Defenseman Kevin Tansey is on a Google Meet with me from a chalet-style house in Denmark, where his Herning Blue Fox are currently enjoying a 10-game win streak and first place in the nation's top league, the Metal Ligaen. His physical, punishing style of play lends itself to a lot of bumps and bruises, but after a traumatic crime turned his life upside-down as a teenager, the Canadian import has found a way to deal with pain in a natural way: A CBD topical cream called ImpActive.
Tansey, the founder of ImpActive CBD, had just completed his freshman year with NCAA Clarkson back in 2012 and, at 19, was excited about his future.
"I had a good first year," he said. "I was talking to NHL teams and going to camps."
He was at a buddy's house in Ottawa for a summer hockey school one night and had gone to his car to grab his overnight bag when he was jumped by an unknown assailant and bludgeoned with a blunt object.
"My skull was cracked, my brain was bleeding and I was in a coma for just under two days," Tansey said. "I had three ribs broken and my shoulder was broken – which resulted in 17 or 18 dislocations and surgery after. I was holding on for dear life, to be honest with you. For a couple days, they weren't sure if I was going to make it."
Luckily, Tansey pulled through. But for the next three weeks, he couldn't remember anything and would wake up thinking he was back at Clarkson or in Toronto with friends.
"That was the first time I had been given painkillers or Percocet," he said. "It put me in a fog and I was in a ton of pain, but it numbed that. I didn't really like it and tried to stay away from it, but at the same time I was dealing with mental and emotional thoughts of never playing hockey again."
Tansey lost 80 pounds during his three weeks at the hospital and his doctor cautioned against him playing hockey due to his head trauma. That crushing diagnosis helped lead to a dependency on painkillers and Tansey went through some dark times.
He obviously missed the entire 2012-13 campaign with Clarkson but did return the next year, though he was still dependent on painkillers – using them after games when he blocked a shot or simply to deal with the trauma he had experienced that night in Ottawa.
During his junior and senior years with the Golden Knights, Tansey rallied and realized he needed to kick his painkiller habit. Friends and family helped, even though he didn't reveal much about what he was going through. Then he turned pro and got an eye-opener on painkillers in sports.
"Once I turned pro, it shocked me how easily available these things were to players," he said. "There wasn't a natural way to recover."
Soon after, Tansey was introduced to CBD – which comes from hemp plants but does not cause the highs of marijuana. Getting medical relief for pain without a mental high was incredible for him.
"That was a huge turning point for my career and my life," he said. "I wasn't numbing the pain and going into a mental fog."
In 2020, Tansey teamed up with a friend whose previous CBD business had folded for a new venture. Tansey had once again dislocated his shoulder while playing in Czechia for Orli Znojmo, and since the team needed someone else for the playoffs, they bought out his contract, giving him a nice little cash advance for the venture. He and his buddy started selling their product online and were bought by a bigger company, then relaunched ImpActive this fall.
The pitch for their product was simple: For athletes, by athletes, ImpActive gave players a choice for natural pain relief. The product comes in a roll-on stick and once applied, provides anti-inflammatory effects within a few minutes.
"The effect is local and you don't feel any fog in your brain," he said. "It's not going to hurt you 20 years down the line or lead to dependency."
Education is a big part of the company's plans right now. While medical marijuana and many CBD products have become more mainstream in recent years, a lot of people still don't know the differences.
"I remember I was in Toledo, putting it on my leg and one of the players wasn't familiar with the cannabis plant," he said. "He asked 'Is your leg getting high right now?' And that's not what it does; it just helps with pain and tightness and loosens everything up. It's definitely nice to have."
ImpActive is currently sold online and can be shipped to the United States and Europe (the company is waiting on new Canadian legislation before entering that market). Tansey notes that it won't trigger a drug test and is made in FDA-certified labs in Colorado.
The CBD market is already crowded, but Tansey is hoping that ImpActive's branding and message can find the company its niche: The mission to reduce painkiller use by athletes. For a player who has gone through 12 broken bones, 21 shoulder dislocations, two surgeries and three concussions in his career, he certainly knows what he's talking about. And with the trauma he accrued off the ice as a teenager, he knows how important it is to have a pain remedy that can't cause a dependency.