Saved Him
Stock image.   (Getty Images)

"I've got survivor's guilt big time," says Joe Sisson. He's a former bobsledder, a onetime Olympic hopeful who survived a near-fatal 2002 crash during a practice run in Switzerland at age 21. But when he talks about survivor's guilt, he's not talking about the crash. He's talking about surviving the sport. and even thriving. As Matthew Futterman reports for the New York Times, many of those he knew and trained with have struggled with depression, addiction, memory loss, and a sensitivity to lights and noise. Three are dead by suicide. In 2020, one Olympic bobsledder who died by suicide was found to have been suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the disease more commonly associated with football.

Doctors tell Sisson that crash may have actually saved him: By ending his career at a young age, he avoided what could have been years of additional sledding. As for the crash itself, Sisson was rushing that day and pushed off without inspecting the sled. Its steering mechanism had frozen, meaning he was almost certain to crash, which he did on the ninth turn. He doesn't remember it, but based on the damage to his helmet and the sled, he thinks he hit the edge of the wall near the chin and was immediately knocked unconscious. The 400-pound sled flipped and ended up on top of them, the two sliding as a unit for hundreds of yards. He wasn't expected to survive, but somehow the pressure in his skull stayed mysteriously low and he slowly recovered. He did briefly try to return to the sport a couple years later, but a crash quickly put an end to it. (Read the full story.)

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