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Professional skier Jamie MoCrazy viewed her entire identity as being based around that of a professional athlete. She was at the top of her game, having won gold in the junior championships, and representing the USA in freestyle skiing before everything stopped in 2015.
Tragically, a serious fall on the slopes left her with a traumatic brain injury at age 22 and her life was turned completely upside down. Thankfully, with the support of her loving mom (Grace) and sister (Jeanee), and with help from the medical community, Jamie not only survived, but went on to make an incredible recovery.
While no longer destined to compete, she once again put on the skis to prove that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Recently, a documentary was released detailing her accident, recovery, and desire to get better. The film follows her as she battles depression and finds hope in the face of adversity.
M&F sat down with this inspirational figure to find out what she’s learned along the way, and how Jamie MoCrazy’s journey is helping others.
Why did you want to create the short documentary, “#MoCrazyStrong”?
I wanted to show a dynamic story that changes the narrative for women and family involvement around TBI [traumatic brain injury] recovery. I waited through my recovery journey to show the arc of climbing an alternative peak, and rebuilding an identity after trauma. I had to wait until I returned to Whistler Ski Resort to marry the love of my life, atop the very mountain that almost took my life!
Do you think that a lot of viewers will be reassured that it’s normal to feel depressed even after a perceived “recovery”?
It’s OK to feel depressed and overwhelmed after encountering a trauma, just don’t stay stuck at the bottom. After a metaphorical avalanche slides you down the mountain of life, you can always climb an alternative peak! Your capabilities may have permanently changed, but you can always build a life you love.
You had to come to terms with losing the highs you felt through competitive skiing. To put that into context, what it is like to flip through the air and make a successful 90-feet jump?
Flipping through the air gives a moment of elation that gives purpose to all the hours of work that goes into learning that perfect trick.
When the crash happened, did it put you off ever skiing again?
No, the exact opposite happened. I was in a coma for 10 days. Then, I had serious amnesia for six weeks after waking from the coma. During the amnesia, I knew I was a professional skier and wanted to return to professional skiing. When I decided I was going to return I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs independently.
The first winter, I mentally attributed my TBI with other ski injuries like broken bones or torn ligaments. I was planning on taking that winter off competing and then I’d return to the world tour, but I knew I had to relearn to ski and all my tricks. In the end, I decided I didn’t want to risk death, so I decided not to return to competition and had to build a new identity for myself as a TBI advocate.
How did you handle that important decision in the early going?
When I began to realize that my previous identity as a professional skier had been ripped away, I began to suffer major dips in my happiness. One day, while still living at my mom’s house in Park City, UT, I remember lying in bed and having the thought of ‘who would care if I got up?’ That first winter, my mom told me that a company I was a grant recipient from; High Fives Foundation had already paid for me to go to mental therapy. I didn’t think I needed therapy. I felt like I was supposed to be happy because I was alive, but then I would get triggered to cry 3-5 times each day. Going to therapy was one of the best things I have ever done and I return to therapy whenever I need outside help, balancing the traumas I experience.
How did you go about filling the extra time that you now had post-skiing?
I started attending school one year out of my TBI. It was so helpful for me to have a purpose, set goals, and be able to feel like I had structure. I would recommend that everyone recovering from a life changing trauma should find something to put positive energy into with a group. It could be music lessons, joining a book club… I recently met a TBI survivor who started the Montana Puzzle Club as a way to bring survivors together!
How did you regain your mobility?
There is a lot of physical work that went into regaining my mobility. I understood the concept of pushing beyond your capabilities, having competed in sports my entire life. For example, when I was leaving the hospital, I did yoga with my mom three days per week. I had very bad balance at the time, so it was very rudimentary yoga. A lot of the yoga was sitting and moving my hands, or lying on the floor to move my legs. My mom also understood, as I was rewiring my brain, that it is important to relearn to slow down my brain with Shavasana (a relaxing aspect of yoga). Those little steps of fitness are essential to rebuilding your life. Most people can do some physical activity even if they think they can’t. You just need to be creative and break it down to what you currently can accomplish.
How essential was it have a support group like your family around you?
It is very important to have a support group when recovering from a serious accident. While family was very important to me because of my mom’s education on brain development, I appreciate that not everyone has a supportive family. There is a big difference from being a coddling family to being a supportive family, too. Quite often, a family thinks that they are being supportive when really they are limiting the TBI survivor’s ability to return to being independent. There was a time when I couldn’t hold a glass without spilling the liquid. It would have been very easy for my mom to believe she was being supportive by forcing me to hold the glass in my strong hand. Instead, she taped down my strong hand and forced me to hold water in the cup with my weak hand. That allowed my brain to rebuild the pathways and synaptic connections, which allowed me to regain full mobility.
How active are you now?
I need exercise to stay sane! I like activities, like hiking and skiing, Pilates, yoga and barre class. I try to do at least a short walk or some stretching every day, and I need a class, or long exercise activity at least 3 days a week. Last week, I was at a film festival, home for four days and then went to another film festival. Before I even came home I signed up for 3 yoga and toning classes to reset me.
What is your relationship with skiing like now?
I returned to skiing in December in 2015, nine months after my TBI. When I returned I was very excited and happy! It didn’t faze me that I had to relearn to ski and I was back on the bunny slope. As an athlete, you are used to taking it mellow after a torn ACL. What did affect me emotionally was when I came to the realization that I was not returning to competing. I had to understanding I would never again have that feeling of soaring through the air, weightless, and free feeling.
For those who may feel like a major accident means they must give up what they love. What would you say to them?
Again; you can climb an alternative peak. Normalize the struggles and depression. It’s ok to feel bad, overwhelmed, and confused about why this happened to you. But don’t stay there. Get the help you need, like a therapist, physical trainer, contact your states TBI association or call Brain Injury Association of America for information 1-800-444-6443. Science has evolved into the belief that you can recover from a traumatic brain injury, so now we need to communicate and educate that to the policy makers, trauma centers, and general public. These aspects are all part of our campaign #MoCrazyStrong.
How can the “Muscle & Fitness” audience watch #MoCrazyStrong?
For 2023 we are doing a film festival run across North America. We are also delivering private screenings for people who have survived a Traumatic Brain Injury, family caregivers, therapists and support staff, medical school students and educators. If you would like to host a screening please contact us through the website.