Head First: Gary Young on brain trauma

Eric Lars Bakke/Shazamm/ESPN Images

Gary Young, helmeted and looking back on the X Games 16 concrete park course.

In 2007, Odyssey/Sunday/Vans pro Gary Young, a Bronze Medal winner in BMX Park at X Games 16, fell while riding street and fractured his skull in three places. Blood poured from one of Gary's ears and he spent three days in intensive care. When he fully recovered, Gary made the decision to always wear a helmet while riding. In the time since, Gary's riding has continued to progress on dirt, street and park, and he's done it all while wearing a helmet, helping to disprove the notion that helmets don't look cool in BMX. Now fully recovered, and cranking out progressive video parts in a helmet, Gary details his bouts with head trauma, the decision to ultimately wear a helmet full-time and the inherent risks involved with riding with or without a helmet.

ESPN.com: What happened to you that prompted you to wear a helmet full-time?
Young: I didn't learn after the first time. I hit my head riding a concrete skatepark, and I got on the cover of Ride BMX Magazine, and I don't even remember doing the trick at all. I have no recollection of it. I was super excited, but at the same time, not able to remember doing the trick. After that, I was like, alright, I wear helmets when I'm riding skateparks. That seems like a good idea. And then I hit my head while riding dirt. And I thought, alright, I'll wear my helmet while riding dirt now. But for the most part, I was riding street, and I wasn't wearing my helmet a lot. Then I hit my head riding street. It wasn't even a pretty hard hit. I tucked and rolled and took most of the impact to my shoulder. I wasn't even knocked out, it was just a good hit in a bad way. After that, blood started coming out of my ear. I went to the hospital, and was told I had contusions on my brain, and that my brain was swelling. I got put into the ICU, and had to spend a few days in the hospital. It scared my family and friends a lot, and I kinda realized that I was being selfish by not wearing a helmet. So I just decided from there on out to wear a helmet. I was married at that point too, I thought it wasn't fair to my loved ones to put them through grief from not wearing a helmet. It's ridiculously easy to do and I don't even notice it once I'm wearing it.

Blood started coming out of my ear.

--Gary Young

Has there been any lasting effects of your head trauma?
I've been pretty lucky. I had ringing in my left ear for a while, but that went away. Beyond that, not really. I've been pretty fortunate. Sometimes, I have a hard time finding the right word more so than before I hit my head. But I can read fine, do math like I could. Everything seems to be still there.

What are your thoughts about helmet use in BMX? Should more pros take responsibility and wear them or is it up the individual?
It's up to the individual for sure, but at the same time, we influence kids. We wouldn't be directly responsible for telling kids not to wear helmets but at the same time, we kinda are. It's freestyle though, you should do it how you want to do it. But at the same time, everyone has to make the right choice for themselves, and for me, that was wearing a helmet.

Why do you think BMX overall is experiencing more head injuries now?
Is it, or is it more in the public eye now?

That's a good point. It just seems like BMXers have been taking more and more hits each month. Maybe I'm more aware because I'm covering it?
I don't know. Vert riders are notorious for getting knocked out, and they were pushing tricks before foam pits were even around. They were getting knocked out every week. It comes with the territory to a certain degree. I know that since I started wearing my helmet, there have been times when I would've been knocked out if I wasn't wearing my helmet. Beyond that though, bikes are dangerous.

Has anyone heckled you for wearing a helmet full-time?
Not really. When you get hurt, you get off the hook. I kinda have friends stick up for me because I did get hurt. But say I just wanted to wear a helmet because that was the smart thing to do, I don't know what the reaction would be. I imagine there would be people who would say stuff about the decision, but in the end, who cares? They're gonna their thing, and you're gonna do your thing. It's just riding bikes. As long as you're having fun, you're doing it right.


Related Content