This is the first profile in our series of four for Brain Injury Awareness Month. In partnership with the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), Nutcase is donating $2 of every helmet sold on nutcasehelmets.com this month to BIAA’s ongoing efforts to enlighten and educate people on brain injury and brain health.
To Nathan Northstar Borer, 36, life is best lived on a board.
As a youth in Minnesota, Nathan tested his skills and limits on a skateboard. He might have graduated to surfing, the original board sport. But Minnesota is long on winters and far from any oceans – though it is famously rich in coastline with more than 10,000 lakes.
So Nathan learned to do every sport you could possibly think of that combines forward propulsion with a board – snowboarding, kiteboarding, wakeboarding and paddleboarding.
He has skimmed swiftly over the swells of Lake Superior with his kiteboard, careened over icy ponds with a board hooked to a winch, and barreled over the backcountry on a board-based snowkite.
As a professional instructor, Nathan says he gets nearly as much pleasure teaching his sports as he does participating in them.
Then in 2013, injury struck. Ironically, it wasn’t on an epic adventure that Nathan incurred a traumatic brain injury (TBI) but on a simple daily jaunt: stepping out of the house to take his Siberian Husky dog on a quick skateboard run, he failed to put on a helmet.
“I just didn’t grab the helmet that day,” he said. “In a hurry, ran out the door. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the local ICU (intensive care unit).”
Nathan’s head had slammed backward into the pavement as his skateboard escaped from underneath him. His skull fractured and his brain banged into the front of the skull, causing two subdural hematomas on both of his brain’s frontal lobes.
His recovery was slow, with months spent re-acquainting himself with simple things like walking and talking.
As a strong and fearless athlete, Nathan’s first and primary lesson after his accident was acceptance.
“It was humbling,” he said. “Action sports – I knew that they were my passion and what I live for, what makes me thrive. But I had to accept where I was at.”
There was no question in his mind that working his way back to the sports he loves was a goal, but he had to approach his sports with a new level of awareness about what he can and can’t do. Connecting with others who have had brain injuries is also an important on-going part of his healing. In order to stay positive (his normal modus operandi) he needed to connect with others experiencing similar challenges and also triumphs.
His accident shifted his idea about helmet wearing – where he had seen helmets as most important for professional athletes, he now understood that wearing a helmet for every sport he does, every time he does it, was and should be an automatic action.
“Just as fast as my injury happened it can happen to anyone,” he said.
Nathan owns the Nutcase Tie Die Water helmet and said he now uses it for all of his water activities (the Water helmet complies with the CE EN-1385 Water Sport Safety Standard). He is now a humble helmet wearer and a passionate advocate for helmets.
“I think we all need to humble ourselves and wear a helmet rather than thinking that we are too cool to get injured,” he said. “It seems much cooler to me to wear one now.”
Nathan also likes that wearing a helmet with flashy graphics makes him more visible – his helmet is his personal statement.
“I feel so lucky and blessed that I can do my sport,” he said. “I’ve accepted the limitations that I have at the moment, and at the same time I give it my best and keep pushing the limits. Action sports keep me passionate. If I hit my head again I may not be able to do them, so I’ll never do them without a helmet.”