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Former snowboarder gives concussion research some momentum

Promising athlete Allison Haggart had to give up snowboarding after suffering a severe concussion in 2012.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

The donor: Allison Haggart

The gift: Raising $130,000

The cause: Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation

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The reason: To finance research into concussions

A couple of years ago, Allison Haggart would have been dreaming about competing in snowboarding at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

She was provincially ranked in snowboard cross, had won an Ontario high school title and was good enough to do some coaching as well. Everything changed during a routine practice session with her Toronto high-school teammates in January, 2012. During one run, she swerved to avoid a teammate and crashed, smashing her head into the ground. She was wearing a helmet and hoped that maybe she got off lucky. She didn't.

She suffered from severe headaches, dizziness and memory loss, and her balance was so poor she needed help using stairs. She missed most of her Grade 12 year and spent the next 18 months in treatment with a team at Toronto's Western Hospital. And she gave up snowboarding for good. "I do snowshoeing now," she said with a laugh.

Last year she decided to do something to help others suffering from concussions. She started the Allison Project, a fundraising drive to raise money for a research fellowship at Western. So far she has raised $130,000, which could be doubled through matching government grants. The hospital recently awarded the fellowship to Dr. Ahmed Ebraheem, a neurosurgeon who plans to conduct a variety of research programs into concussions.

"When I shook his hand, I couldn't believe it," said Ms. Haggart, 19, who is studying biosciences at the University of Guelph. "This person is here because of what we did. It was just really magical."

And she had this advice for anyone participating in sports. "Obviously, you have to do what you love," she said. "Just be careful."

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