winter sports

85 : The Power Of A High Five, Roy Tuscany

Roy Tuscany is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the High Fives Foundation, whose mission is to support the dreams of mountain action sports athletes by raising injury prevention awareness while providing resources and inspiration to those who suffer life-altering injuries.  In 2006, Roy suffered a life-altering injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down and was the catalyst to the creation of High Fives. Roy turned the financial and community support of his own recovery into a ‘pay-it-forward’ adventure with the creation of High Fives non-profit foundation.

After earning degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics from the University of Vermont in 2004, Roy decided to take two years to pursue his true passion of being a professional free skier before putting those degrees to use. Just before his two years were up, on April 29, 2006 he had a skiing accident that changed his life forever. During our podcast recording Roy takes us through the moment when he went 130 feet on a what should have been a 100 foot jump.  He landed from about 30 feet in the air and the resultant impact with the ground caused him to fracture the T-12 vertebrae in his spine.  Upon impact, Roy thought his legs were shot through his body and and he was sure that his legs were coming out of his shoulders. This injury left him without any motion, feeling or any ability to move his lower extremities below his belly button.  This was a start to a new phase of his life.

During our conversation, Roy talks about a way for listeners to experience what it feels like to have paralysis. Make a fist and put it on a solid surface or table and then try to lift your ring finger up.  It is nearly impossible. Give it a try.

"Whatever Roy puts into this recovery, Roy will get in return."

Roy believes he overshot the jump for a number of reasons, which includes, not doing a speed check that day (I couldn't find a good video example of this, but Roy explains in the episode), a new pair of wider skis with a fresh coat of wax and the snow being harder in the morning. All of these factors combined resulted in increased speed.  Roy remembers being immediately devastated, but that didn't affect his sense of humor because he was joking with one of the EMT's about going to a sushi dinner later that night.  Roy's positivity throughout his journey has been a staple in his recovery and in High Five's culture today.

Not long after Roy arrived at the hospital, a radiology tech told him that he crushed his vertebrae and that he will never walk again.  This scene is all too common throughout the podcast interviews I have done to this point.  Roy calls these "instances of verbal diarrhea".  I think thats a great way to put it.   Fortunately, his surgeon took a more positive approach when he talked to Roy, by saying "Whatever Roy puts into this recovery, Roy will get in return."  When the surgeon came into check on Roy after surgery, Roy gave him a high five.  Later on in the podcast interview, Roy talks about how it is literally impossible to have a negative thought while giving a high five.

"Surrounding yourself with A positive community and finding individuals that want to help you succeed, that's what really pushED me through those hardships throughout the recovery."

During the rehab process, Roy made some great strides, but had a few complications along the way. Roy's achilles tendons shortened by two inches and he could only walk on the sides of his feet.  This forced him to wear Ankle Foot Orthotics (AFO's) which caused painful sores on his feet. AFO's provide support where there is instability.  Like many athletes, Roy saw massive peaks, valleys and plateaus throughout his recovery.   He relied heavily on his positive support system during the low points and specifically named his trainer Wayne Burwell "the most amazing human I've ever met in my life," and one of his physical therapists, Ladd Williams.  Roy also looked back on some of the lessons he learned from his legendary high school cross country coach. Coach Kerrigan's influence on Roy's recovery was, "regardless of whatever your expectations are, use the expectations of others to fuel your push." 

Kaizen - a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency, etc.

"I have ridden the horse hard and put it away wet a few too many times."

Roy's focus throughout his recovery was always getting back on the mountain.  Roy got back on the mountain in 2008 and learned how to approach the mountain from an adaptive perspective as a "four tracker" (pictured above). Unfortunately, this new approach on the mountain wasn't completely injury free. On one particular run, Roy's ski got stuck in the snow in such a way that it caused a bad enough break in his femur to require 13 screws, a floating screw and 2 plates (x-ray right).  This injury turned out to be a much more painful recovery than the spinal cord injury due to spasticity. 

Roy doesn’t ski as much anymore and instead, he looks for activities that bring him joy but don’t have the risk factor.  Skiing he says, no longer lights the entire flame for him anymore because he is afraid of having another catastrophic injury.  You can hear it in Roy's voice during this episode that surfing is now something that lights the entire flame for him these days.

"Would my Mom want me to do this?"

At the end of this episode Roy and I discuss the Origin of High Fives along with all of the amazing programs and initiatives they offer.  Below you will find some of these topics of discussion:

  • Origin of the High Fives Name

  • High Fives injury prevention program (BASICS)

    • B(Being) A(Aware) S(Safe) I(In) C(Critical) S(Situations)

    • BASICS is a series of videos that interview athletes who suffered life-altering injuries in mountain sports to promote smart decision making and preventing others from making those same mistakes in the future. Although these are focused on mountain sports, there are direct correlations to improving safety in all sports. Personally, my life altering injury fit into the Ego vs Intuition category listed below. I highly recommend watching the video below.

      • The Five Critical Mistakes that lead to life-altering injuries:

        • Speed

        • Shooting in the Dark (entering a situation without any prior experience or knowledge)

        • Dropping Your Guard (letting your guard down in an environment that seems non-threatening but has consequences every bit as real as the most risky of places)

        • Know Your Line

        • Ego vs Intuition (not listening to your gut response intuition and instead letting your ego lead your decisions against your own better, deeper knowledge)

#HELMETS ARE COOL

#HelmetsAreCool focuses on helmet usage and safety while highlighting High Fives Athlete Danny Toumarkine’s recovery from a Traumatic Brain Injury he suffered while snowboarding without a helmet along with three other featured athletes.

In our interview, Roy says a good way to get someone to wear a helmet is to ask them if they put a protective case on their laptop or phone because why protect that and not your head? You only have one brain.

#KnowYourPark

#KnowYourPark is the fourth installment for the High Fives Foundation B.A.S.I.C.S. Program Service. #KnowYourPark is a 22-minute public service announcement filmed and edited in a ski documentary format to educate young snow sport athletes about the inherent risks and rewards of skiing and riding within the terrain park. The film is endorsed by the National Ski Patrol Safety Team and highlights the importance of terrain park safety through five core values: Protection, Conditions, Terrain Park Features, Personal Ability, and Terrain Park Etiquette.

  • The Empowerment Fund - The empowerment fund provides resources and inspiration to those who have suffered a life-altering injury. Life-altering injuries are injuries such as spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, amputation or other mobility-limiting injuries that occurred in an athlete’s lifetime. The resources and inspiration we provide come in the form of board-approved grant funding paid to service providers in nine funding categories: living expenses, insurance, health, travel, high fives healing network, adaptive equipment, winter equipment, and “stoke” (positive energy, outlook, attitude).

  • CR Johnson Healing Center - The CR Johnson Healing Center is a 2,800 sq/ft training facility providing resources for athletes in recovery from life-altering and sport related injuries. The Healing Center attracts over 3,720 visits a year from community members and High Fives Athletes.

  • Military to the Mountains - M2M is a High Fives program service demonstrating our deep sense of appreciation for the men and women who serve our country in the military — specifically for those veterans who have suffered life-altering injuries in the name of loyalty to America. Injured US military veterans are provided the opportunity to train at a 9-week program at David Vobora's Adaptive Training Foundation in Dallas, Texas and Paralympic Sport Reno in Reno, Nevada to prepare for a week of skiing at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, instructed by Achieve Tahoe adaptive ski program — 100% fueled and inspired by the High Fives Foundation.

I found Roy's story through our former guest, David Vobora's Instagram.  Vobora was surfing with Roy and his crew at High Fives.  After doing this podcast for close to 2 years now, it is interesting to me to see how small of a world this sports health & safety community can be.  However, it shouldn't be that surprising as all our stories are similar in many way.  The communities at David Vobora's Adaptive Training Foundation and Roy's High Fives Foundation are both cultivated on inclusiveness and that anyone can be a part of it.  It is amazing what can come from individuals trying to prevent the suffering of others and I hope that one day this podcast can be thought of in the same light as these two incredible dudes.

WHERE CAN YOU support the High Fives Foundation?

WEBSITE | INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK | Twitter

WHERE CAN YOU FOLLOW ROY TUSCANY?

INSTAGRAM |  TWITTER | LINKEDIN

Download Episode 85 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud

71 : Overcoming Fear w/ Purpose 2 Play Founder, Kim Constantinesco

This week on the Heads 'N Tales podcast we hear from founder and editor-in-chief of Purpose 2 Play, Kim Constantinesco. Purpose 2 Play is a sports blog that showcases powerful and inspiring sports stories. My story was recently featured on her website and in talking to Kim, I learned about her own amazing story of perseverance.  Kim lives in Colorado and in 2011 she suffered a severe neck injury while snowboarding at the Keystone Resort with some of her friends.  It snowed 8 inches the night before, and Kim and her friends hiked into the back bowl where they built a jump with avalanche shovels.  She had done some flips off this jumps a few times before a friend of a friend decided to modify the lip of the jump.  Kim was the first to attempt a backflip after the modifications were made and as she was about to go airborne, the new lip crumbled and she landed on her head.  

Photo provided by Kim Constantinesco

Photo provided by Kim Constantinesco

Kim had numbness in her arm immediately after the injury, but was able to get back down the mountain under her own power.  Her shoulder was most symptomatic after the accident, but after countless X-rays, cortisone shots and physical therapy appointments Kim's pain couldn't be relieved.  Kim then decided to switch to a new doctor, who started looking at her neck.  This doctor discovered herniated discs in c5 c6.  In an attempt to avoid surgery she tried spine injections and once again found no relief.  Eventually Kim needed an anterior discectomy fusion, which is the same surgery that Peyton Manning underwent.  During this surgery, the doctor discovered Kim had chipped a piece of her vertebrae in addition to her herniated disks.  The surgery required the removal of the damaged discs and replacing them with cadaver bone. To fuse the bones the surgeon had to insert a metal plate and four screws.  Kim was then forced to wear a c-collar after surgery for 12 weeks.  This proved to be a difficult task because she has always had a hard time sitting still.  This experience eventually helped break the ice with Peyton Manning while Kim was covering the Denver Broncos. 

Photo provided by Kim Constantinesco

Photo provided by Kim Constantinesco

After being forced to sit out from activities that brought her the greatest joy, Kim found it difficult to watch her friends do what she loved.  This period of healing is difficult for most athletes.  Kim has a background in psychology and used some visualization techniques to help her through this difficult time.  She also constantly reminded herself that these feelings weren't going to be forever. She set her sights on running the New York City Marathon.  Setting goals during your recovery is another way to manage the mental and emotional struggles associated with rehabbing from an injury.

In our interview, Kim also talked about overcoming the fears associated with getting back on her board. Kim actually went back to Keystone exactly one year from the anniversary and tried another back flip.  This was after two months of physical therapy and after receiving full medical clearance from her doctors.  Leading up to this moment she pictured and rehearsed successful flips in her mind. A mental trick she uses when she has a negative thought is to picture the placing the thought in a windowless room with a chair and shackles.  She then takes the thought and shackles it to the chair, shuts the light off and closes the door and throws the key away.

Photo provided by Kim Constantinesco

Photo provided by Kim Constantinesco

"I believe fear is something that deserves to be recognized and it can actually help us in certain situations.  I like to examine fear and put it under the microscope and try to figure out a way to manipulate that fear into something more productive."

Kim believes fear deserves to be recognized, but she tries to figure out how to manipulate that fear into something that is productive. Kim's psychology background makes this episode extremely valuable because she is comfortable at dissecting and communicating her emotions. In addition, we discussed ways athletes can best navigate the stages of grief, which include denial, anger and acceptance.  

Kim covered the Broncos during "Tebow Mania" and of course I had to ask about our boy Timmy in the interview.  Her observation about Tim is that football was just a job for him and it was not his life’s purpose. There is a lot more to life than football and all sports for that matter. Kim eventually became tired of covering the same stories in the NFL and decided to start Purpose 2 Play at the end of 2013.  I asked about some common threads that come up from her interviewees and she said all of them learned how to turn adversity into triumph. Kim also wrote a children's book called "Solar the Polar" which is described as a fun winter romp that gives a gentle nod to Arctic warming, snow safety, and enjoying life with a disability. If you enjoy this podcast, you will also love the stories on Purpose 2 Play! This fall, running sports journalism program for teens, where teens can interview athletes and publish on Purpose 2 Play

To close out the interview I asked Kim what her thoughts were on parents not letting their kids play sports because of fear of injury.  Although not a Mom, she says she probably wouldn't let her kid play football unless he was a kicker, but experiencing the glory and the tragedy is a key learning concept and sports serve as practice for life.  Thanks to social media, it is easy to compare ourselves to others and to focus on results instead of the journey.  Because of this, Kim's advice to athletes is to appreciate the attempt, the training, and the early alarm clocks.  

WHERE CAN YOU find Purpose 2 play?

WEBSITE | INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | YOUTUBE

WHERE CAN YOU FOLLOW Kim constantinesco?

INSTAGRAM | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

Download Episode 71 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud