Luge squad teams up with Helmets for Heroes to roll out season-long brain injury prevention campaign while kicking off World Cup week in Calgary
CALGARY– Put a lid on it!
That’s the message the nation’s top luge athletes will be screaming to Canadians across the country as part of a season-long campaign they hope will help reduce the risks of brain injuries, and ensure Canadians continue to participate in sport.
“Concussions are likely the most talked about issue in elite sport these days, but brain injuries extend far beyond high-performance athletes,” said Alex Gough, three-time Olympic luge athlete. “Each year more than 6,000 Canadians become permanently disabled after experiencing a traumatic brain injury and more than one million Canadians are living with an acquired brain injury.
“As luge athletes, we understand the inherent risks associated with our sport, and the need to wear a helmet, train properly, and make smart choices in order to minimize those risks. We believe as Olympians we have a voice to educate Canadians on this important issue, and ultimately help put a lid on brain injuries.”
To that end, Luge Canada has teamed up with Helmets for Heroes – a powerful initiative that builds tight bonds with athletes and the community while sharing their heartfelt stories through sporting helmets.
The program was conceived two years ago by Olympic alpine skier Brad Spence when he met Calgary Osteosarcoma patient Gillian O’Blenes-Kaufman during a community outreach visit to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Recognizing her incredible artistic talent, Spence asked O’Blenes-Kaufman to design and paint the helmet he wore to compete at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games. Sadly, O’Blenes-Kaufman lost her battle with cancer one year ago – the same week Spence launched his program with three-time Olympic luge athlete Sam Edney. Wearing his specially designed helmet by Richard Flamenco at the World Cup in Calgary, Edney slid into the history books as the first Canadian male ever to win a World Cup race. The emotional race took place the same day as Gillian O’Blenes-Kaufman’s funeral.
Building on that inspirational partnership, the seven members of the Canadian Luge Team have teamed up with seven children suffering from brain injuries and local artists to design and paint helmets they will wear throughout the year on the World Cup as part of their brain injury prevention awareness campaign.
From John Fennell’s flying reptiles to Alex Gough’s sugar skull on the front that runs back into an MRI of a brain and a maple leaf to Arianne Jones’ inspirational word art, to Mitch Malyk’s Canadian northern light space art, to Tristan Walker’s red and black maple leafs to Justin Snith’s winter motif, and Kim McRae’s colourful sunset and horses, each helmet delivers a powerful message and story unique to the athlete and child.
The team will wear the helmets for the duration of the 2015-16 World Cup season. Luge Canada will then host a corporate learn-to-luge event at Winsport’s Canada Olympic Park at the end of February where they will auction off the helmets. All of the funds raised will be split between the Helmets for Heroes Foundation, and to programs that assist children suffering from brain injuries.
“Helmets are blank canvases for athletes to share their story, but more importantly, I believe partnering with Helmets for Heroes in this campaign presents a unique opportunity for my teammates and I to encourage parents and youth to protect their heads by wearing the proper gear and making smart decisions when playing,” said John Fennell.
“Each year more than 5,000 children in Canada are seriously injured by a concussion. Helmets are not the complete answer, but they are certainly the first positive action we can take to help reduce the risks of serious injuries in recreational activities.”
In addition to wearing the helmets, on December 23 Fennell and his teammates will be rolling out eight powerful vignettes throughout the season that will stress the importance of wearing the proper gear, and making smart decisions.
“Luge Canada and its national athletes should be commended for their leadership in partnering with Helmets for Heroes and the community to increase public awareness about traumatic brain injury and the importance of reducing risk through smart choices,” said Dr. Brian Benson, CMO and Director of Sport Medicine for the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary. “Use of a properly fitted and certified helmet for sport and recreational activities such as skiing, snowboarding and cycling, can significantly reduce one’s risk of brain injury and the potential life-altering effects associated with this injury.”
“I am really proud and honoured to bring these three amazing individuals together in a celebration of sport and art, but more importantly, to provide people with the opportunity to stand up and do what we can to put a lid on this serious issue. If this campaign can encourage even one child to make smarter choices and prevent them from suffering a brain injury, then we have achieved success,” added Brad Spence.
Each of the children and artists involved in the program will be trackside to see their helmets in action as the Canadian Luge Team hosts the Viessmann Luge World Cup at Winsport’s Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, December 18-19.
The Viessmann Luge World Cup will kick off with the doubles races set for December 18 at 3 p.m. followed by women’s singles at 6 p.m. The men’s singles race is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. on December 19, while the sprint event will wrap up the weekend at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
For more information on Helmets for Heroes, please visit www.helmets4heroes.ca.