143 : You CAN Recover From Post Concussion Syndrome, But You Can't Do It Alone w/ Aaron Rocha & Mike Santee

CAN Recover Cover.jpg
Aaron Rocha is a retired lacrosse player who ended his career at Babson College.

Aaron Rocha is a retired lacrosse player who ended his career at Babson College.

In episode 143 I had the privilege of interviewing the founders of CAN Recover, Aaron Rocha and Mike Santee. CAN Recover was inspired by Aaron and Mike’s experience and their realization of a communal need for individuals suffering from post concussion syndrome. Both Aaron and Mike battled post-concussion syndrome for up to 2 years and were withheld from returning to the sports they love. Through their experiences, they realized that there is no effective support available for student-athletes like themselves. Seeing how much impact they had on each other’s recoveries by providing empathetic support, they immediately wanted to start helping others overcome the physical and emotional challenges of a prolonged concussion recovery.

Mike Santee is a retired hockey player who ended his career at the United States Military Academy.

Mike Santee is a retired hockey player who ended his career at the United States Military Academy.

Below you will find a list of topics we touch on throughout the episode:

  • How Mike and Aaron got connected through their struggles with PCS.

  • Mike and Aaron’s concussion histories.

  • Why both Mike and Aaron hid symptoms and tried to play through their injuries.

  • How the athlete identity might influence athletes to play injured.

  • How our definitions of toughness have evolved.

“Back in high school my definition of toughness was resilience through pain.” - Aaron Rocha

  • Team awards the reinforce dangerous definitions of toughness.

  • Treatment options that Aaron and Mike tried in their recoveries.

    • What worked and what didn’t.

  • The tendency to over-analyze while recovering from concussion.

  • The value in keeping a symptom journal to isolate variables.

  • Why having someone to talk and relate to is so important.

“You don’t feel like you are in control, you’re in the passenger seat of your own life” - Mike Santee

  • NHL examples on how we are making progress toward redefining toughness.

  • The tremendous support Mike had from his coaches at West Point.

  • The mental an emotional toll PCS had on them (loneliness and isolation) and thoughts of ending it all.

  • Should you rip the bandaid off or stay around your sport? Differing perspectives and why neither is right or wrong.

  • How losing a sport affects relationships.

  • Finding new outlets.


Website | Facebook | Twitter

Download Episode 143 : iTunes | Stitcher

129 : Defying The Odds, Captainship After Adversity & Forging HeroicMinds w/ Ben Fanelli

Ben fanelli cover.jpg

Ben Fanelli is a Canadian hockey player who finished his career with the Kitchener Rangers. When Ben was 16 years old he woke up in the hospital and was told he was lucky to be alive, he’d never play sports again and may be a different person than he was before his injury suffered in a hockey game, which caused a skull fracture and 3 brain bleeds. Ben is now the founder & host of the HeroicMinds Podcast whose mission is to create a community of people that find comfort in uncommon ground, courage in difficulty and selflessness in struggle. People that ensure they are the hero of their own story.  With a story and mission like this, how could I not get him on the podcast?!

I had a blast talking with Ben because our stories and experiences are so similar. However, one way our stories differ is that Ben actually worked himself back to playing the sport he was told he'd never be able to play again.  Many PCS sufferers ask me if I've posted any athlete stories who actually make a comeback to an elite level and I am happy to say this is one of those episodes. If you enjoy this interview, I have no doubt you will enjoy Ben's HeroicMinds Podcast, so check it out (no pun intended)!  


Below are other topics of discussion Ben and I cover in this episode:

  • Ben doesn’t remember anything from the injury, but retells to story he was given by family and friends.

  • Thoughts after Ben's doctor said sports were going to be out of the question for the rest of his life.

  • Dad's positive thinking that may have helped avoid brain surgery.

  • The effects anti-seizure medication had on his recovery.

  • Concussion symptoms Ben suffered from throughout his 2 year recovery.

  • Pushing the envelope safely during recovery and the progression back to the ice.

  • Mixing in balance drills and sudokus and other cognitive games into his recovery – Episode 17 w/ Tyler Belanger reference.

  • What it was like going through PCS before people talked about concussions the way they do today.

  • Ben's relentless pursuit of relief paying off.

  • The decision to move back with his team and how that helped his recovery.

  • Earning respect from the team while injured.

  • The decision to pursue pro hockey again and his mother’s reservations.

  • Hobbies and pursuits away from hockey while recovering.

  • The difficulty in watching the team play without him.

  • Importance of finding healthy distractions.

  • What it was like getting back on the ice, becoming a captain and how his experience with adversity helped him captain the team.

  • Ben's approach going back onto the ice (how about that comeback??!! (ABOVE)).

  • Retiring from hockey and life after – Advice for the transition.

  • Discussion on the hit that nearly cost him his life and his career.

  • Enforcer discussion and social media's role.

  • Goals with the Heroic Minds Podcast – focus on mindset through adversity.

  • Why striving for balance doesn’t change the world.




Where can you follow heroicminds?

Website | itunes | Facebook | Youtube

Download Episode 129 : iTunes | Stitcher

99 : When Post-Concussion Syndrome is On a Breakaway w/ Former Harvard Hockey Goalie, Molly Tissenbaum

Molly Tissenbaum hockey 2 cover .jpg

Molly Tissenbaum is a former Harvard Hockey Goalie and currently serves as a Research Analyst at the Sports Innovation Lab in Boston, MA.  I came across Molly's story of overcoming post-concussion syndrome on the Concussion Legacy Foundation's "My Legacy" page.  Molly's first concussion happened when she was just 13 years old after taking a puck to the facemask while training with some older boys.  Molly went to school at Premier Elite Athletics Collegiate (PEAC) which is a school for elite athletes.  There were very few female hockey players at this school so she frequently got to play with the boys.  Which proved to be a double-edged sword in this situation.  After asking if the puck went in the net, she immediately knew something was wrong and took herself out. Molly stayed home from school for about a week, and when her symptoms cleared, she went back to school, and within 2 weeks she was back on the ice without symptoms (the way it should work!). 

At the time of the first concussion Molly was wearing a junior level mask instead of the superior senior-level mask. During our conversation we talked about the difference between junior and senior-level masks. Molly also believes that her mask wasn’t fitted properly, which is especially important for females with pony tails.  Molly recommends getting your mask fitted by someone reputable and don’t worry about what your hair looks like.  She found that the best fit comes when you leave an inch between where you tie your hair and the back plate of the mask.  Here is a link to a blog post on proper goalie mask fit.

The second time Molly suffered a concussion was two years later in a playoff game when she was 15. In the second period of a 0-0 tie, she got hit in the head with a stick across the left side of her head. She was in a butterfly (on her knees to cover the bottom of the net), when a puck was flipped in the air towards her. The girl on the opposing team took a swing to try and bat it out of the air and missed, but made clear contact with the side of her head. Having suffered a concussion at 13, she knew immediately that something was off. She remembers looking up to see who hit her and struggled to determine if the number was 13 or 31. The numbers looked like they were dancing.

Molly Tissenbaum hockey.jpg

But it was only the second period, and her team had to win this game in order to advance to the provincial championship tournament.  So she finished that game and her team ended up winning. Molly remained silent because she only had 2 weeks until the tournament. She was a leader and the starting goalie. She felt that her team needed her, so she tried to tough it out for the sake of the team.  "At no point did it occur to my 15-year-old self that I might be hurting myself, or even the team, by playing through a concussion."

Molly struggled with post-concussion symptoms for nearly six months.  Her academics were severely impacted throughout this time, and teachers began to notice that something was off because the quality of her work declined.  She eventually recovered enough to be named valedictorian of her graduating class and get into the most prestigious university in the United States.  She credits her teachers support and patience throughout the difficult times she encountered following her second concussion.

Concussion #3 was actually not sports-related. Her family got into a car accident on move-in weekend of Molly's sophomore year at Harvard.  Mollys first thought after impact was "thats the end of my career." This accident triggered post-concussion symptoms that forced Molly to take a medical leave of absence for a year.  Molly and I dive in to her struggles with symptoms and isolation during this time.


Below are some more talking points during our conversation:

  • How Molly fell in love with the goalie position after giving up 18 points in her first game.

  • Common mechanisms for goalie concussions

  • The Ice Guardians Documentary

  • Rules in place to protect goalies

  • The importance of academic support during PCS recovery

  • Healing with time and rest

  • The role of a muscle activation therapist

  • Dealign with FOMO during PCS recovery

  • Focusing on what you can do rather than what you can't

  • The lack of a blueprint for concussion recovery

  • Finding a new normal

  • Why you need to be honest with yourself and prioritize your mental health to stay healthy

  • Molly's transition to life after hockey, and why thinking about your future is not selfish

  • Molly's work with The Butterfly Cares organization

Where can you find Molly?


Download Episode 99 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud