Tokyo 2020 - Australian Surfer Owen Wright makes comeback from traumatic brain injury to reach Olympics
Australian surfer Owen Wright believes he could be in with a shot of medalling at Tokyo 2020 after returning to surfing following a traumatic brain injury. In 2015, the 31-year-old was "in some of the best form of his life". But during a training session in the lead-up to the final event of the year in Hawaii a 15-foot-plus wave that caught him out left him with bleeding and swelling on the brain.
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Australian surfer Owen Wright believes he could be in with a shot of medalling at Tokyo 2020 after returning to surfing following a traumatic brain injury.
In 2015, the 31-year-old was "in some of the best form of his life". He ranked fifth on the World Surf League's Championship Tour and was going for the world title.
But during a training session in the lead-up to the final event of the year in Hawaii a 15-foot-plus wave that caught him out, on top of a series of previous smaller concussions, left him with bleeding and swelling on the brain and the official diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury.
Owen Wright of Australia surfing in Heat 3 of the Qualifying Round of the Surf Ranch Pro presented by Adobe on JUNE 18, 2021 in Lemoore, CA, United States.
Image credit: Getty Images
Wright said: "I had to learn to walk again and learn to surf again.
"Some of the detail is a little bit blurry still.
A wave landed on my head and it shook me so hard that then I just kind of lost my senses. It was a long road back from there.
"It was explained to me that all of it's still in there, it's just you've got to reconnect those brain patterns."
Due to the invisible nature of his condition Wright struggled to grasp the severity of his injury.
He said: "I don't think I fully always understood the seriousness of it because of the nature of the injury. I was a little bit loopy.
"If you ask my friends and family, I was trying to surf the whole time. They had to take my surfboards away from me. I could barely walk the length of the house, but I was still trying to go for a surf."
The Australian returned to competition in March 2017, 15 months after his last, going on to win the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast.
Wright continues to be affected by his injury. He takes extra precautions, such as wearing a helmet during training and competitions; a rare sight in the sport which Wright wants to see normalised.
"I wear it whenever I feel that there's a risk for myself. If the risk factor goes up, I put a helmet on," he said.
"If there's lots of people and it's crowded, I'll put a helmet on because of the risk of someone else's board hitting me. If the waves are big, I put it on. If there's rocks, I put it on.
"There's a lot of surfers out there, intermediates, beginners, kids to excellent surfers, that are not acknowledging the risk to your head and your brain. When that does get injured, nothing else works.
"There's a simple answer for it. There's a helmet and I want to see it become a part of surfing."
Wright, along with his sport, will make their Olympic debut at the Tokyo games, where he believes he could be in with a shot at making the podium.
He said: “The Olympics was a big goal of mine, I kind of slipped off world title pace being with a head injury and my ability to spin and flip and do aerials was quite impaired, but I can still surf really well, and qualifying for the Olympics was something that was a very real possibility for me.
"So, I put all my effort into that and I ended up qualifying for the top spot for Australia and it was that moment for me where I felt like yes, I'm there and I'm fully back.
I love achieving things in the sport and I felt a little bit that I wasn't able to achieve what I'd like [after the injury], and being selected for the Olympics felt like I had that sense of a big win again and a big win for myself.
"I think it's going to be interesting, "I think I've got a really good shot."