Maryland attackman Young perseveres despite his mother's death

May 06, 2011|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

Wherever he goes, Maryland senior attackman Ryan Young is reminded of his mother.

Maria Young died on April 17 after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

A quick trip to a local convenience store in College Park recalled the bottles of water and sports drinks that Maria Young devoured during her stay at a hospital near the family's home in Manhassett, N.Y.

An encounter with a cardinal while leaving a class brought back the memory of a framed drawing of the bird above Maria Young's hospital bed.

But rather than depress him, Ryan Young said those prompts have revived the cherished moments he spent with his mother before her death.

"Little things remind me of her," he said. "Things that would lighten the day or lighten my mood, things that make me happy. I'll see little things that will give me a chuckle or a smile."

Despite the burden of dealing with his mother's death, Young has quietly put together one of his finest seasons in his four-year career with the No. 6 Terps (10-3), who host No. 14 Colgate (10-5) at Byrd Stadium on Saturday.

Young leads the team in both assists (20) and points (35), and he is just five goals from surpassing his career high of 19 set two years ago. He joins a pair of classmates in attackman Grant Catalino and long-stick midfielder Brian Farrell as nominees for the Tewaaraton Award, which is given annually to the sport's top player on the collegiate level.

Young's mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the winter of 2008, his freshman year.

After games on Saturdays, Young would usually travel back to New York to spend Sundays and some Mondays with his mother.

The situation appeared dire after Maryland's 9-8 overtime loss to Duke on March 5 due to concerns that his mother's health had taken a turn for the worse. But Maria Young improved slightly, allowing her son to return to campus.

Despite the strain, however, Ryan Young did not share his personal ordeal with his teammates. Senior attackman Travis Reed, one of Young's closest friends on the team, said he and his teammates never worried about Young bottling his emotions.

"I think that it's just part of his personality," Reed said. "If anything were to ever get to the point where he needs to talk about it, he knows he can talk to us about it. I just think it's part of his personality. Both of his brothers are the same way, too. I just don't think they like to talk about it too much."

Young agreed, saying, "I don't like to bring my problems onto other people because I think I can deal with them myself and with my family. So I don't try to bring it to my teammates even though I know that they would want to help me deal with it and help me out."

Coach John Tillman said he repeatedly encouraged Young to take more time off to be with his mother, but he also said he recognized Young's desire to return to the routine of practices and classes.

"Being around his teammates and his brothers, I think that's his best way of healing," Tillman said. "Being around the 49 guys on our team, getting their support, that environment has been really helpful for him."

Young was at his mother's bedside when she eventually succumbed to the cancer at 11:40 p.m. on April 17.

"I was actually holding her hand when she took her last breath," he said. "It was obviously terribly sad to see her like that, but it was nice to know that I was with her and I was escorting her into eternity. It was nice to know I was by her side when she passed."

Two days later, Young was back at practice and that weekend, the Terps defeated both North Carolina and Duke to capture the school's first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship since 2005.

At the tournament, Maryland players wore decals with the initials "MY," the coaching staff donned purple shirts to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer, and the team's fans and alumni brandished purple shirts with the words "Forever Young" on them.

"It was pretty crazy knowing how much support I had," Young said. "I kind of got choked up during the national anthem when I looked up in the stands and saw everybody wearing the 'Forever Young' shirts. Like I said, my teammates have been incredible, and I kind of expected them to do something. Words cannot explain how much they have meant to me over these last two weeks."

This year's Maryland squad may be the program's most talented since the 2006 team that reached the final four. Having met one of Maria Young's goals to have Ryan graduate with an ACC title, the Terps are eyeing satisfying the other part of her directive: capturing what would be the school's first national championship since 1975.

"Ever since I've been here, we've always played with a sense of purpose, with a chip on our shoulders because that's just the way we are," Young said. "But this year's team, the way that we've come together in the past few weeks, it's definitely upped the ante. … We know that my mom is watching over us. You can tell just by what happened in those two games in the ACC tournament. We like that she's on our side."

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