Ty Pozzobon was a fan favourite in the bull riding event at the Williams Lake Stampede. Catherine Norman photo

Research reveals CTE in bull riding athlete

Williams Lake Stampede president hopes diagnosis brings about change

Professional bull rider Ty Pozzobon’s donated brain has revealed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), according to researchers from the University of Washington.

It is the first confirmed case of a professional bull rider with CTE, a disease known to affect boxers, football players, and other athletes who sustain numerous concussions.

Pozzobon’s brain was donated to traumatic brain injury research earlier this year, after he died by suicide on January 9.

Following his death, a family spokesperson said 25-year-old Pozzobon had suffered from depression, anxiety and the effects of a number of concussions he had sustained in recent years as a bull rider.

Williams Lake Stampede President Tim Rolph said Thursday the story of Pozzobon, who grew up competing in rodeo towns like Williams Lake since he was in Little Britches, is a tragic one that he hopes can now do some good for others suffering similar circumstances.

“It’s a very, very sad story that a young person like that ends up in that condition,” Rolph said, adding he hopes Pozzobon’s story will start a conversation about mental health in rodeo and the community as a whole. “Hopefully it will get the rodeo community talking about these issues and bring about some change. We need to start realizing it’s OK to talk about mental illness.”

Pozzobon’s family arranged to have his brain donated to the University of Washington School of Medicine Neuropathology Core, a medical research group that works on traumatic brain injuries and concussions. Leanne Pozzobon, Ty’s mother, said at the time that, “It’s important that people know about the implications of head injuries as a result of concussions.”

Those implications are becoming clearer now, following the study of Pozzobon’s brain.

On Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 10), UW Medicine researchers Dr. C. Dirk Keene and Dr. Christine MacDonald announced they had concluded that Pozzobon had “neuropathologic changes diagnostic of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE),” making Pozzobon the first confirmed case of CTE in a professional bull rider.

CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disease found in people who have a history of repetitive brain trauma. According to the CTE Centre, a research facility based out of Boston University, symptoms of CTE can include memory loss, depression, anxiety and “suicidality.”

Evidence of chronic, widespread injury was also discovered in Pozzobon’s brain, which was consistent with the traumatic brain injury found during an MRI that he had before his death.

In a statement released Tuesday, Pozzobon’s family said they wished to thank the University of Washington School of Medicine “for their time and care during this process.”

“The results that they have provided can only help others and that is the family’s wish and goal. Ty’s passing has brought so much sorrow and pain to all, we hope everyone, specifically athletes understand that we need to educate each other with regards to head injuries, both short and long-term impacts,” the statement reads.

The family said they did not want people to stop doing what they are passionate about, but that they wanted people to “do it in a smarter way, and listen to both what the medical professionals tell you and what your body and mind are telling you.”

According to UW Medicine, Pozzobon’s brain tissue “will contribute to numerous studies aimed at better understanding the pathophysiology of traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in order to develop better diagnostic tests and new treatments.”

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