|Glen Kulka wants to get the message out to parents: Don't risk your children's long-term health and quality of life if they've been diagnosed with a concussion in contact sports. (QMI Agency file photo)
Glenn Kulka stopped counting his concussions when the number hit 16.
"What's it matter after that?" wondered the former CFL defensive lineman, WWF wrestler, MMA fighter and radio host on the Team 1200 in Ottawa.
Kulka has been following with interest QMI Agency's three-part series on concussions and their long-term implications for the athletes who suffer them, seeing his own experiences reflected in the stories and research which only now are revealing the devastating effects later in life from repeatedly being concussed.
Does the 46-year-old fear for his future?
"Absolutely," he told QMI Agency. "I've got an 8- and a 6-year-old I'm cooking dinner for right now. I wonder how long I'm going to be here and what my quality of life is going to be. Right now I'm sweating it. You peek around the corner and you don't know what's going to be there. The red flag is up."
Research at Boston University into Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy -- the condition which results from repeated concussions -- has revealed victims' brains show the same physical traits as those of Alzheimer's patients. Victims of CTE can experience depression, personality changes and dementia.
Kulka, who now works as a personal trainer for Sculpt Conditioning in Ottawa, has been able to resume physical training only recently, after another bout of dizziness and headaches left him confined in a dark room for almost two weeks.
Just over a year ago, Kulka was knocked cold in the third and final fight of his MMA career.
He was involved in a minor car accident during the summer in which he was rear-ended. He didn't hit his head, but was left, as he put it, "foggy." He became light sensitive and wound up confined to his house for two weeks.
"Go out in a crowd? Not a chance," he said. "I couldn't bend over to tie my shoes. I had headaches all day long. Laying down and closing my eyes was the only way they would subside. Sometimes it took all day. It got to the point where I could sit in a chair and do it, just close my eyes and shut my brain off.
"I became a shell of myself. There was depression and anxiety. It got to the point where I wouldn't answer the phone because, halfway through a sentence, I would forget what I was talking about. I was embarrassed and with that came shame and depression."
After reading the QMI Agency series, he wants to get the message out to parents: Don't risk your children's long-term health and quality of life if they've been diagnosed with a concussion in contact sports.
It's just not worth it.
"I'm shocked by how fanatical hockey parents can get and how they will put the rest of their kid's life at risk because they think they can make it to the pros. We know the stats and how small the percentage is. The word has to get out there these kids have the rest of their lives to live. If your kid has had two or three concussions by the age of 16, you better look at alternative sports that limit the chances of suffering another concussion, so when they're 50 they're not drooling on themselves and relying on their wives to feed them.
"I read a comment from a hockey parent after their kid had suffered a concussion and he asked, 'what's he supposed to do, become a swimmer?' The answer is, 'yeah.' Because I have kids and because what I have been through, I really think that's a discussion parents need to have with a doctor or two.
"There are still scholarship opportunities and a chance to express yourself athletically in other sports like track and field where there's less chance of suffering another concussion. You can still chase your dreams without risking a CTE-type syndrome. Why take the risk?"
It's a question parents musk ask of themselves.