LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - American gold-medal ice hockey player Angela Ruggiero said she hopes her pledge to donate her brain to concussion research would encourage other female athletes to do the same so scientists could gain a fuller picture of the problem.
The Hall of Fame defenseman, who retired in 2011 after playing in four Olympics, said medical research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) would benefit from greater female participation.
“They don’t have enough women’s brains and for any good medical study, you should have both genders from a variety of sports,” she told Reuters in an interview. “So we need more hockey brains.”
Ruggiero could recall only one concussion she had suffered during her 15-year career but said head injuries were common in ice hockey and had cut short the careers of many players.
Concussions had led her friend and former team mate Caitlin Cahow to retire and nearly forced the retirement of Meghan Duggan, the captain of the U.S. gold medal-winning team at this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang, she said.
“I’m so blessed that concussions didn’t actually affect my career,” she said.
“But who knows, maybe those hits as a kid caused damage up there.
“I’d love science to figure that out and I want to support further research.”
Ruggiero said it was possible concussions were more prevalent in women’s ice hockey than in men’s because while the men were allowed to bodycheck each other, women were not, which could leave them unprepared for contact when it occurred.
“If you’re a guy, you’re always waiting to get clobbered,” she said. “In women’s, you’re not expecting to get hit.”
The good news was that the growing awareness of concussions in sports, especially in the NFL, had led to the emergence of new technologies aimed at measuring and preventing them, she said.
“We see a whole market for this now,” said Ruggiero, who is also the CEO of the Sports Innovation Lab, which seeks to bridge the gap between the worlds of sports and technology.
“From a market research perspective we see dollars being deployed and new companies being founded trying to solve this, so that’s encouraging.
“I want to give some visibility to the discussion and encourage other athletes to pledge their brains as well.”
U.S. Olympic bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor and Canadian ice hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser have also pledged to donate their brains to concussion research through the Boston-based Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Editing by Clare Fallon