PLEASANT HILL — A College Park High junior varsity wrestler critically injured in a match last week is known around the campus as “everyone’s friend,” and friends and strangers responded powerfully to his family’s plight Tuesday.
Ryan Joseph remained on a breathing machine in the trauma unit at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, paralyzed from the neck down after suffering a spinal cord injury in a 160-pound match during a five-team meet Jan. 10. He has had three surgeries, and faces a lengthy recovery, school Athletic Director Jim Keck said Tuesday afternoon.
An online GoFundMe.com fundraiser had raised more than $47,000 for the family by late Tuesday afternoon. More than $20,000 had come in since late Monday night, when word of Ryan’s injury began to circulate. The Joseph family is seeking $500,000 for the treatment of Ryan’s injuries.
He is the 16-year-old son of former De La Salle football and wrestling star Tom Joseph, and also competed in lacrosse.
“Ryan is well-known by friends, teachers and coaches for his charm, exceptional wit and humor,” Keck said in a statement posted earlier Tuesday to the College Park website. “His family gives heartfelt thanks for the kindness and support they have received from the many communities Ryan has touched at College Park … and Pleasant Hill Elementary School.”
According to a witness whose son is a varsity wrestler for Alhambra High of Martinez, one team at the Jan. 10 meet, Ryan and his opponent were both upright when Ryan’s opponent gained an advantage and maneuvered to take Ryan down. Ryan hit the ground head first, and his neck bent in an unusual way, she said.
“By the way he landed, I knew it had to be a serious injury,” said Aimee Roderick of Martinez. “To me, it looked like the equivalent of diving into a pool that was too shallow.”
“It was not an illegal move, it wasn’t a move that was done with any type of malice,” said Keck, adding that he had never seen such an injury in his 33 years of coaching and working with young athletes.
School athletic officials called 911 immediately. Keck said paramedics and firefighters in the stands came down to help treat Ryan when the seriousness of the injury became apparent.
The GoFundMe campaign dedicated to Ryan describes him as “everyone’s friend.” Keck said Ryan follows the Golden State Warriors closely. “Ryan admires Andre Iguodala for his selflessness, intelligence and willingness to help in any way,” said Keck, adding that Ryan had recently become more serious about weightlifting, but was still a “big joker” with a big sense of humor.
Keck said it is believed Ryan will be in the John Muir Medical Center intensive care unit for six weeks or so, and that his family hopes to later have him admitted to a medical center in Denver for follow-up treatment. The Joseph family also anticipates having to remodel their house to accommodate Ryan’s needs, Keck added.
As for Ryan’s teammates, Keck said the injury has been a vicious blow.
“They did take it pretty hard — obviously, they’re close,” the athletic director said Tuesday afternoon. “Ryan loved every kid on that team, and they all got along with him. It’s a real eclectic group of kids, that’s how wrestlers are. But
they’re in there still working out.”
Staff writer Mike Lefkow contributed to this story.