Nikki Brammeier has revealed she has been suffering with headaches, dizziness and panic attacks in the aftermath of her crash at the European Cyclo Cross Championships 10 days ago – symptoms she says left her a "complete mess". The British rider does not know when she’ll return to racing but urged the cycling world to take the issue of concussion more seriously.
Focus on concussion in sport has been intensified in recent years, especially in rugby and American football, and the dangers posed by cycling are obvious, even if helmets are now compulsory. Just last week, the German rider Dominik Nerz revealed that repeated head-impact crashes had left him with lasting problems that forced a retirement at the age of 27.
Brammeier, together with compatriot Helen Wyman, crashed at 50km/h on the first corner of the Euros course in north west France, hitting the gravel head first and smashing her helmet. Hospital doctors stitched up her face and lip and, after scans on her head, she was given the 'all clear', though her situation began to deteriorate.
"My head started to get a little concerning. It was the most intense headache I've ever experienced, the only way to describe it is like a hard metal headband tightening around my head & not releasing. I started to vomit, I couldn't really walk without help because my balance was totally off," she describes in a long-written blog post.
"The next day we travelled back to Belgium, 8 hours in the car, that wasn't much fun. I was drifting in and out of sleep the whole journey. My pain was getting worse, my eye had now totally closed over and the other I could barely see out of. As it started to turn dark, the lights on the cars came on and I just couldn't deal with them. I couldn't deal with anything. Noise, people, any sound. It was just all too much."
Brammeier went back to hospital for more tests and, after being told everything was OK, she headed back to her home country, the UK, to get herself fully checked out.
"Last week the symptoms continued, I didn't leave the house and barely my bed the whole week," said the 29-year-old. "Some days I had to just sit in a dark room. I couldn't stand any light. Or more than one person talking to me at a time. I was having panic attacks at night, I couldn't react to conversation or even want to be involved with any kind of interaction because my head just couldn't cope. My phone, the TV, any screens or lights were unbearable. It was all too much. The stitches in my mouth meant I couldn't really speak & eating was difficult too. I was a complete mess. Everything I find happiness in was now out of my control.”
Brammeier has since made progress in her recovery, even if she does have moments of headache and dizziness most days. Her face is healing and her blog is a sign that she is able to focus on a screen for the first time since the crash.
She has "no idea" when she'll be back racing but is "happy and confident I've done everything right this time" and hopes to return for "a bit of mud and some 'real' cyclo-cross races" before the season's out.
Brammeier also used her blog post to highlight the dangers of concussion in cycling, and the importance of not underestimating the effects - sometimes hidden - of head injuries.
"Concussion is a real injury, just like any other injury we need to give our heads chance to recover, time to rest and a gradual re introduction to normal life and in my case riding," she wrote. "You wouldn't break your leg and go running the next day so why do we injure our brains and start using them the next day?
"It's something that's of course in the spot light in other sports but unfortunately not so much in our sport. I'd love to be able to take something positive out of the couple of weeks and in some small way increase the awareness of concussions in cycling. Please be kind to yourself when it comes to your head. Even a small crash could have long term effects, if you hit your head you should go and see your doctor whatever, it's that simple.”