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Patriots' Ridley leads online campaign to win van for paralyzed ex-teammate

Posted by David D'Onofrio  April 11, 2013 08:16 AM

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Stevan Ridley remembers Matthew Rymer as a competitor, even in practice, when he thinks of their time as high school teammates at Trinity Episcopal Day School in Natchez, Miss. "Was he the most athletic guy out there? No," Ridley told the Natchez Democrat last weekend, "but Matthew Rymer was always a kid who gave 100 percent effort."

And now the Patriots running back says he'll give the same to see that Rymer gets what he needs to realize the goals of his recovery after a car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.

The accident came on New Year's Day of 2010, before which Rymer was an 18-year-old high school senior set to continue his football career at a community college -- but after which he found himself on a ventilator because of an incomplete spinal cord injury between his fifth and sixth vertebrae. According to the Natchez newspaper, that occurred when the GMC truck carrying him and three others careened off the road and collided with a tree, injuring all four passengers, with Rymer and one other suffering injuries considered serious.

Initially, Rymer was paralyzed from the neck down -- though he immediately began attacking rehabilitation, soon regaining the feeling in his chest and eventually becoming able to move his arms, all the while putting in all his hard work with an eye on independence. Already a full-time student at a community college in Natchez, he has designs on leaving his hometown to attend the University of Southern Mississippi, but at present whenever he goes to school or to one of his four weekly therapy sessions he needs to be driven by a family member. And since none of them has a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, those trips include transferring him and his 6-foot, 2-inch body from his chair to the car seat both to and fro.

But that's where Ridley comes in.

Returning to Natchez for his second annual Hometown Huddle, an event that raises money for Ballet Magnificat and the Guardian Shelter for Battered Families, Ridley added another cause to the evening. Having learned that Rymer's occupational therapist, Nayzda Muhammad, planned to enter him in a contest through which an online audience votes for the person they believe deserves to win a customized wheelchair-accessible vehicle, Ridley used his stage -- in Natchez, in New England, and across the nation -- to start stumping for his former teammate.

His efforts started at the Huddle, then spilled over to Twitter, where Ridley told his more than 50,000 followers to vote for Rymer. He retweeted those who told him they did, and some of his Patriots teammates -- Devin McCourty, Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen, and Justin Francis -- spread the word among their sphere of social media influence, as well.

"It's such an honor," Rymer told the Democrat. "He's a great guy, and I thank him so much for getting the word out."

A week after Ridley began campaigning, Rymer had more than 3,300 votes in the contest that helps mark National Mobility Awareness Month with the support of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association. Voting runs through May 10 -- click here to see more on Rymer's story and to vote for him -- and winners will be revealed at the end of that month.

If he wins, Rymer says he intends to get his license, which would enable him to drive himself to school, to "not be a burden" on his family, "to be independent like everybody else." And Ridley intends to put 100 percent effort into making all that happen.

"He still needs to be able to live life and do things, and if that wheelchair-accessible van is what he needs to bring his life that much more joy, we need to do everything in our power as a community to get behind him and make sure he wins that award," Ridley said, according to the Democrat.

"Personally, I'm going to do everything in my power to push and get enough people to vote for him to win that van."

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Dave D'Onofrio follows Boston's pro players away from the field, court or ice, covering their interests and activities in the community and beyond. A Massachusetts native, once his dreams of More »

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