B.C. skier's brain studied at top U.S. sports research lab

The brain of Andrea Cochrane, a deceased competitive downhill skier from Prince George, B.C., is the first brain from a female athlete to be studied at a prestigious U.S. sports research laboratory.

First brain from a female athlete studied at the Sports Legacy Institute at Boston University

Andrea Cochrane began downhill skiing at age five and raced competitively most of her life. After three serious concussions, she suffered memory loss and severe depression. (Sports Legacy Institute)

The brain of a competitive downhill skier from Prince George, B.C., is the first brain from a female athlete to be studied at a prestigious U.S. sports research laboratory.

Laurie Cochrane, mother of deceased skier Andrea Cochrane, donated Andrea’s brain to the Sports Legacy Institute at Boston University after her daughter took her own life at the age of 32 in 2011.

Laurie says she has decided to tell her daughter's story now in an effort to raise awareness about the impact of concussions on the lives of athletes.

“I just feel it would honour my daughter’s life, because she was very special. And I am certain she would not want anyone else to go through that,” Laurie told CBC News.

"She was a person that cared about others, and cared about the world at large, as well as her own immediate world. I think the research was something I just thought, you know, as soon as I knew she had died, I immediately thought of them. I thought, 'this is what I need to do’."

The Sports Legacy Institute has made headlines in recent years with its work examining the prevalence of a degenerative condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, in the brains of former professional athletes, particularly football and hockey players.

Until Laurie sent Andrea's brain to them, the institute had never had the opportunity to study brain trauma in a female athlete.

Andrea began downhill skiing at age five, and was racing competitively by her early teens. As a young adult, however, she struggled through a series of serious head injuries.

“She suffered three concussions within eight months. They were significant concussions for certain,” her mother says.

According to Laurie, her daughter began to complain of memory loss and difficulty concentrating while in class or studying. She became severely depressed shortly after, Laurie says.

Researchers at the LSI have not been able to confirm that head injuries directly caused Andrea’s depression, Laurie says, but she believes firmly that the injuries changed her daughter's life forever.

Laurie will be meeting with local ski and sports team to tell her daughter’s story and raise consciousness about the consequences of traumatic brain injuries in athletes. 

With files from CBC's Marissa Harvey


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