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BMX star Mat Hoffman says he's had 100 concussions

July 02, 2012|By Baxter Holmes
  • BMX star Mat Hoffman, right, shown attending the X Games Night of Film Benefit with Tony Hawk, says he suffers concussions on almost a weekly basis.
BMX star Mat Hoffman, right, shown attending the X Games Night of Film Benefit… (Casey Rodgers / Invision…)

BMX star Mat Hoffman woke on a vertical half-pipe ramp in Japan. Dazed, he looked over to his wife, Jaci, whose belly was protruding quite a bit.

“What? We’re having a baby?!” Hoffman exclaimed.

Of course, he had long known they were having a baby.

She had been pregnant for eight months.

He had forgotten because he had just been knocked out.

"I got to relive the whole moment of me becoming a dad again," Hoffman said of this 2000 incident, shortly before his wife gave birth to their daughter, Gianna. "It was pretty bizarre."

The 40-year-old Hoffman, who was in attendance at this past weekend’s X Games in Los Angeles, said he's suffered about 100 concussions -- injuries he called an almost "weekly act."

Among the effects he described: a three-day span when he struggled to regain consciousness, an eight-month stretch when he had amnesia, and a seven-year period when he couldn’t really taste food.

"I started eating some of the spiciest food in the world just to have some flavor to my food," Hoffman said. "But now it’s pretty much healed, which tells me that even though some people say that brain damage is permanent, I think it can heal, in some cases, I guess."

Though traumatic head injuries are often most associated with football and hockey, they are an issue that many action-sports athletes also face. 

"What I learned a long time ago," Hoffman said, "is whenever I get knocked out and I lose my memory, the deepest memories, the most emotional memories, come back first.

"When those come back and you don't have all those other memories to balance [them], you kind of start thinking, and you start getting really depressed, like, 'How do I even deal with life?'

"That would happen a few times early in my career, so I started thinking, 'OK, don't try to remember anything. Just let it come back naturally.'"

Hoffman described a time when he wife helped him learn to remember after he had a three-day period of unconsciousness that was followed by a long stretch of amnesia. 

"It's like, my brain is a hard drive and all the information is stored in there, but I had to reconnect to these memories," he said.

"My wife would be like, remember when you went to Japan. I'd be like, 'Japan? I've never been to Japan.' She'd say, 'Yeah, you've been there half a dozen times.' She’d show me a photograph and something would spark and it would come back. This was a process that would happen over eight months until I regained most of the memories I've lost."

Hoffman said he feels fine today.

"A lot of people, whenever they hit their head, they think it's eternal and it's never going to heal, but I've realized if you work hard at whatever you lose, it can heal," he said. 

In action sports, Hoffman said, concussions are just "a part of the game," a common refrain among nearly a dozen action-sports athletes interviewed by The Times on the subject.

If you missed The Times' two-part series on concussions in action sports that was published this weekend, you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

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