Albion's Kevin Riley Takes Year off to Care for Injured Friend

Story by Travis Tekiele, '13

On July 27, 2011, Kevin Riley, an Albion junior lacrosse player from Trumbull, Conn., was spending a relaxing summer day with one of his best friends, Chris O'Brien. They became friends in sixth grade, eventually spending every summer day together despite the fact that they attended rival high schools. On this particular day, they headed to Block Island, R.I., to savor a day on the beach.

"It was a perfect day," says Riley. "There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and we met some awesome people while we were hanging out."

The last thing on anyone's mind was tragedy, but that's what they got. As the day was drawing to a close, the friends decided to race to a buoy before they headed home. Since O'Brien was a Division I swimmer at the College of Charleston, he allowed Riley a head start. As Riley began swimming, he expected his friend to pass him relatively quickly, but he didn't. That's when he looked back.

"I turned my head back and saw a crowd gathering on the beach right near the water, and that's when I knew something was up," Riley recalled. "When I got to the beach, Chris was conscious, and he was actually calm, which was nice to see because that made the rest of us calm."

O'Brien had become injured diving into the water. Fortunately, there were three doctors on the beach who knew how to stabilize his neck and back as they pulled him out of the water and onto the sand. O'Brien was taken to the hospital, and when Riley and his friends finally made it to the emergency room, they were given the news O'Brien was paralyzed from the neck down.

For the remainder of O'Brien's time at the hospital in Providence, Kevin made the two-hour drive to be with his friend three or four days a week. He would sometimes stay overnight to allow O'Brien's parents to have some time to go home.

When asked what it was like visiting his friend in critical condition, Riley smiled and said, "When you got in that room, [Chris] lightened the mood immediately. You had no idea the kid got injured."

O'Brien got sick multiple times during his stay in Providence, including pneumonia, but after about a month in intensive care, he was ready to be moved closer to home. He was relocated to Gaylord Rehab Center in Wallingford, Conn.

This was around the time that Riley was getting ready to return to Albion for his sophomore year. But he was conflicted.

"I knew Albion was a really good place for me, but I wasn't sure if I could leave my friend," Riley admitted. "In fact I knew I couldn't leave him."

After struggling through the decision in his mind, Riley finally talked to his dad and told him that there was no way that he could move so far away from O'Brien. His father was completely supportive of his decision.

Riley also called Albion's men's lacrosse coach, Jake DeCola, to discuss not returning to the team in Albion.

"After I told him the whole story, coach said to me: 'Is Chris family to you?' And I said to him, 'Chris is my brother, and I will do anything for him.'"

After that, he had his coach's full support.

Riley contacted Eastern Connecticut University, where he had been accepted before attending Albion after high school, and started classes there the very next week. Living at Eastern Connecticut also allowed him to be closer to the Wallingford Rehab Center, which was where he spent every weekend.

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