PHOTO COURTESY OF LAXIN4TONY

Seventeen years after he was paralyzed on a lacrosse field, Tony Ciccone still finds hope in the community.

‘Angels Are Everywhere,’ the Tony Ciccone Story


Tony Ciccone’s life turned upside down on April 2, 2001, when he was paralyzed in the Fox Lane (N.Y.) High School boys’ lacrosse team’s first game of his senior season. But his prospects have improved greatly over the last eight years thanks to the support of the Laxin4Tony Jamboree.

The tournament annually brings approximately 100 teams from the New York tri-state area and raises approximately $25,000 for Help Hope Live, a fundraising initiative that pays for Ciccone’s uncovered medical and related expenses. The funds raised have helped to pay for rehabilitation equipment and technology that allow him more independence.

“The difference is immense,” said Ciccone, now 35 and living in Stamford, Conn. “From a health standpoint, from me before to after, the quality of life has grown exponentially. It’s crazy. I was in the hospital a lot before, because I used to get sick a lot. Now I’m able to be more active and get out, so it’s a pretty considerable change. It’s helped a lot. It’s a night-and-day difference between what I used to do. It’s hard to express in words. I can’t imagine how rough it’d be or where I’d be without it.”


“I don’t blame lacrosse. ... I still like the sport. If I could, I’d pick up a stick and throw it around.”


Ciccone was a three-sport athlete at Fox Lane. He loved to play football, captained the wrestling team and was a sturdy defender for the lacrosse team.

“Tony was a tireless worker who put forth tremendous effort on the field,” said ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra, who was Ciccone’s coach at Fox Lane. “He asserted himself as a leader on the defensive side of the field for our team. He was a strong communicator who played tough defense. Winning and gaining the respect of his teammates and coaches was important to Tony. Everyone had a lot of respect for the way he gave 100 percent at all times.”

In school, Ciccone was an outstanding student who took advanced placement classes. He had aspirations to go to college and law school.

“He was Mr. Popular at school,” said Ciccone’s mother, Linda. “He never drank or did drugs. He taught people you could be a jock and not drink and do drugs. He had their respect. Once you have that respect, you exude it almost.”

A collision on the lacrosse field left Ciccone with partially fractured fourth and fifth vertebrae and a damaged spinal cord. He was paralyzed from the chest down. Ciccone has some use of his arms, but his fingers and hands don’t have full function.

“It was devastating to the kids on the team and the community,” said Chris Coughlin, the middle school coach at the time and now athletic director in the Bedford Central school district. “It was a team captain that went down with a freak injury.”

Ciccone holds nothing against the sport.

“Mine was a fluke accident,” Ciccone said. “I don’t blame lacrosse. There was nothing that could be done. I was a big guy at the time. I was big and I must have been hit at a funny angle. It took me a while to watch lacrosse again. I still like the sport. If I could, I’d pick up a stick and throw it around. It did take a while to watch the sport again.”








Ciccone’s recovery initially went well, but as the expenses piled up, he and his mother left Bedford Hills. They moved to New York at first and then to New Jersey, where his medical care wasn’t as good.

“Things got tougher,” Ciccone said. “It’s pretty expensive to basically exist. I needed help to get out of bed, eating and getting into bed, a lot. It was pretty rough for sure. Because we moved, we were more isolated. When we were in Bedford, people were close.”

Ciccone grew more isolated while recovering in bed for nearly 13 months after having emergency surgery to treat a life-threatening case of gangrene. It was a low point for Ciccone.

“It’s a pretty dismal existence,” he said. “You don’t realize when you’re in it how bad your mindset is. I kept getting more and more isolated. It was a pretty dark place for sure. I’ve always been pretty positive. Looking back, I realize it was so much worse.”

Things began to look up when he moved to Stamford, within 30 minutes of Bedford, and some locals organized Laxin4Tony in 2010.

“Angels are everywhere,” Ciccone’s mother said. “The [lacrosse] community became our angel.”

Members from the Fox Lane Youth Lacrosse organization put together the Laxin4Tony Jamboree to raise funds for Ciccone’s medical needs that were not covered by Medicaid. The tournament includes a first and second grade mini-jam as well as third- through eighth-grade divisions for boys and girls.

“Our objective is to make his life better,” said Brian Greene, one of the event organizers. “Tony was a member of our community, a kid who was a member of our athletic department. He got hurt playing for the Bedford Central schools. We want to support him.

“They’ve been able to give him the money to help. It’s gone from him not having anything to helping to support everything. And quite honestly, we think we can do much better.”

There are changes in store for Laxin4Tony for 2019. The event will be moved up from June to May to avoid overlap with summer club lacrosse events, and that move also could bring some cooler weather. Quadriplegics lose their ability to sweat, so on hot tournament days it’s hard for Ciccone to keep his body temperature down. Laxin4Tony will tie in with Bedford Central’s spring homecoming in May and make it a more all-encompassing event for the area.

“Tony did get hurt playing lacrosse, and we want the lacrosse community to embrace it, but I look at it as Tony could have got hurt playing badminton or tiddlywinks and we’d support him,” Greene said. “We try to go for the whole community, not just the lacrosse community.”

Whereas Ciccone once had a hard time watching lacrosse, he looks forward to his annual trips to the Laxin4Tony Jamboree. Players, parents, volunteers, coaches and officials pose for pictures with Ciccone, tell him what an inspiration he is, and enjoy lacrosse together to support his well-being.

“These kids from first to eighth grade, they’re having fun,” Ciccone said. “Everyone has a great time. I’ve met a lot of kids, and they seem to love the sport. We’ve had teams from as far as Pennsylvania. They want to come back. It’s hard to feel bad during that time. Everyone is smiling and having a good time. You can’t be there having a bad time. It’s positive and upbeat. Financially it helps a lot. It’s uplifting at the same time.”

The community rallies around him.

“It not only helps Tony, it presents an amazing opportunity for our youth lacrosse players all the way through our high school players to have a direct tie to a person that needs it,” Coughlin said. “This is unique to our community here, and they’re able to help. It provides a grounding point for the kids in our community. Part of being a good person is giving back to the people that need the help.”




PHOTO COURTESY OF WHEELS4TONY

Ciccone, pictured with his mother, Linda, is only one semester away from graduating from college, with an interest in animation and video editing.


Ciccone has enjoyed wholesale changes in his life since Laxin4Tony began. He lost 70 pounds after moving to Stamford. It helped that Laxin4Tony proceeds were used to purchase an FES leg cycle that stimulates his leg muscles and allows him to exercise, a computer that allows him more productivity, adaptive technology and voice-controlled equipment to monitor and adjust his needs, and a standing frame that allows Ciccone to stand for 30-60 minutes per day.

“It feels good to be back up,” Ciccone said. “That’s helped a lot. The bike helped a ton. I got both got through the fund. It was through the tournament that we got them.”

Those changes have produced some important steps for Ciccone personally and socially. He was in a serious relationship, something he wasn’t sure would ever happen after his accident. He also started working part-time five months ago for Stamford Peace, a non-profit youth basketball organization that offers subsidized tutoring. Ciccone did animation and video editing for their webpages.

Ciccone is only one semester away from graduating from college. He’s done most of his studies at New School University, but is hoping to finish at nearby UConn.

“It’s a top priority,” Ciccone said. “I’ve always been very education-oriented. I’ve always been into computer languages. Lately, I’m getting into more animation and video editing. I can run a computer fairly well. Lots of computer stuff opened up. Pretty soon, I’ll make sure I get back into it.”

 

 

One hurdle for now is transportation. It’s been two years since Ciccone’s handicap-accessible van broke down beyond repair. Ciccone is trying to find the means to buy another van to travel to work, school and to socialize. Ciccone depends on Norwalk Transit Authority, but the scheduling flexibility isn’t there that his van offered and he’s frequently isolated without it.

“It gave me a lot of freedom,” Ciccone said.

Being stuck at home means friends have to come visit him. Not everyone knew how to react to his accident, but he’s been reconnecting more.

“It’s hard,” Linda Ciccone said. “It definitely was a life change. A lot of his high school football team is coming over at least once a week. We’re rebuilding old roots. It’s going back to what it was like before the accident.”

Family friend Terry Mackin has helped to organize Wheels4Tony to purchase a new van. They are hoping to raise $60,000, and hoping it will bring another dimension back to Ciccone’s life in the same way that Laxin4Tony has helped.

“I feel good,” Ciccone said. “I’m being social. I’m doing the working thing. Overall things are a lot more positive than things could be for sure, and a lot more positive than they used to be.”