The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers And Broadcasters (NTWAB) announced Jan. 4 that Natalie Voss has won the 2016 Media Eclipse Award for Writing in the News/Enterprise category for "'Something's Wrong With My Brain'--The Lurking Danger of Concussions for Jockeys," an examination of head trauma and the racing industry's response to preventive measures, which appeared on the Paulick Report website on Dec. 30, 2015.
This is the first Eclipse Award for Voss, who resides in Georgetown, Ky., and is the features editor for the Paulick Report, which earned its second Media Eclipse Award this year following the announcement that John Scheinman had won the award for Outstanding Writing in the Feature/Commentary category.
Voss will receive her trophy at the 46th Annual Eclipse Awards dinner and ceremony Jan. 21, at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla. The Eclipse Awards are presented by Daily Racing Form, Breeders' Cup and The Stronach Group and produced by the NTRA.
"I am still completely overwhelmed and honored to win an Eclipse Award," said Voss, who grew up riding hunter/jumpers in Virginia, and later earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky. "As someone who loves this sport, this was a difficult topic to write about but sometimes in order to make things better, you have to shine a light on something that's hard to see."
In "Something's Wrong," Voss explores the problems of repeated head trauma, and compiled data through medical professionals and probed how the industry is managing the problem of recovery time for jockeys, and delved into the effectiveness of their riding helmets.
Voss tells part of that story through the life of retired jockey Gwen Jocson, featured in Sports Illustrated as a young rider, who finished her career with 763 wins but left the sport in 1999 because she was losing her balance. Jocson returned for the Lady Legends race at Pimlico in 2010, which she won, but realized something was wrong, and she needed help.
What actually helped in her diagnosis was the opening of the feature film "Concussion," which revealed the high incidence of head trauma in the National Football League and the discovery of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) by doctors studying the problem and the subsequent reluctance of the NFL to acknowledge it.
Interestingly, Voss found that racing does accept the problem of concussions but lacks proper funding to combat the issue.
Seemingly in contrast to the NFL, the Jockeys' Guild and the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund have no problem conceding the damage from concussions is a risk for riders. That sense of self-awareness doesn't mean CTE in jockeys is well understood. Football has been the public face of sports concussion issues—as a result, it has received most of the most funding dollars. The racing world is still struggling to quantify the problem. A report from the University of Kentucky's Dr. Carl Mattacola at this year's Jockey Club Welfare and Safety Summit revealed that 8.6% of falls by jockeys during races from 2012 to 2015 resulted in concussions, per the Jockey Industry Database.
Jocson's symptoms are very similar to those of the retired football players in the film, who suffered from memory issues and emotional imbalances. In discussions with the Jockeys' Guild National Manager, Terry Meyocks, Voss found that some riders similarly forgot events, such as riding a race following a concussion, and could be especially vulnerable for major damage.
As a potential remedy for recovering riders, Voss introduces a device from Dr. Mark Lovell, an early CTE researcher in the development of the ImPACT system (Immediate Post Concussion and Cognitive Testing), to address the issue. It is a test that can be taken on an iPad or Iaptop, which measures "an athlete's memory, reaction time, and processing speed to gauge neurological function."
At the time of the article's publication, Meyocks said that there was still no "universal concussion protocol for evaluating riders before allowing them to take mounts after a fall."
"As an industry, we don't support jockeys as much as we could," Voss said in retrospect. "As a rider myself, I have a bit of a frame of reference for the risks that jockeys take and what they are going through in a sport where most of the people involved are not riders."
The winning submission can be accessed here: http://www.paulickreport.com/news/ray-s-paddock/somethings-wrong-with-my-brain-the-lurking-danger-of-concussions-for-jockeys.
Honorable mention in the News/Enterprise category went to Margaret Ransom for "The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell," which appeared on USRacing.com on May 26, 2016, and to John Cherwa for "A Horse is a Horse of Course, but What do they Think on Kentucky Derby Day?," about the sensory systems of racehorses, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times on May 3, 2016.
Judges in News Enterprise category were Jane Goldstein, former Santa Anita Park publicity director; Jenny Kellner, former New York Post writer and former New York Racing Association publicist; and Bill Kolberg, racing publicist.