British Columbia

Bull rider questions his own repeated head injuries after Ty Pozzobon's death

Merritt bull rider Ty Pozzobon, 25, was diagnosed with CTE, a condition associated with repeated brain trauma, after his death by suicide. That finding has a longtime rider questioning his own injuries over a 15-year career.

Veteran rider says concussions 'inherent' in the sport, worries about long-term impacts on himself

Merritt, B.C., bull rider Ty Pozzobon died at age 25. Researchers diagnosed him post-mortem with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). (

In 15 years as a serious, competitive bull rider, Raven Gordon of Quesnel had his fair share of injuries.

Broken bones. Dislocated shoulders. And about a dozen concussions — but the exact number of those is hard to pin down.

"Not really 100 per cent sure. You're trying to think back and remember," he told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"I never really thought a whole lot about it before … there's a part of me that would be really interested to know what kind of long-term impacts, if any, there has been from my injuries."

Gordon says concussions are becoming a greater concern for bull riders like himself, his sons and nephews after Merritt bull rider Ty Pozzobon took his own life.

After his death, the 25-year-old was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease linked to repetitive brain injury.

Symptoms of CTE can include memory loss, aggression, impaired judgment, depression and dementia.

Magnifications of two sections of an 18-year-old football player's brain show the early onset of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. (Boston University)

Says some concussions unavoidable

Gordon says CTE has never been discussed much by bull riders, but the details surrounding Pozzobon's death have been an "eye-opener" for the bull riding community.

"It kinda confirms something that was suspected, but, at the same time, nobody really thought about it, I guess," he said.

Gordon says in bull riding, many riders wear helmets, but not all do, and he doesn't think it should become mandatory. He says it's better to keep riders informed and educated about risks, instead.

He says riders can stay in good physical shape and learn safer techniques to avoid injuries as well, but, at the same time, the risk of head injury is "inherent."

"Sometimes, just the nature of it is … there won't be anything you can do about it," he said. "Definitely, if you're in better shape, your chances of getting injured worse lessen."

Listen to the full interview with Raven Gordon:

Still many CTE unknowns

UBC professor of medicine Cheryl Wellington says, in North America, about three million concussions are reported every year.

Seventy per cent are suffered by children and adolescents and one in five Canadians will report a sports-related concussion.

Former NFL player Junior Seau is one of the over 100 NFL players to have been diagnosed with CTE after his death. He took his own life in 2012. (Winston Townson File/Associated Press)

"We really do not know, within that vast number of people, how many will go on to develop CTE," she told The Early Edition host Rick Cluff.

"Critically, we just don't know how many concussions are required to trigger CTE and whether that might be different, by, for example, the position a person plays on a hockey or football team or how other sports like bull riding or soccer … what the exposure rate might be."

She says one of the next frontiers for understanding CTE is trying to diagnose it in living patients.

Presently, the disease can only be diagnosed post-mortem, but development of imaging systems to look at living brains, blood and saliva sampling and better questionnaires to identify possible patients is ongoing.

Listen to the full interview with Cheryl Wellington:

With files from CBC Radio's On The Coast and The Early Edition