Whitewater kayakers are no strangers to injury. Many of us have experienced a dislocated shoulder, a broken bone, a sprain, or a concussion on the water–or know someone who has.
Folks who’ve endured injury also know that the aftermath can often be more traumatic and burdensome than the injury itself. Elite freestyle kayaker Brooke Hess perhaps knows this better than anyone–after suffering not one, but two, life-altering injuries in the past 5 years.
The newest film from NRS and Western Pictures, Brainwaves, is a story about the highs of kayaking, the lows of injury, and the internalized mental struggle that occupies the space in between.
Where it started
In 2017, Hess was absolutely killing it; she was strong, confident, and performing better than ever. In January of that year, she spent a month training in Uganda for Unleashed competition and landed her best dry-head airscrew yet in the process. From Stakeout to Unleashed to Montréal Eau Vive, she stood on multiple podiums beside her friends and paddling idols.
But when she returned to Uganda to train for the next Unleashed competition, her competitive streak came to a sudden halt. She contracted an undiagnosed severe digestive illness. Unable to hold down almost all foods, she lost a whopping 20 lbs in mere weeks.
After returning to the US and adjusting to her new restricted diet and lifestyle, she struggled to grapple with the loss of kayaking. “I had an unhealthy amount of FOMO, it wasn’t helping my body heal,” Hess wrote in a Duct Tape Diaries blog post. “I eventually turned off all social media in an effort to ease the negative feelings. I didn’t want to see photos, videos, or anything relating to kayaking.”
In her third-year post stomach illness, Hess suffered a nasty concussion. She took a nasty hit to the head on the landing of 30-foot Huka Falls in New Zealand. Things took another turn for the worse.
The road to recovery
Hess hides an ongoing battle that few people know about. Behind her fun-loving spirit and ambitious character, she is plagued by depression. This Mental Health Awareness month, she’s ready to share her story with the world. Watch it here.