Category Archives: Teach Believe Inspire Award

Teach Believe Inspire – Interview with Jessie Riley

Jessie-RileyConcussion and traumatic brain injury have always been a part of professional sports, but it’s only in recent years that awareness and activism has grown up around the issue. Jessie Riley, our Teach Believe Inspire award winner for January, has experience on both sides of history. Keep reading for her reflections on life as an athlete before TBI awareness, her excitement for the future of her company Kitanie, and the epiphany she experienced from a simple coloring book.

What do you remember about the aftermath of your first concussion? Did your family or coaches express any concern when you immediately got back on the ice? 

I don’t remember the accident, or hitting the wall. I just remember stepping on a block coming out of the turn at full speed and then waking up with my coach looking down at me lying on the ice. He helped me up, but it was all a blur because I was so dizzy. I went back to the Olympic Training Center, but when I saw the trainers, there was never any mention of concussion or even neck injury. They just told me to rest. I remember my coach had to drive me home because I was too dizzy to function. But that was it. No tests were done. No x-rays. I completed in the US Olympic Trials two weeks later and came in 12th place. The top 6 made the Olympic team. (more…)

Teach Believe Inspire Award – Jessie Riley

Teach Believe Inspire Award – Jessie Riley In 1998, competitive ice skater Jessie Riley was coming out of a return, bent on improving her speed in hopes of qualifying for the Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. Maybe her focus was too strong; maybe her goal had given her tunnel vision. Whatever the reason, the skater’s next move—one she had made hundreds of times before during training—went awry. Moving at a speed of 30 mph, Jessie Riley skidded and slammed head-first into the wall of the rink.

Everything after that was blackness.


Teach Believe Inspire – Interview with Cavin Balaster


Cavin Balaster, our December Teach Believe Inspire award winner, is a true renaissance man who has devoted his talents to solving the puzzle of brain injury in new ways. We were able to speak in more depth with him this month about the details of his recovery from TBI, his current research into nutrition therapy, and his upcoming memoir (due out in 2017).

For more information about Cavin, you can subscribe to his podcast Adventures in Brain Injuryon iTunes, access his free eBook (available on his website) or visit his .

water towerDo you remember feeling any misgiving or fear when you climbed up the side of the water tower that night in 2011?

I actually have no recollection of climbing the water tower. In fact, I do not remember a single moment of this entire day, or about a month following my fall. I wish that I could tell you what thoughts went through my mind. Perhaps I was scared. Perhaps my life flashed before my eyes as I crashed from one steel beam to the next. But the truth is, I do not remember a thing.

The most defining moment of my life has been wiped away, and I am really only able to tell this part of my story based on information that has been relayed to me by others.

During your first months of therapy, what made the biggest difference in helping you toward recovery?

This is a great question, and one that I get a lot. There were several aspects of my recovery that I didnt expect would make such a positive impact. In fact, Im in the process of writing an eBook about this very subject.

I had incredible social support, which makes a world of difference no matter what were going through. And of course, I am very thankful that I was fortunate enough to receive the initial treatments and surgeries that saved my life.

Honestly, nutrition probably played the biggest role in my recovery. I had been in a brain fog throughout much of my recovery and was very emaciated and underweight. Not only was I relearning to talk, walk, and eat again, I was also healing and rewiring my brain. I was putting serious work into repairing my body and learning to adapt, and I couldnt progress without making sure I was adequately fueling all that work.

Had you written much before your injury?

I had not done a tremendous amount of writing before my injury, but Ive been a songwriter and musician all of my life. I was a bartender in NYC for years, and storytelling is a forte of any good bartender. The craft of songwriting and storytelling is about conveying a feeling, and that is what I try to do in my writing.


Teach Believe Inspire Award – Cavin Balaster

Teach Believe Inspire Award – Cavin BalasterThere are a lot of words and phrases that can describe the experience of undergoing a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Over the years of interviewing TBI survivors for this blog and working with many, many more on their litigation cases, we thought we had heard them all.

But after encountering Cavin Balaster, we heard a new description of TBI. One that challenges perceptions of what TBI really means, and encourages everyone to rethink their presumptions of what is possible for survivors. For his clever, courageous reassessment of the nature of TBI, we are pleased to present Cavin Balaster as our Teach Believe Inspire award winner for this month.


Teach Believe Inspire Award – Ben Utecht

Teach Believe Inspire Award – Ben UtechtAs a child, Ben Utecht dreamed of being a professional football player. Against the most daunting odds, he not only achieved his goal, he went on to win Super Bowl XLI. Instantly cementing his name in the annals of the most watched sport in the U.S. But as athletes, coaches and even the public are now finding out, there can be a very serious price to pay for NFL glory.

For showing that the death of one dream can lead to the birth of many more, and for providing a voice for those who have sustained a traumatic brain injury, Ben Utecht is this month’s Teach Believe Inspire award winner.

Teach Believe Inspire Award – Kimberly Archie

Teach Believe InspireAmerica is a country that loves its sports. From baseball to basketball, we cheer for our favorite teams and plan our weekends, grocery lists and parties around “the big game.”

Once upon a time, baseball was the top sport in the U.S., earning the moniker of “America’s pastime.” But over the past two decades, football has emerged as the top-grossing sport in the country. We love the competition, the drama and excitement so much that Super Bowl Sunday is now practically a national holiday.

Lately, however, one of the hot-button topics surrounding football is head injuries and concussions. Rightly, steps are being taken to protect football players in an attempt to minimize the long-term injuries associated with the aggressive sport.

But an underrepresented group of athletes — who play nearly as much a part in the sport as the players — is being overlooked. (more…)

Teach Believe Inspire Award – Timmy Duggan

The Will to Overcome

Teach Believe Inspire - Timmy DugganPicture flying down a mountain at nearly 60 miles per hour on a bicycle, leaning into turns, watching the road like a hawk for obstacles and loose gravel as objects on the side of the road whiz by in a blur. Other bicyclists surround you, sometimes mere inches away.

You’re wearing spandex shorts and a form-fitting shirt, shoes fastened tightly to the pedals as you rely on instinct and a lifetime of practice to keep you upright as your wheels spin like a propeller.

All of a sudden, in a fraction of a second and without warning, you see the rider in front of you going down. Your heart sinks as you begin to feel impending terror and pain rushing towards you like a midnight train.

Then everything goes black. (more…)

Teach Believe Inspire Award – Victor Medina

August Teach Believe Inspire - Victor MedinaJoining the military is an act of immeasurable bravery. Those who enlist are often deployed overseas multiple times, leaving their families behind to engage in war. They fight for their country and for the rights of all Americans. Some sacrifice their lives. Many others come home wounded, forever changed into someone different.

“It’s just what I loved to do… be a soldier.” —SFC (Ret.) Victor L. Medina

Sgt. 1st Class (Ret.) Victor L. Medina was always going to be a soldier. He grew up in a military academy and joined the reserves at age 18. He attended college, but in the same way that an eight-year-old boy opens the envelope attached to a wrapped present. College wasn’t the prize. Instead, joining the army after college was the excitement for Medina. (more…)

Teach Believe Inspire – Interview with Lyrysa Smith

Teach Believe Inspire - Interview with Lyrysa Smith

Author, Lyrysa Smith

We recently spoke with this month’s Teach Believe Inspire honoree, Lyrysa Smith. Lyrysa is the author of A Normal Life, a book in which she uses her journalistic experience and her own heartfelt struggles to document the effect her sister’s brain injury had on the entire family.

‘Molly Has Helped All of Us Become Better People’

When Molly woke up from her coma, were you prepared for the possibility of a brain injury?

Not at first. We were told first she wouldn’t come out of her coma, and if she did, she would be in a vegetative state forever. Once she very slowly came out of a coma, she progressed very quickly both mentally and physically. However, we were told the damage to her brain tissue was extensive. We still believed for a longer time (several weeks) that she would get her full brain function back, as if her injured brain would heal like a broken leg. (more…)

Teach Believe Inspire Award – Lyrysa Smith 

Lyrysa Smith Teach Believe Inspire

Author Lyrysa Smith

Lyrysa’s Smith’s sister, Molly Smith Weber, was a publishing executive with Houghton Mifflin Co. She held degrees from prestigious universities Yale and Stanford. She was an extraordinary athlete.

Most importantly, she was a beloved family member, who enjoyed a close relationship with her sister Lyrysa.

All of that changed after a freak accident during a weekend vacation in February 1995. Molly and her husband Walt traveled to Mammoth Lakes, Calif. for a skiing trip. When they checked into their hotel late the first night, neither they nor the hotel staff were aware that the room was lethally infused with toxic carbon monoxide gas from a faulty heater. They went to bed that night and were not discovered until 36 hours later. Molly’s brain was severely injured by the carbon monoxide. Her husband was dead.

Molly was rushed by helicopter to a hospital where she received hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) treatments. Because Molly had already been declared clinically brain dead, the HBO treatments were considered experimental. But her doctor soon realized HBO might give Molly a fighting chance at life.

Molly had suffered what’s called an acquired brain injury, or ABI. Unlike TBI, ABI is not caused by a blow to the head or an impact to the brain. Molly’s ABI was a global brain injury resulting from a lack of oxygen to her entire brain, with life-altering consequences.

Lyrysa writes in detail of this harrowing experience in her book, A Normal Life. (more…)

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