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Sledding Athletes Are Taking Their Lives. Did Brain-Rattling Rides and High-Speed Crashes Damage Their Brains?

Pavle Jovanovic completed his degree from Rutgers in 2010 and began working with his brother in the family metal works, where they did steel framing and also managed artisanal projects.

“The guy could look at a blueprint and do all the calculations for what we needed in his head,” Nick Jovanovic said of his brother. No matter how complex the job, in those first years, Pavle could always come up with the answer.

As the years passed though, Pavle Jovanovic became someone Nick didn’t recognize. He drank heavily and grew moody. He had never been in trouble with the law before, but the police in his Jersey Shore town received more than a dozen complaints about him, everything from drinking and harassing customers at restaurants to conflicts with ex-girlfriends.

At work, he began to lose his ability to do the simple mathematical calculations required to cut metal correctly.

On a Saturday afternoon in 2017, Nick Jovanovic stopped by the metal works shop, where Pavle and two employees were working on a railing. Nick told Pavle he wasn’t doing it correctly. Pavle grabbed Nick and threw him into a wall, then pounced. Only when he saw his older brother’s face bleeding did Pavle snap out of his fury.

He did a series of stints at a mental health center, where he was treated for alcoholism, depression and bipolar disorder.

After his last stint there, in 2018, he seemed to show progress. Last fall, he and his brother went to dinner in Atlantic City. “It was a decent night,” Nick Jovanovic said.

But through the winter Pavle began to fade. He got rid of his cellphone and began sleeping on the couch at the metal works. Then, on April 6, Nick Jovanovic noticed his brother shaking under a trailer as he held a welding torch, trying to perform what would be their last job together.

“I kept asking him if he was OK, telling him he could stop and I would finish up,” Nick said. “He kept saying, ‘Don’t worry about it. I got it.’”

Going through his brother’s prescriptions after his suicide, Nick Jovanovic found bottles of pills to treat his mental health problems, and one for Benztropine, a drug used to treat the shakes and tremors that people with Parkinson’s or on antipsychotic medications often experience.

“I think he knew that things were not going to get better,” Nick Jovanovic said. “He didn’t have any answers anymore.”

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