By ALEX SPONSELLER Benny Costantino has always been tough. As a former boxer, the Warwick native finished his career with a 7-3 record and fought in 76 total bouts between the pro and amateur level, as well as a few kickboxing fights in between. The one
By ALEX SPONSELLER Benny Costantino has always been tough.
As a former boxer, the Warwick native finished his career with a 7-3 record and fought in 76 total bouts between the pro and amateur level, as well as a few kickboxing fights in between.
The one constant in those 76 contests? He was never knocked out, finished, or even knocked down.
Now, at 49 years old, Costantino faces his toughest opponent yet: The future.
Two years ago, he began experiencing physical and emotional issues that he had never faced in the past. Memory loss, trouble balancing, mood swings, to name a few.
During his career as a fighter and beyond, he underwent 11 orthopedic surgeries including eight on his right arm. He also had an implant put in under his eye, and suffers from autoimmune disease.
However, things began to change fast.
After consulting with neurosurgeons and undergoing testing at the Boston University CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) Center, Costantino was diagnosed with Cavum Septi Pellucidi (CSP), a condition caused by repeated head trauma typically found in boxers and football players. Eighty percent of people that suffer from CTE suffer from CSP initially, with Muhammad Ali being the most notable boxer to have the condition.
“The consensus in boxing was that only the people that got beat up were the ones that got CSP, but as a boxing historian, that’s not true. It goes for all boxers, we’re all at risk,” said Costantino. “But the thing is, as boxers, we don’t want to be bothered. We know what we signed up for and we are not concerned about brain damage when we fight. I’m not saying it’s smart, but I never had any fear about that.”
Costantino now receives injections and visits with neuro doctors twice a year. He will continue a similar regimen for the rest of his life and plans on donating his brain to science.
According to doctors, the older he gets, the worse his symptoms will be. As of now, there is no cure for either CSP or CTE, and the symptoms of each condition will only continue to intensify as time goes on. The two issues could also lead to further neurological health conditions as well.
“You can be injured and have it not show up on a CAT scan and to get an MRI you pretty much have to be dying it seems like. My body is a mess, my recall is terrible, and now I’m about 50 percent more susceptible to things like Dementia and Parkinson's. They told me there is pretty much nothing that they can do and my brain is about 10 years ahead of itself. My white brain matter is already gray and I just turned 49,” said Costantino.
He added: “I have always been able to tough anything out. I’m not special, I’m just an athlete. I have always been able to work through things and push through it. With this though, I can’t out tough it, I can’t out will it, and I can’t outlast it. That’s the thing that is killing me the most. They have recommended me different medicines, but until they give me a pill that can cure my symptoms instead of just alleviate them, I’m not taking it, I’m not a pill guy. I haven’t accepted that part of it, that there is nothing they can do. I find that hard to believe.”
As Costantino continues to battle CSP, his new goal is to shed light on the disease and make a difference in the medical and boxing world.
To start, he hopes to see adjustments made in the way professional boxers are treated by their respective organizations. Whether it be receiving pensions, bonuses, guaranteed salaries, or greater health benefits, Costantino feels that more can be done for fighters around the world.
“Before every fight you sign a death waiver, that is why boxing never gets sued. In boxing, when you have to leave the sport, you get zero. No pension, no bonus, nothing. Also, if you don’t fight then you don’t get paid,” said Costantino. “That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to push more and to hopefully see change. I’m not an old lady with headaches or a guy that banged his head, it’s different. Mine is from injury. You can only get CSP from injury and no ifs, ands or buts, I have an injury. I’ve had three concussions that I know of, I’ve had my face shattered. I can’t even count how many times I have had my bell rung.”
Although the future is uncertain for Costantino and his health, one thing is for sure: He always has and always will be a fighter.
“For the first time in my life, I am afraid. Having children changes you. For the most part, I don’t let it get to me, but if I’m being honest, my future is probably not good. It’s sad to say but things are getting worse,” said Costantino. “I have one million percent, absolutely, positively no regrets. What I did was an accomplishment. You were born with two things on this earth: Your chin, and the punch you can deliver. I was born with a chin and it gave me great opportunities in the sport. Is the future a little scary? Yes, but I have absolutely no regrets.”