Almost one year ago, right handed pitcher Ryan Radue was told that he had been diagnosed with cancer in his knee and neck in the midst of thriving in the sport that he loves: baseball.
At the end of January, he was completing his final round of chemotherapy at UConn Health, finally being able to say that he was cancer free.
Now, he’s throwing bullpen sessions and is hopeful that he can return to the mound by the end of the season.
“It’s a different scenario than most other ones coming back, so we don’t know a necessary timetable,” Radue said. “It’s kind of just like, get back as fast as you can while still doing it correctly.”
It has been a long, arduous process for Radue, who had to regain all of the muscle he lost while undergoing treatment.
This meant spending six out of seven days undergoing intense lifting, conditioning and stability sessions with the coaching staff in addition to relearning how to throw a baseball all over again.
Radue went over six months without so much as picking up a baseball, so when the time came to start playing catch again, throwing 10 yards felt “foreign”.
“The most difficult part was the strength side of it and getting that back,” Radue said. “Not having any leg or core strength, or any stabilization muscles, that really, really set me back. I’ve been working out a lot with our lifting coach in order to take care of that aspect of it.”
It took a month before Radue got used to the motions again. Once those preliminary four weeks were over, he said, he was able to progress quicker and throw the ball farther more frequently.
According to Radue, with the rehab program UConn has, a pitcher has to be able to consistently throw 180 feet before moving on to more demanding exercises.
Radue was able to reach that distance within two months, which is “rather quick.”
About two weeks ago, he began to throw bullpen sessions, which consist of throwing from the official mound distance- 60 feet, six inches- while practicing all pitches. A pitcher typically starts the session slow, but progressively increases velocity until he is throwing at full speed.
The next step? Throwing live to his teammates.
At the pace Radue has been moving at, it could very well become a reality by the end of the season. But if not, he’s got his final year of eligibility in 2017.
Radue’s comeback has been made easier by working closely with not just his coaches and his teammates, but with his professors and other professionals on campus.
“The support system out here is awesome. Everyone stepped up to the plate even more than I had hoped,” Radue said. “Everyone has gone out of their way to do what they can.”
Luckily for Ryan, classes weren’t such a pressing issue. He graduated early in December (while being treated), and has begun classes for his Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) early.
The program is almost exclusively online, with the exception of one course, which is taken in-class four days per week, typically during the May summer session.
Once that is completed, students must take nine online classes for a 12-week period before they can get their MSA. Usually, students will take three over the summer, three in the fall semester, and three in the spring.
Radue, however, completed his first three online classes this past spring. Because the classes are three weeks shorter than others, he has been able to focus exclusively on his recovery.
With the open space in his schedule, he will be working at an internship over the summer in addition to baseball.
As long as he has to perform a balancing act between academics, work and baseball, he will keep his options “wide open” for the future.
“It’s going to be the kind of thing where, like, ‘we’ll deal with it when we get there’ kind of thing.” Radue said. “Hopefully I’ll have a job offer and then just kind of go from there.”
If an opportunity for baseball presents itself, there will no doubt be excitement and elation for Radue. But after overcoming cancer and harsh chemotherapy and radiation treatment that left his muscles all but depleted, a strong enough comeback might be too far out on the horizon.
“That’d be awesome, but pretty unimaginable after this whole process,” Radue said.
Coming into UConn as a freshman, his plan was always to pitch to the best of his ability and hope that something would come out of it, while simultaneously working hard in school just in case baseball didn’t work out.
In fact, he has already laid out a road map to follow.
“I know for sure I’m going to start out in public accounting, and depending on how much I like that I’ll either stay there or I’ll go into the private sector and hope I get a nice job offer that way,” he said.
Radue hopes to make enough to be able to support his family, as well as his travel endeavors-- exploring the country would be the first thing he would check off his bucket list.
But perhaps most importantly, he especially hopes that he can one day give back to those who gave him his life again.
“Money can only do so much in that aspect,” Radue said. “I feel I should be doing something because of how much they did for me.”
For all the lives that have touched Radue’s, however, there are double the amount of people outside of his personal bubble that he has impacted.
On Saturday, April 16, Radue spoke to a crowd of nearly 700 people at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford for the 7th annual White Coat Gala.
This year, the focus of the gala was exclusively about cancer, according to Josh Newton, president and CEO of the UConn Foundation. The event was so special, he said, not only because it was raising support for UConn’s health centers, but because they were able to weave Radue’s story so perfectly into the night.
“I sat at home and got to preview the video [about Radue] one night before the event, and I had to get up and get myself some tissues,” Newton said. “The story for me was a great illustration, and a reminder of course, of the incredible work happening across our university on a daily basis.”
Newton said that they raised an additional $55,000 in pledges because of the event’s focus on cancer and Radue’s inspiring tale, in addition to the fact that the event garnered $100,000 more than last year because of the focus on cancer and the integration of Radue’s story.
Newton was especially happy to see the positive response to the way that the crowd responded to the event, which he credits not only to the highlight of the cutting-edge facilities at UConn Health, but to the “strength and tenacity” of Radue and his family.
“I do a lot of work in athletics, we do work with both the university and the health center… what a wonderful way to tie it all together,” Newton said. “It’s exciting for me to be able to highlight Ryan… it wasn’t just a story for the White Coat Gala. To me, it’s a story for the university, for our community… In many ways, it really brings together the whole of the university; tying Storrs to [UConn Health] and Health to the university and all of those wonderful things.”