The Wright State basketball team is making a rare summer road trip, traveling to Chicago to visit injured teammate Ryan Custer.
The Raiders piled into a pair of vans early Friday morning to make the five-hour drive to the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, where Custer is rehabbing following an April 8 accident that left him paralyzed.
Teammates made multiple visits to see Custer when he was at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, but this is the first group excursion to see him in Chicago.
“We’re all pumped to see him,” senior guard Grant Benzinger said. “I know a couple of guys already went up to Chicago these past couple weeks, but I haven’t seen him since he was in Cincinnati, and the coaches haven’t, so we’re all really excited to see him and get him in good spirits.”
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Head coach Scott Nagy said they started planning the trip about a month ago once classes ended, but the team had to wait until they knew where Custer would be before picking a date to visit.
After leaving Cincinnati for Chicago on April 22, Custer spent three weeks at the Rush University Medical Center, where he had a stem-cell procedure on May 4. He moved to the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab on May 10, and is expected to be there for at least eight weeks.
“It’s been hard since he moved to Chicago,” Nagy said. “For our players, to be able to see him and see how he’s doing will be good for them. We know it will be good for Ryan.
“When it first happened, everybody rallied and he got to see a lot of people,” Nagy added. “When he went to Chicago I think the reality set in of how difficult this is going to be. Once everything settled down and everybody went back to their lives, he’s stuck with the reality of what has happened and how tough this is going to be. I think it’s very tough for him.”
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Teammates Loudon Love, Mike La Tulip and Cole Gentry are all from the Chicago area, so they visited when they went home at the end of the semester. Another teammate, Trey Stacey, tried to visit last weekend but couldn’t because Custer wasn’t feeling well.
“My little brother had a tournament in Schaumburg so I was texting (Custer’s) parents and planned to visit Saturday and Sunday, but he was a little under the weather,” said Stacey, who had signed a lease to share an apartment with Custer and teammate Parker Ernsthausen. “I’m excited because I haven’t seen him in probably a month.”
The team was planning on returning Friday evening after spending a few hours with Custer.
“It meant a lot to Ryan and our family that the team would make the trip,” said Ryan’s mom, Kim. “It was a nice change of pace during his rehabilitation.”
Benzinger said it feels strange not having Custer around, and the reason he’s not has left a lasting impression on him.
“He was with us all year and then a freak accident happened and he’s no longer with us,” Benzinger said. “It gives you perspective in that anything can happen any day. You never know. Don’t take it for granted.
“It’s changed my outlook,” he continued. “I always felt like I was going to live forever, but after that happened it gives you perspective. It’s crazy, and we’re just praying and hoping for the best for him. Hoping it all gets better.”