Although he was the last person to finish the one-mile Kris Kringle Jingle Walk, part of the Las Vegas Great Santa Run at Town Square Las Vegas, Rick Constantine considered it a victory.
Constantine, a 57-year-old Henderson resident who wasn't supposed to survive after his colon ruptured and wasn't expected to walk after a car crash, defied all odds by completing the one-mile walk in less than two hours on Dec. 3.
"I asked my priest, 'Why am I still alive?' "Constantine said. "He patted me on the leg, smiled at me and said, 'God isn't finished with you yet.' I'm determined to see what God wants from me here."
Constantine is a U.S. Air Force veteran who spent years in auto racing . He developed a competitiveness and a motto to never give up.
In July 2008, Constantine was in a head-on collision and suffered a spinal injury and paralysis on his right side.
At first, doctors said he could recover with surgery and physical therapy.
Constantine already had survived prostate cancer and five heart surgeries. He was determined to survive one more obstacle.
"But then a week later, my colon ruptured," Constantine said.
Doctors said he wouldn't survive the night.
A week later, doctors told a bed-ridden Constantine that because of the surgery on his colon, he wouldn't be able to do physical therapy for months and most likely would never walk again. His doctors even told him he should move into a nursing home for assisted living.
That was a prognosis Constantine would not accept. He worked hard to learn how to use his left hand, a wheel chair and how to transfer himself from the chair to the bathtub or the bed.
"It was an obstacle," Constantine said. "But I wasn't going to a nursing home. I'm too young for that."
After proving that he didn't need assisted living, Constantine moved into an independent living community, Horizon Pines Senior Apartments, 2570 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway, and started physical therapy.
Nevada Housing and Neighborhood Development, which provides housing for low-income individuals, had resident services coordinators work with Constantine to help him get to and from therapy three times a week.
Natalie O'Neal, one of his physical therapists, said he started in an aquatics therapy swimming pool. When he was ready, Constantine moved to the "S uperman machine," which is a harness that supports people as they walk on a treadmill. The machine was designed by Christopher Reeve, the actor noted for playing Superman before an accident left him a quadriplegic. He died in 2004.
"We would develop goals for his progress," O'Neal said. "But then he would go beyond those goals, so we would develop new goals. He is a driven man."
Lauren Teske started to help Constantine in May when he informed her that his goal was to enter the Las Vegas Great Santa Run at Town Square.
Constantine initially told his physical therapists he wanted to walk the three-mile running course.
"We thought it was a big goal," Teske said. "But we were going to shoot for it anyway."
Later, the team found out about the one-mile Kris Kringle Jingle Walk.
"That seemed more feasible," Teske said. "Either way, I was going to walk the whole thing with him."
Teske said she has never had a patient as determined as Constantine.
"Not many people aspire to do something like this," Teske said. "It takes a certain type of person and will power to carry this out."
About 30 minutes before start time, Constantine sat patiently bundled in his leather jacket under his Santa suit as he waited for the rehab center staff to arrive with his gear, which included his walker.
"I'm ready," Constantine said. "I was more worried about getting here on time and figuring out where I needed to be."
On race day, Teske and O'Neal were excited to see him in action.
"We were saying he'd do it in about two hours," O'Neal said. "He thought it would be done in three and a half."
A cadre of friends and family, some of whom drove in from San Diego, walked with Constantine and cheered him on.
Teske said Constantine was as ready as he'd ever be.
"You can't really train for weather," Teske said. "But we have been practicing by taking walks outside."
In the nearly two hours it took him to finish the walk, Constantine took four breaks to sit down. After the five- to 10-minute breaks, he bounced back up and continued his pace.
Most of the 13 supporters stayed to the end. At the finish line, they waved pompoms and cheered as his foot crossed over.
"It feels good," Constantine said. "I couldn't have done it without my support. Maybe the three-mile course next year."
Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at email@example.com or 387-5201.