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NWAC HEADLINES

Lane CC athlete faces toughest hurdle yet

Schroeder: The Register-Guard - Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Larry Ragsdale

Eugene, OR -- The blue rubber bracelets cost $2, and proclaim the message: "Everybody Loves Larry." And everybody wearing them says if you knew Larry Ragsdale, you'd love him, too.

Everybody talks about his infectious exuberance, how his ever-present smile lights up a room, how people just gravitate to him. Everybody says Larry is the most fiercely competitive person you'll ever meet, how he won't settle for second place, how he always believes he can achieve - and almost always does.

And everybody desperately hopes the latter traits will reawaken the former. Because everybody still finds it hard to see Larry lying in a coma after a head-on collision with a drunk driver.

"We want him back," says Cathy Ragsdale, Larry's mother, "to being Larry."

Until two months ago, the possibilities for Larry seemed endless.

At 20, he ran track for Lane Community College, and he was expected to be a serious contender this season in the 400-meter hurdles and in relays. He might have played football next fall at a four-year school. He wanted to become a commercial pilot. Or a paramedic. Or a firefighter.

The point is, Larry's options were wide-open. Now the future is uncertain, and no one is sure what is possible.

Larry has been in the hospital in Corvallis since March 11, when he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a crash on Highway 99 just north of Monroe.

Shane Chambers, 31, of Corvallis, has been charged with driving while under the influence of intoxicants, assault, reckless driving and reckless endangerment after the Jeep Cherokee he was driving crossed the center line and slammed into Larry's Chevy Cavalier. Chambers is in the Benton County Jail.

Larry remains in a coma, though there has been progress. Recently, he's been tracking friends and family members with his eyes. Not long ago, at his girlfriend's request, he wiggled his toes and moved his left leg.

"I'm so hopeful," says Kelcie Yeoman, his girlfriend for almost four years now. "I have so much faith in Larry."

At Illinois Valley High School in Cave Junction, Larry didn't stand out in the crowd. Not until you realized the crowd had gathered around him, attracted to his effervescent personality.

And when Larry got onto the field, never mind that he was maybe 5-foot-6, and perhaps 130 pounds, he was a star.

As a senior, he rushed for more than 1,800 yards and 33 touchdowns, helping the Cougars to an undefeated regular season. In November 2007, Larry made Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" feature after a spectacular performance against Pleasant Hill (395 yards rushing, six touchdowns, an 80-yard TD catch and an interception).

The next spring, Larry won the state championship in the 300-meter hurdles, and it was that performance that caught Grady O'Connor's eye.

The LCC track coach liked what he saw from the undersized hurdler. But then O'Connor met Larry.

"I just fell in love," O'Connor says. "He's the kind of athlete I love coaching."

Larry loved competing. Although he lived in Corvallis, where Kelcie was going to school, he never missed a practice at LCC. He was usually the first guy there, and quickly became one of the most popular team members.

"Picture the greatest person you can think of," says LCC's Kevin Godfrey, "and it really is him."

O'Connor expected big things from Larry this season. But two days before the first meet, Larry and Kelcie were returning to Corvallis from Eugene. They were in separate cars, and Kelcie had fallen a short distance behind.

Suddenly she came upon a Jeep Cherokee upside down in the middle of the highway. She dialed 911. And then she saw Larry's 2002 Cavalier facing the wrong way, in the wrong lane.

Larry was wearing his seatbelt, and the airbag had deployed. But he was slumped toward the passenger's seat, and he was pinned down by the dashboard and steering wheel, and he was unconscious.

Kelcie talked with Larry and held him, keeping his airway open. Then the helicopter arrived.

"I knew that was really bad," she says.

Larry suffered a badly broken right arm - healing nicely now, with a titanium plate in place. His head injuries were severe, and doctors initially didn't think he would live.

Larry has been battling a condition known as sympathetic storming, in which his body's fight-or-flight response goes haywire. His heart beats wildly, and his body shakes, and he sweats profusely, and it's as though he were running at full speed and maximum effort for hours.

But little by little, the storming seems to be subsiding.

"We're thinking he's starting to become alert," says John Ragsdale, Larry's father. "We're hoping he's getting ready to wake up any time now."

Larry's medical bills already total more than $500,000. The next step is probably a move to a long-term treatment facility.

Everybody who knows Larry wants to help, and so the folks back home in Cave Junction are buying the bracelets. His LCC teammates took up a spontaneous collection on the team bus and raised $169. A bank account has been set up to accept donations for his medical care.

His mom asks everybody who loves Larry to pray, and to remain hopeful he'll make a full recovery. What would that mean?

At this point, everybody just wants to see Larry smile.

Donations for Larry Ragsdale's medical care may be made at US Bank branch locations. The account number is 153663491261.


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Bill McLaughlin Doron Perkins Maryanne Allard
   
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