Even the invincible: when athletes need disability insuranceArticle added by Daniel Steenerson, CLU, ChFC, RHU on July 31, 2014
Daniel Steenerson

Daniel Steenerson, CLU, ChFC, RHU

San Diego, CA

Joined: October 15, 2013

We’re all human, although it’s easy to forget when you’re watching your favorite athletes at the top of their games. Athletes are people who’ve cultivated such remarkable physical abilities that when we see them in their element, we’re filled with awe and delight. It’s wonderful to realize just how powerful, how fast, how agile they really are.

But no one’s invincible – not even the superhuman athletes we just watched in the World Cup. Below are a few examples of how disability affects everyone.

Base jumper Jeb Corliss

Base jumping is a little like skydiving: both events involve jumping from a height and trusting your parachute (or similar) to slow your fall. But base jumping is much more dangerous, because you’re jumping from fixed objects at a lower altitude. That means you can’t rely on air speed to stabilize your fall and help you deploy your parachute successfully. Base jumpers ride a fine line between vulnerability (the risks are extreme) and invincibility (a tempting delusion for some jumpers).

Jeb Corliss had made 1,000 jumps from many well-known sites – the Eiffel Tower among them – before he smashed into some rocks at 120 mph during a jump in South Africa and suffered devastating injuries.

Unbelievably, he made a full recovery after a year and a half, placing him among the 1 in 4 Americans who experience disability for three months or longer between age 20 and retirement.

Distance runner Mary Decker-Slaney

Mary Decker was breaking records in track and field back when she was only 15 years old, competing indoors in the mid-1970s. In 1983, she really hit her stride, defeating several Olympic favorites to bring home two gold medals.

The next year, things changed. When Decker collided with a competitor during the Olympic Trials, she sustained a serious hip injury and spent the next few years in and out of surgery. Eventually, she had to accept that this injury marked the end of her career.

Snowboarder Kevin Pearce

In 2009, Olympic snowboarder Kevin Pearce took a blow to the head while practicing the Cap Double Cork, one of the riskiest stunts in the game, and suffered a traumatic brain injury. His doctors questioned whether he would ever walk again. For the next two years, Pearce struggled to develop the basic abilities to feed himself, speak and walk. But his intensive rehab program paid off: Four years after his injury, he returned to the sport.

Things are different now, though. “It’s a huge change,” [said Pearce]. “It’s crazy how different my abilities are now than they were before, because I was really good at snowboarding. I was able to do a lot and now I’m not able to do ... a lot.”

The numbers don’t lie

Many people believe that if they’re healthy, if they take care of themselves, if they play it safe, they can avoid a debilitating injury or illness.But the statistics tell a different story. Even those whose physical fitness is absolutely superb go through times of serious injury and protracted recovery. Even healthy people with a relatively safe lifestyle have a 21 percent to 24 percent chance of becoming disabled for three months or more during their working years.
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