Jake Pates: Why I created “Happy Healthy Brain Foundation”

The slopestyle and halfpipe gold medallist from the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympics founded the non-profit organisation during his own journey to recovery from a head injury. Now his goal is to improve concussion protocols so that athletes can return to their sport safely and in confidence. 

By Chloe Merrell
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

When two-time Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympic snowboard champion Jake Pates sustained a head injury ahead of an event in California, back in 2019, the 23-year-old he discovered something.

The young American found himself deceiving his doctor so that he could return to the halfpipe as soon as possible: “I basically lied to them and told them I was fine so I could get back out and not miss training,” the PyeongChang 2018 Olympian said to KOAA News5.

“When I did go back out, I was just all over the place with symptoms. Headache, dizziness, nausea, all the above. At the time, I never understood the impact that serious brain injuries could become.”

Fortunately for Pates, prior to his accident, he had undergone a baseline brain scan.

Using the profile of his head from when it was healthy, the snowboarder was able to do a comparison with his concussed brain. That enabled him to assess the severity of his injury and track its improvements overtime so that ultimately, he could make an objective decision about his return to play.

“I ended up being able to watch my brain heal,” continued the double Youth Olympic medallist, who up until that point, had been suffering from depression and anxiety because of his fall. “This gave me the confidence to go out and snowboard again. At the end of the process, I realised this is something the sport needs.”

Jakes Pates: Advocating for brain and mental health

In March 2020, after consultations with other athletes who had also suffered from brain injuries, the American founded his non-profit: Happy Healthy Brain Foundation.

The goal of Pates’ organisation is to increase awareness about concussion protocols and advance technologies surrounding brain care, particularly through an emphasis on baseline brain scans.

The foundation does this by raising funds to encourage the growth of brain care technologies which in turn, help raise the standard of concussion management for athletes like Pates competing in high risks sports at the top of the game.

The Happy Healthy Brain Foundation is not the only cause the Pates advocates for. Another is mental health.

The 2020 superpipe X Games silver medallist is involved in a YouTube series called ‘The Flip Side’ that focuses on themes surrounding mental wellness. In the second episode Pates goes into detail about his organisation and what it means to him on a broader level to be able to help others:

“There’s a stigma. You’re supposed to be tough; not let things affect you,” the snowboarder says, “I think to just spread positivity and awareness, that’s really what my foundation is about, to do that and that’s just something I want to do as a person also.”

“It’s crazy to see people reach out and they really resonate with stuff like that because everybody is going through this.”

READ MORE: Halfpipe, slopestyle and big air - what's the difference?

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