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Daredevil Gives up Action Sports After Multiple Concussions

For years, Joe Ringling thought concussions were the price to pay for a life as a daredevil.

He’d get knocked out, then get back on his skis or his mountain bike. But Ringling’s fledgling action sports career came to an end in a terrifying mountain bike crash two years ago.

“I hit my head 15 too many times,” said Ringling, 21.

Ringling moved to the Phoenix area and sought treatment at the Concussion and Brain Injury Center at Barrow Neurological Institute at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, the first of its kind in the nation.

photo of glynnis zieman

Dr. Glynnis Zieman
Sports Neurologist

After consulting with Barrow sports neurologist Dr. Glynnis Zieman, Ringling decided to stop seeking thrills and start seeking birdies. He’s taken up golf, where a concussion is as rare as a hole-in-one.

“Sports offer many physical, cognitive and emotional benefits to participants, and are overall encouraged,” Dr. Zieman said. “However, every patient and every brain injury are different, and sometimes sports pose too much risk after injury. We don’t know how many concussions are ‘too many’ and make decisions for retirement on a case-by-case basis.”

It’s a big change for Ringling, who grew up in Montana and developed a love for launching himself down the sides of mountains.

In January 2010, as a high school freshman in Helena, Mont., Ringling hit six trees face-first in one skiing accident. He missed three months of school.

“Broken cheekbone, broken jaw in two places, broken forehead,” he said. “I was unrecognizable.”

That didn’t deter Ringling. In 2015, he was mountain biking in Montana when he overshot a landing and collided with a tree, shattering his faceguard and jaw guard and splitting his helmet.

“I walked away from it too,” Ringling said. “I rode down the hill. I just don’t remember it. That was kind of the last one.

You may not feel anything different right away, but the more concussions you get, I’ve learned, the longer it takes each one to heal.

-Joe Ringling, Barrow Concussion Patient

“Joe’s case illustrates that brain injuries occur in other sports besides those that receive lots of attention, such as football,” Dr. Zieman said. “Regardless of cause, multiple brain injuries can cause long-term symptoms that require treatment. Joe took the initiative to seek care for his injuries, so that he could improve and be successful in his life and career.”

Ringling, who lives in Chandler and works in a restaurant, is planning to return to college soon. He said his health is improving but he still experiences lingering effects from his numerous concussions, including mood swings and memory lapses.

His advice to concussion victims? Don’t push it.

“My important message is actually take time for yourself,” Ringling said. “You may not feel anything different right away, but the more concussions you get, I’ve learned, the longer it takes each one to heal.”

About Barrow Neurological Institute

Since our doors opened as a regional specialty center in 1962, we have grown into one of the premier destinations in the world for neurology and neurosurgery. Our experienced, highly skilled, and comprehensive team of neurological specialists can provide you with a complete spectrum of care–from diagnosis through outpatient neurorehabilitation–under one roof. Barrow Neurological Institute: Discover. Educate. Heal.