Jamie Varner (21-11-1), former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) lightweight champion and UFC lightweight competitor, is currently retired from mixed martial arts, though Varner lets it be known that retirement was out of necessity and not any lacking desire to compete. Due to Varner experiencing, as doctors discovered, over thirty concussions over the course of his career, he was forced to step away from the fight game in order to protect one of the body’s most vital organs, the brain.
On a recent appearance on the MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani, Varner discusses the reason he had to let his competitive flame burn out, yet he openly admitted retirement isn’t something he’d choose,
“Can’t say I enjoy it [retirement], there’s still a lot of fight left in this dog.”
The viewer couldn’t help but feel for Varner when he reflected back to the time when he knew he needed to step away from his fighting career forever. After Helwani asked Varner how he knew it was time to retire, the tension could be cut with a knife before Varner explained,
“It was actually kind of sad how it happened. And this is the reason why I even reached out to you [Helwani], and I’m doing interviews talking about the head trauma. I got hurt in training about nine days before my [final] fight in my last sparring session. I went to the doctor right away; he ran a bunch of tests. Then, he asked me, ‘Have you gotten hit in the head recently?’ I told him, ‘Dude, I’m a fighter; I get hit in the head all the time.”
Varner and the doctor had a conversation about the blow that Varner had received in practice. The shot didn’t even knock him out; Varner would describe it as “getting your bell rung”. Knowing this information, the doctor lit the fuse for further investigation and sent Varner to be evaluated with a CAT Scan and MRI. Soon after the testing, the doctor called Varner to request his return to the office for a consultation of the exams’ results. Varner recalled the doctor informed him,
“Based on your CAT Scan and the white matter on your brain, he estimated that I had had over 30 concussions. My neurologist told me to think of the brain as a forest. Every time you get a concussion, or you get knocked out, trees in that forest get knocked down; these trees don’t grow back.”
Looking back on his career, Varner recognized the many instances during sparring sessions when he, more than likely, may have been concuss. He was never knocked out, simply being knocked around is enough; moreover, these less severe head traumas are known as subconcussions. Varner remembers these traumas during training as nothing unusual,
” I thought I was in a perpetual state of constant migraines, which I knew was from sparring, but I just thought it was OK; it was normal. If I could take it all back, I would have sparred once a week about six-weeks leading up to a fight.”
Hindsight is 20/20; Varner understands that, and he doesn’t let should of, could of, would of, freeze him in his tracks. Most look back reminiscing the possibility of a different outcome, though Varner has a firm grasp on the concept of living beyond only today and looking into what the future holds. In Varner’s appearance with Helwani, he explained his mindset for planning ahead,
“I would always plan for the absolute worst, which is what I think you should do in life anyways.”
Varner is also passionate about helping others with prioritizing their future. With his life experiences, Varner believed his knowledge would be of greatest value if it were passed along to up-and-coming UFC fighters. If professional mixed martial artists are to be held in the same regards as other sports’ professional athletes, elite with a limited amount of time to perform, there should be something in place that helps these athletes prepare for the time they hang up their jersey, cleats, or gloves and blaze a new frontier. Varner, a professional MMA athlete since 2003, expressed the need for the UFC to offer opportunities to their fighters that other sporting organizations provide,
“Football players. It’s mandatory for all the rookies to go to a rookie symposium. Major League Baseball and the NBA; they all have these things in place for them, and there’s nothing in place for the fighters, unless you have a good agent.”
Financially, the future isn’t of concern for Varner, but he is very worried about the future of his health. He shared with the audience,
“Honestly, I’m nervous. I’m scared because my faculties aren’t still 100%.”
Before your inner thermostat of concern continues to rise about Varner, he’ll admit that things, health-wise, have gotten a bit better since chilling-out in retired life,
“It’s progressively gotten better. I’m doing lots of reading and other things to build up my brain.”
One of those “other things” Varner is doing is partnering up with Just Cool Me, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives, improving patient outcomes, and helping families affected by an injury to the heart, brain, and nervous system. Varner, as previously demonstrated, takes pride in assisting others, and the science and efforts behind Just Cool Me may be the future of preventing other fighters to mirror a similar plight as Varner’s.
The brain trauma suffered by Varner that led to his retirement coincide perfectly with what Just Cool Me hopes to achieve: funding passionate individuals teaching young athletes concussion recognition, protocol, and awareness; funding passionate individuals who are educating on subconcussions and its connection to Traumatic Brain Injury. If one is seeking out passion, Varner is an individual who passionately packed heat inside the Octagon and is more than willing to spread any helpful resources or knowledge like wildfire, especially if it can improve the careers, and lives, of other fighters.
The vision of Just Cool Me says it all: Today, Just Cool Me is a foundation focused on temperature management and also funds additional initiatives relevant to temperature management-specifically when they impact outcomes treating the heart, brain, and nervous system. The idea of temperature management is exactly as it sounds, cooling the body’s temperature for therapeutic purposes: therapeutic hypothermia. In the case of Varner, therapy to assist those who suffer from traumatic brain injury. Check out this video entitled “What Is Therapeutic Hypothermia?”,
With all the discussion in sports, not limited to only professional athletes, surrounding the topic of brain injuries, people can get heated up quickly when there aren’t really any solid answers. Just Cool Me may be an answer for those who, like Varner, have a competitive grit about them and don’t want to look back on their past with regrets of a differing present. Set your keyboard ablaze now by visiting Just Cool Me at https://facebook.com/JustCoolMe.org, or you can donate to Just Cool Me by texting the word “COOL” to 1-855-476-7177.