Natalie Anderson is best known for being the season 29 champion of the CBS reality show, Survivor. However, fans of the show might be surprised to know that the struggles and stresses of being stranded on a deserted island paled in comparison to the turmoil Natalie faced while battling post-concussion syndrome (PCS) after being named soul survivor in San Juan Del Sur.
While growing up in Sri Lanka during the Sri Lankan Civil War with her twin sister Nadiya (who also competed on Survivor), Natalie was always into playing sports. Specifically, Natalie swam, played rugby and threw the javelin in high school, but focused on rugby while studying at Fordham University in the Bronx, NY. This is where Natalie suffered her first diagnosed concussion (2007), which left her feeling hazy, sluggish and with headaches. Rugby was a club sport at Fordham and there were no athletic trainers covering their games, so there was no return to play protocol followed, but her symptoms subsided after about a week. It looks like they could have used insights from my man Dr. Robert Huggins at the Korey Stringer Institute (Episode 41) who was instrumental in implementing athletic training coverage for club sports at Sacred Heart University and UCONN. During our conversation we also talk about her recovery from an ACL injury she sustained while playing rugby during her senior season. This is where her interest in physical therapy and athletic training was sparked.
While taking pre-requisites for graduate school in 2013, Natalie suffered concussion #2 when she closed the trunk of a car, forgetting there was a bike rack attached to it. This concussion left her with blurred vision, headaches, sensitivity to light and sound all of which lingered for close to a month. After this concussion, Natalie grew concerned over her future brain health, especially in regard to her future academic goals. Before this concussion, Natalie and her sister Nadiya competed on their first reality show together, which was the 21st season of The Amazing Race, after a friend submitted a video application in for them. They also competed in the 24th season All-Stars edition of the show. School was put on hold while filming these shows so when the decision was finally made to attend Seton Hall University and earn a masters degree in athletic training, the third and most recent concussion was that much more devastating.
Natalie utilized CrossFit training while preparing for competing on Survivor. During our interview, she gives partial credit to CrossFit and to her training partner, Sheila Barden (CrossFit Games Competitor) for her success on the show. However, her post-survivor training ultimately led to concussion #3 while standing up into a racked barbell after adjusting her knee sleeve. To make matters worse, she was in grad school at this time and was actually struck in the head by a soccer ball while taping an athletes ankle during her first clinical emersion at a local high school. This was all while still symptomatic from the training accident. Natalie is a survivor through and through and credits a lot of her success to her ability to push and persevere. Unfortunately, the symptoms from these two concussions eventually became too much to handle, even with assistance from disability services at school (any athlete struggling with PCS should seek out this type of help from their school, it is your right). Natalie teaches us how to utilize the support of disability services at schools in this episode. After receiving a text from her classmate and good friend, Pete saying "A Champion Knows When To Rest," Natalie decided to take a medical leave from school, but plans on re-enrolling this fall now that she is feeling better.
Like many athletes, the survivor mentality can work to both your advantage and demise at times. Sometimes you need to know when to wave the white flag and take care of yourself. Most of us don't have that voice in our head's, but sometimes we need a friend to be that voice. Natalie found great help and symptom relief from utilizing the services from our Episode 14 guest, Dr. Mike Teytelbaum, who is a chiropractic neurologist. I encourage you to listen to this episode if you struggle with PCS. She also found hope emotionally through listening to many of the concussion related interviews on this podcast. Search "concussion" on the home page to find all episodes pertaining to concussions.
Some other topics we cover include :
Her winning strategy going into Survivor
The weirdest thing she ate on survivor
What she did with her winnings
Donation to her mother's non-profit
Mission: To empower the marginalized and under -privileged through Peace Education and Vocational Training based on Montessori principles.
Background on the Sri Lankan Civil War
Her parent's Romeo and Juliet story
How the ketogenic diet benefited her PCS symptoms