Ally Haggart has gone from high school snowboarding champ and team builder to a champion of concussion awareness.
The Lawrence Park alumna suffered a concussion in January 2012 while on the slopes of Mount St. Louis, and she experienced first hand its debilitating effects.
“Literally, it was the first run of the day, total warm-up run, basic hill,” the freshman at the University of Guelph said on the phone. “Going down the hill, I had a teammate of mine in front of me, and towards the bottom of the hill, and — I don’t know, to this day I don’t know why — she just stopped dead on the hill in front of me, so I did swerve to avoid her and I did avoid her until the last second she moved.
“I ended up hitting her board, and that threw me into the air and then I kind of rotated and snapped my head back on the ice.”
Haggart was wearing a top-of-the-line helmet, but the damage was done.
Though she expected to be out of commission for, at max, a week, recovery took 18 months.
Still, when she was met with the comments by her doctor — Charles Tator at Toronto Western General Hospital — such as “We don’t know” or “Not enough research has been done” when she questioned what was happening to her, she had to act, she says.
Not one to sit still (she was, after all, credited with bringing Lawrence Park’s snowboarding team back from the brink with the help of teacher Ana Djuricic), Haggart started the Allison Project to raise money. The goal was $100,000, the price to hire a research fellow at Toronto Western.
“After those answers to 70 percent of my questions, I thought, clearly this is a pretty new field of research,” she said. “Clearly, research still needs to be done, and it’s something that I would love to contribute to, considering it’s impacted me personally.
“I was thinking, now that I’ve made my 100 percent full recovery I wanted to give back, so no one else can find themselves in the position that I had.”
Dr. Tator says he was surprised by her proactive approach.
“She not only understood the importance of research and she did something about it,” he said. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh that’s too bad that you don’t know more to try and help me.’ She went that extra step. She said I understand the trouble, but I’m going to do something about it.
“That’s quite remarkable.”
To date, the Allison Project has raised almost $130,000. It has resulted in the hiring of neurosurgeon and doctor Ahmad Ibraheem as the research fellow with the Canadian Sports Concussion Project.
“Her support has had a multiplier effect, because it sort of got us off the ground and other people have come forward to say, ‘Yeah, this is important’,” Tator said.
Though Haggart no longer straps on the snowboard, she has learned to enjoy winter again. Her family, which consists of mother Katherine, father Niall and triplet siblings Jamie and Samantha, have a tradition of skiing and snowboarding.