This is the third in our series of four profiles for Brain Injury Awareness Month. In partnership with the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), Nutcase is donating $2 from every helmet sold on nutcasehelmets.com this month to BIAA’s ongoing efforts to enlighten and educate people on brain injury and brain health. We’re also matching donations from you (up to $1,000) at bit.ly/biadonation.
It is with a sense of double-edged caution that we tell the scary yet inspiring tale of Peter Collins.
Peter Collins likes to jump off things. Really tall things.
The 50-year-old Montreal native is an expert rock climber, sky diver, and a passionate BASE jumper. (BASE stands for building, antenna, span, and earth – i.e. the things people most like to jump from. BASE jumping is leaping from one of those, free-falling for a number of seconds and then parachuting to a landing.)
“It’s one heck of a lot of fun,” Peter says. “How can I describe it? To me it is less dangerous that driving fast down a highway in a car, where there’s a lot more to bump into. With jumping you are far away from the objects that will kill you.”
In the summer of 2014, Peter jumped off a famous cliff edge in Norway. Smellvaggen is well known amongst BASE jumpers, as are the other nearby 1000-meter-high cliffs of Kjerag in the area of Lysefjorden, where Peter did his jump on July 22nd.
While takeoff seemed fine, it wasn’t a good jump. Peter’s parachute did inflate, but a few seconds in, Peter banged into the side of the cliff wall. He lost consciousness as his body bumped a half dozen more times into sheer rock.
He suffered a moderate traumatic brain injury. He was wearing a Nutcase bike helmet.*
Peter spent months in inpatient and outpatient neurological rehabilitation. He had surgery to replace the teeth he knocked out, and has worked hard with his neuro team on improving his speech and physical coordination, as well as his ability to focus. He has also visited with a neuropsychologist – a service he felt at first he didn’t need.
“For 50 years I was an even-keeled and unemotional person,” he said. “Now there a lot of emotional issues. At some point I realized I do need it.”
Nearly from the moment he came to in a Norwegian neurological ward, Peter has worked toward getting back to his sports, though he isn’t there yet. He has come to terms with the limitations of what he calls “the new me” at the same time that he displays unflagging determination to be able to, one day, enjoy the same thrilling adventures he enjoyed before the accident.
One thing that hasn’t changed is his devotion to Nutcase helmets and his feeling about the importance of wearing helmets in all speed and adventure sports – including biking. For Peter, it is part of a necessary social change toward the acceptance of helmets as a regular accessory for sports.
While he knows that his Nutcase helmets were not and are not certified for his BASE jumping, he credits the one he was wearing for saving his brain from more catastrophic damage at Smellvaggen.
If there is any message Peter wants to continually send to the world as he is on his path of healing, it is how easily many brain injuries can be prevented by helmet wearing. He’s also adamant about making sure to get a new helmet if the one he is wearing gets a significant bonk to it – an impact can breach the structural soundness of the EPS foam that absorbs the energy of big bumps.
Lastly, he ruminates on how small the cost of a helmet is compared to the costs of an accident.
“Right now I’m in a two-year recovery period,” he says. “It takes the brain two to three years until you can fully assess which things you might get back. I might never be the way I was before, might never climb at the levels I did before. But I want to get back to the sports that are the essence of me.”