Inspired by her own snowboarding accident, a Denver writer pens the charming Solar the Polar.
Writers often talk about their “big break,” the pivotal moment when everything changed. For Denver author Kim Constantinesco, the phrase is more literal than figurative. Constantinesco was inspired to write her first children’s book, Solar the Polar, after a botched backflip on her snowboard at Keystone left her with a neck injury that nearly paralyzed her.
It was a Saturday afternoon in February 2011. Constantinesco was hitting a jump in the North Bowl—one she’d tried multiple times that day—when suddenly the lip of the jump collapsed, sending Constantinesco flying toward the ground head-first. She was wearing a helmet, but the blow crushed her C5-C6 spinal segment and chipped one of her vertebrae, an injury that required surgery and extensive rehab. “Walking around today,” she says, “I have a metal plate in my neck, a cadaver bone, and some screws and bolts that will remain in there forever.”
The accident led Constantinesco to an unsettling realization: She had come close—very close—to losing her ability to walk. She needed a way to process this fact, she says, and after a period of contemplation and introspection, she found that writing children’s literature helped. Eventually, after a series of experiments and abandoned drafts, she had a book on her hands: Solar the Polar, about a snowboarding polar bear and a girl named Sunny who skis without the use of her legs.
The book was written in 2014 and published last year, with illustrations by Idaho-based artist Jessica Linn Evans. Since publishing, Constantinesco has toured extensively with the book, visiting classrooms all over Colorado and as far away as New York and Texas. “Regardless of whether or not the kids have ever been skiing or snowboarding before in their lives,” Constantinesco says, “they still seem to connect with the story itself. They’re connecting with these characters.” She gives presentations on adaptive athletes, like Sunny, and brings props like prosthetic legs to pass around classrooms. Her goal, she says, is to acquaint kids with the idea that not all athletes possess the same physical capabilities; it’s the differences between people, not the similarities, that add to the richness of athletic pursuits. “In these classrooms, once I do open it up for questions,” she says, “a lot of the kids will tell me they have an uncle who is missing a finger…or they know someone who is in a wheelchair. They’re bringing up their own real-life experiences, which I think is always a good thing.”
Constantinesco has also used her writing to advocate for adaptive athletes to adult audiences. “There are some really incredible athletes out there who have some physical or cognitive disability, if you want to call it that,” she says, “so I started my own digital publication called Purpose 2 Play, where we tell positive and inspiring stories in sports.”
As for her own snowboarding, Constantinesco refused to be intimidated—or slowed down at all—by the experience that nearly changed her life. Exactly one year after the injury, she returned to the site of the accident and attempted another backflip. “Part of it was to put that fear to rest,” she says, “and the other part was I didn’t want that one incident in my life to define how I live going forward…Once I did it, my body settled down, my brain settled down, and it was like, O.K., as an athlete, you can go back to doing whatever you want, and then some.”