When Cory first showed this video to me, it turned my stomach. We were in the early stages of our relationship, so naturally he wanted to share his past with me, to share the events that shaped his life and made him who he was. To him, it was one of the more significant crashes he had had during his ski racing career, the one that kept him from participating in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. He had fallen at 96 miles an hour, hitting his head to the point of swallowing his tongue and losing consciousness, waking up in the hospital and… well, the video says it all.
Cory started skiing at the age of 5 and by the time he was 7, he was racing competitively. In 1965, the only available ski helmets were sized for teens or adults, not children. Cory would race the courses, frequently pushing the too-large helmet back off his eyes. His stepmother’s attempt at padding his helmet to keep it in place had little effect. He fell. He got hurt. In fact, more so during the Slalom and Grand Slalom races, for no helmets were required. So often he’d hook his ski tip on the bamboo poles, fall, and land on his back, slamming his head on the unforgiving hard-packed snow.
Spanning 20 years, between the ages of 7 and 27, as a member of local area ski teams, a member of the US Ski Team, and later turning pro, Cory sustained blows to the head time after time after time. No one, doctor, trainer or otherwise, looked too deeply into the effect these head injuries might have on him, or other ski racers for that matter. But his own course had already been set – off the ski hill. A path of brain deterioration. A path that lead to CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy – a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.
Though my relationship with Cory is in a much different place than it was 25 years ago, though I have detached myself from this man, this video is no less painful to watch. Reliving the events that eventually led up to our divorce, and armed with the knowledge of the condition of CTE, I often wonder if things would be different. Would we still be together?
Five years ago I had walked away relieved, but now I find myself being drawn back into his world of confusion and depression, of seeking the answers to so many questions, of realizing that we had missed the subtle signs of his newly discovered disease.
Though he has the support of many friends, this path he walks, he walks alone. In between the darkest storms, there are days of sun, rays of hope that he clings to, but those are few and far between.
The beginning, it seems, is a story in itself. A story that unfolds in a downward spiral, peppered with brilliant hope and joy, a story that engulfs us all. A story that parallels those of the football, hockey, and soccer players, the boxers and countless other athletes who suffer brain trauma, all in the name of sports.
In the weeks and months ahead, Cory’s story will unfold for you, just as it did for me and our sons, and will continue on the stretch of road he has before him as he prepares for the most challenging undertaking of his life – a cross country bike ride – both thrilling and frightening for a man who many times cannot remember where he stands on any given day and how he got there.
To understand our relationship, to understand Cory, is to understand the effects of the condition that is gaining momentum, in his life and in the lives of those who surround him.
This is his solo journey…. I am his voice.
Please join us. We’d love to have you along.