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.
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.
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.
"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.