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Accident-Prone January 12, 2009

Posted by markgeil in Family.

I posed the following question in my injury biomechanics course last week. We were defining “injury” and noticing how we often use the word “accident” when certain factors often make an injury less-than-accidental. Then  I threw out some stats about numbers of injuries and how much they cost the healthcare system. And finally the question:

Are certain people really “accident-prone”? I think we all have experience with people in our lives (maybe it’s you!) who seem to get hurt more than everyone else. But why? Is it something physiological? Are their tendons a little too tight, so their muscles don’t function quite as smoothly? Or maybe their balance is just a little off. Perhaps their neural networks are a little convoluted and they wind up a tad uncoordinated.

Then I posed a different theory. Maybe the ones we call “accident prone” are actually the most coordinated, the most perfectly put-together. Maybe sports come so easily to them that they tend to be more active, and they push things a little too hard sometimes.  

We had both in my family. My older brothers were more natural athletes than me. The middle brother, Eric, in particular. He’s the one dunking on me and my older brother. Clearly charging, though.


He’s one of those guys who can take up a new sport, learn the basic rules, and play pretty well within the first 15 or so minutes. The rest of us have a word for those natural, effortless abilities: annoying. I’m among the rest of us. I can take up a new sport, learn the basic rules, and play pretty well after at least five months of daily practice. I can’t for the life of me wad up a piece of paper and throw it in a trash can. I always miss, even if the trash can is right beside my chair. Our recycling bins are in our garage, right by the door. I open the garage door to toss a can toward the recycling bin, and it somehow manages to bounce and roll and settle directly under the geometric center of my car. Baffling.

I could take up an obscure sport, like, say, Mountain Unicycling. I could buy the finest equipment and pay a fortune for private lessons. I could join a club and we could meet for mountain unicycling trips every weekend for a year. I could be pretty good at mountain unicycling. Then my brother could be visiting, and I’d invite him along on one of our trips. He would mention that he’s never even been on a unicycle and joke about how the rest of the club would have to wait up for him at the end, but he would be a good sport and come along. Then we’d get to the mountain, and explain how to get on a unicycle. He’d try it out, fall off once or twice, and then cruise down the mountain at twice my speed. At the bottom, he’d humbly say, “Yeah, that is fun! Thanks for inviting me.”

Guess which one of us is accident prone? Eric. At family gatherings we gather around the table and jovially recall his litany of bizarre injuries. There was the loud one when we were kids playing touch football in the street. He was the receiver, looking over his shoulder at full sprint to follow the incoming pass, as good receivers do, when head made direct impact with mailbox. He’s still got a great scar on his arm from tripping on the last hurdle during some championship track meet. He had to sit out of a couple of soccer seasons – not games – due to excessive concussions. He even had some bizarre tear in the pleural cavity around his lungs during some pick-up game. People just don’t get pleural cavity tears during recreational sports!

So, maybe my theory holds true. Maybe the most coordinated are the most accident-prone. Of course, I suppose that wouldn’t explain the time Eric had to be rushed to the emergency room with a chicken bone in his throat. Nowadays, it seems that my oldest brother Steve and I are the ones who get hurt more often. We’ve both joined adult soccer leagues, and we enjoy recounting our weekly ailments to one another. Still, I think there’s a difference between being accident-prone and just getting old.

Finally, for your viewing pleasure, and since you undoubtedly thought I was joking, witness Mountain Unicycling:



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