Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011 | 4:16 p.m.
Santa took on many shapes and sizes this weekend as thousands gathered to run the Las Vegas Great Santa Run at Town Square Saturday morning.
Braving the chilly temperatures and strong winds, runners dressed in five-piece Santa Claus suits, complete with the matching fuzzy hat, to participate in Opportunity Village’s annual holiday event and world challenge for the most Santas assembled in one place.
“It’s a very important fundraising event for people with disabilities who are served at Opportunity Village,” said associate executive director Linda Smith.
All of the proceeds from registration fees, $35 for adult and $25 for kids, go toward Opportunity Village.
Smith said the Great Santa Run has been around for seven years. Three years ago the Las Vegas run won the global contest for the most Santas gathered in one place.
“It’s becoming a tradition,” said Smith, who said early registration numbers show that close to 8,000 people participated in Saturday morning’s run.
One of those Santas, 57-year-old Rick Constantine had made participating in the race a special goal.
Constantine, an Air Force veteran who now volunteers at Opportunity Village, survived prostate cancer and later open-heart surgery but a car accident in July 2008 left him with a spinal cord injury and complete paralysis on his left side. While hospitalized from the accident his colon ruptured and he was told there was nothing that could be done for him.
“The doctors called my family and said that I would not live through the night,” said Constantine. “Good Lord willing I did make it through.”
Another struggle, one that took more willpower than he had ever used, followed soon after.
“They said that I would never walk again,” said Constantine, who refused to be placed in a nursing home. "I said ‘No way, I’m too young for that.’”
He was bedridden until mid-2009. After that, simple tasks, like using the bathroom and opening doors, became a chore that he learned to perform from his wheelchair.
Things changed for Constantine when he entered the HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Henderson.
There he said he learned to walk short distances again. After 2 1/2 years in rehab he shocked his therapists with a goal: He would walk the Santa Run in December.
“As it got closer they saw that I was serious,” he said. “I just made it a goal: I’m going to walk this. I don’t care how long it takes me.”
With the support of his nurses, therapists, family and friends, Constantine arrived at the starting line Saturday to begin his one-mile walk.
His friend, Ken Ash, remembers when Constantine worked as a crew member on his son Dustin’s NASCAR team and knows how far Constantine has come from the tragedies that almost took his life.
“He was a crew member right up until the night he was paralyzed,” said Ash, who participated in the run to support his friend. “For him to come out and do something like this, this is more a competition of life achievement, overcoming something that he once thought he’d given up.”
His therapists estimated that the distance would take Constantine 3 1/2 hours to complete. He blew their estimates out of the water by finishing in a little less than two hours.
Constantine refuses to back down from his challenges.
“I’ve got so many friends and family here to support me,” he said. “I’m going to walk every inch of it. I’m not giving up.”