The 31-year-old who inhabits this room today has the same tall build, the same dark hair and mustache. But the Norm Constantine whom his mother recalls as a "great conversationalist" cannot talk. The Norm Constantine who wore a fuzzy lion suit and delighted crowds with his handsprings and one-armed pushups cannot walk. For his room is in a Somerton nursing home, and Constantine, partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, can communicate only in limited ways.
Eight years ago, it took a hit-and-run driver mere seconds to turn Constantine's highly promising future into a slow and painful struggle toward the unknown.
But Constantine's cause has never ceased to inspire. To this day his family hears of people choosing to work with the handicapped because of Norm. To this day his family receives letters from strangers, cards that might come with a $5 bill inside.
As Richard Dorman, associate executive director of the Penn State Alumni Association, said of Norm Constantine, "His is a story that should not be forgotten."
One Saturday evening last month, Norman Constantine and his family were honored at a dinner-dance benefiting the Keystone State Head Injury Foundation, an advocacy and support organization.
But tributes are nothing new to the Constantines. It is selflessness that seems to drive them.
Cy and Eleanor Constantine, married 39 years, run an advertising specialty business out of their home in the Bell's Corner section of the Northeast and are, their daughter Lori Madvedoff says, "the busiest people on the Earth." Cy Constantine is also a magician who entertains handicapped youngsters and senior citizens.
The Constantines raised three children. Norman, their youngest, displayed exceptional energy early on. At 12 he began studying karate. His brother, Ray, thought Norm might try that for a while and then drop out, but Norm stuck with it. He was active in scouting. At 16 he went backpacking through Europe with Ray.
When Norm was at Northeast High School, a friend working at the Pinehill Rehabilitation Center on Verree Road told him that the center needed volunteers to assist the retarded students. Norm went there over Christmas vacation and liked it. He started going after class.
From then on, Norm's undertakings on behalf of the less fortunate multiplied. After enrolling at Penn State as a therapeutic recreation major, he spent countless hours assisting at homes and schools for the disabled and retarded, coaching at Special Olympics, running handicapped sports programs and working at an Easter Seals camp. He studied sign language and performed mime and magic shows.
His most visible accomplishments came after he topped about 60 candidates for the mascot job, which he likened to "the best seat in the house." He was a spirited fixture at Penn State sporting events and made hundreds of public service appearances, including visits to hospital patients and nursery schools.
After graduating in 1980, Norm was hired as a recreational therapist for the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Philadelphia. He also helped found a challenging martial arts program for the handicapped and taught it at various rehabilitation centers. He was one of only a handful of people in the nation able to instruct such a course.
In September 1981, Norm, then 23, coordinated a noncompetitive sporting and entertainment event for the disabled called the Philadelphia Adapted Games Festival at Rhawnhurst Memorial Recreation Center. He told a television reporter that the games would be an eye-opener for people unaware of the concerns and abilities of the handicapped.
The following month, Norm and a friend were planning a camping trip. But the friend broke a leg and they didn't go.
Instead, Norm stayed in Philadelphia and went one night to a friend's home in Roxborough for a party.
Vivid memories of what happened later that night remain seared in the minds of the Constantine family.
Norm left the party shortly after 2 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 17, 1981. As he was unlocking his car door, another car came racing down the street, struck two parked cars and plowed into Norman, knocking him about 35 feet into the road and, gravest among his injuries, fracturing his skull. The driver took off and has never been found.
In a coma, Norm was taken to Chestnut Hill Hospital, then to Episcopal, where his family kept a vigil for a week. "Every machine he could be hooked up to, he was hooked up to," his sister recalled. Friends of Norman jammed the hospital waiting room and the telephone lines.
He underwent brain surgery and went through a succession of hospitals and care centers. "Every time there was a change, we didn't know what to do," Lori said. The questions facing the family were scary ones, she said: "Where is he going to go? What are we going to do with him?"
While Norm was comatose, the family had visitors sign messages to him in a spiral notebook. Its pages quickly filled. Pictures and cards lined his room. His parents would play him Penn State fight songs, or the radio, or a tape of everyday sounds.
Seven months went by before Norm, by then at the Mayo Nursing and Convalescent Home on Edison Avenue, gradually emerged from the coma. When friends from Moss Rehabilitation Hospital came by and thought he was starting to respond, he was moved to Moss and began the painstaking process of rehabilitation.
But progress has been hard-won and excruciatingly gradual - not in terms of weeks or months, Lori Madvedoff said, but in years.
Today, Norm lives at Mayo and is an outpatient three days a week at Moss' Drucker Brain Injury Center. He is able to move only his right side. Private- duty aides and a nurse attend to him round the clock, and he is, his sister said, "totally, totally dependent." His care since the accident has cost a staggering $4 million, much of it covered so far by insurance.
Norm is primarily fed and can eat only food that has been prepared in a blender. While he sleeps, an aide must turn him every two hours; he cannot turn by himself. During the day he has to be stood up several times. He requires daily medication to prevent seizures.
In the evening, his nurse feeds him dinner, gives him a bath, washes his hair, watches and discusses the news with him and asks him questions out of educational workbooks.
Norm, those who know him say, understands most everything that goes on around him. Although unable to speak or write, he can use an alphabet board a little and otherwise communicates through eye motions and sign spelling with his right hand - such as the symbol "Y" for yes or "N" for no, or the sign for "I love you."
Four days a week he works with a physical therapist. "There's no way Norm would be in the condition he's in now if he didn't have constant, constant therapy," his sister said, for his muscles would atrophy.
When Norm goes out, he is transported in a special lift-equipped van that his family acquired with the aid of friends who sponsored a fund-raising dinner-dance. But lately the van, a 1984 model, has not always cooperated. There have been times, his parents said, when Norm has been unable to go somewhere because the van wasn't working.
The van willing, though, a driver takes Norm to Moss on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
From a physical standpoint, "Norman is pretty well where he's going to be," said neuropsychologist Dan Keating, program manager at Moss' Drucker center. Norm's therapy program now, Keating said, aims for him to participate as much as possible in what Keating calls a "daily activity pattern."
Keating said Norm had worked on self-expression through painting and had decorated T-shirts for the staff at Moss. Norm also works on socialization and is taken on trips to such places as museums, the movies or shopping malls so he can interact with others, Keating said.
Since Norm, who is "disabled physically more than cognitively," does have a language system, Keating said, his needs now are to communicate about something and with other people.
Norm's parents and siblings visit with him frequently. When they do, Norm may manage a one-armed hug ("My mother and I get the hugs," his sister said). They talk to him about current events and keep him abreast of developments in their lives.
But most of Norm's sign language is in response, his family said, and he does not often initiate it. He shows signs of a sense of humor and will laugh at the punchline of a joke. "It's a very frustrating thing" because his sense of humor is not what it was before the accident, but it's something to work on, Lori said.
Early on, when the Constantines showed Norm home videos of his karate or Lion days, he got very agitated. They don't do it anymore. Norm's attention span is short and he gets frustrated easily, his family said. "Sometimes you feel like shaking him," Lori said.
The Constantines can also sense sadness on Norm's part; he sometimes gets depressed. When he does, they try to tell him jokes, hug him, be there for him. His mother said she doesn't want Norm to see his family upset; if her husband gets emotional in Norm's presence, she said, she makes him leave the room.
Norm's room, originally semiprivate, is being used as a private room. Three times he has had elderly roommates who died, and the deaths upset Norm, his family said.
In the early days after the accident, the Constantines said, the popular Norman was overrun by friends. But the numbers have dwindled as some have dropped out of touch, and others have been unable to handle what befell him. These days, few friends come by, although his nurse said Norm loves to have visitors.
The tragedy has had an incalculable effect on the Constantines - "like the family before the accident and the family after the accident," Ray Constantine said. Sometimes, Ray said, he'll go out and have fun - then he'll think about his brother, and he won't have a good time anymore.
"We use each other's shoulders to lean on," Lori Madvedoff said. The Constantines also participate in head injury support groups.
Inevitably the family's thoughts wander to the what-might-have-beens, to what Norm could have accomplished, since "anything Norm wanted to do he did, and anything he did he did well," his sister said.
Lori often thinks about how Norm, a family man who used to sign cards to her "Little Bro," would probably have been married. She wonders what her sister-in-law would have been like. Ray, the father of three, wonders about nieces and nephews he might have had.
"I miss how my children would have been with him," said Lori, who has two young sons and knows how much Norm enjoyed children. "He would have been a great uncle."
Nevertheless, she said, "Uncle Norm is a part of the family." Her son Michael, 3, will climb up on Norm's wheelchair and give him a hug. Lori said she has explained to Michael that Norm's condition is due to "a severe boo- boo on his head" from a car accident.
Family occasions remain a time for Norm to share in. Ray has occasionally taken him to rock concerts. Several years ago Norm attended his sister's wedding. On holidays the family has put up cards in his room and strung up Hanukah decorations. For his 30th birthday last year, the Constantines threw Norm a party, complete with 75 guests, a disc jockey and a belly dancer. Norm, they said, was smiling.
And this Thanksgiving, Norm and the rest of his family were invited to the home of Lori Madvedoff's sister-in-law for the holiday.
As Lori's personal situation has changed, so has her perspective. "Now that I have children, I see how much more painful it is" for her parents, she said, to see how something could happen to a child.
But as difficult as it is for them, Cy Constantine said, "it's worse for Norman. We can get up and leave."
The changes the Constantines have made to accommodate Norm's needs extend to their homes. The Constantines installed a ramp that allows Norm's wheelchair to be rolled up through their front door. And when Lori, who lives in Plymouth Meeting, looked for a house, she looked for one without steps.
Norm goes home to visit three or four times a month, his parents said. Much as he may need the leisure, "I'd rather see him work with the therapy,
because who knows where that will lead?" his mother said.
Norm's trips have also taken him to ceremonies to be honored by those who have not forgotten his achievements.
In November 1985, Norm was awarded a fifth-degree black belt in karate. When Ted Vollrath, a double amputee who had instructed Norm in teaching martial arts to the handicapped, made the presentation, he said he'd "never seen a better physical specimen in all my life" than Norm before his accident. The fifth-degree level, Vollrath said, was what he felt Norm would have achieved had he not become disabled.
And on Oct. 31, 1987, Norm returned for the first time to Penn State's football stadium to witness the establishment of the Norm Constantine Scholarship Fund, which benefits the Nittany Lion mascot. Norm, along with his nurse, flew by medical helicopter to State College. His family brought him out through the cheerleaders' formation to the 20-yard line.
His father can still remember the public-address announcement: " 'Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention.' You could hear a pin drop." And 85,000 fans stood and cheered for Norm Constantine.
Even now at Penn State games, his family said, fund-raisers for Norm will be announced at halftime. Richard Dorman, of the alumni group, said interest in benefit activities for Norm was starting to pick up again.
And all the while, the Constantines have been there to support and encourage Norm and to fight for a productive future they would give anything for him to have.
"We don't give up," Eleanor Constantine said. "We think maybe Norm will talk one day, maybe walk one day."
"He'll do it soon," Cy Constantine said. "I hope it's in my lifetime."
And Ray Constantine, who has a hard time visiting Norm because they used to sleep in the same room, has an especially poignant wish: "All I want him to do is say, 'What's happening, bro?' "