By Olivia Nicoletti
Jan. 9 started like any other day for John Hangey, the head coach of Rider’s wrestling team. His team had finally opened up their wrestling season, suffering a loss against Binghamton. Nothing was out of the ordinary.
But as the team was headed back to Rider, the veteran coach was struggling to get words out of his mouth as he was talking to his head assistant coach, Nic Bedelyon, as they waited for the vans to fill up with gas. Bedelyon and Tim Lengle, the head athletic trainer, insisted that Hangey should go to the hospital once they got back, but he fought them on it.
Once they arrived back at Rider, Hangey was still set on having his wife pick him up so he could go home and try to sleep it off, but yet again, Bedelyon and Lengle reassured him that going to the hospital was the right move — eventually, he relented.
Good thing they did — Hangey was suffering a mild stroke.
“About four o’clock in the morning, I was pretty coherent with everybody as far as the ambulance staff and nursing staff,” the 50-year-old coach said. “They then transferred me over to another hospital, which has a better neurology department.”
That night, he was admitted and eventually discharged in the afternoon two days later. Within such a short amount of time, Hangey was already back to his routine.
“I was on a staff conference zoom call by the next morning. I was back at practice on Wednesday,” Hangey said.
Hangey was physically at practice, but he was not out on the mat with the team. The team had been asking about him, but he was not able to do anything yet, so Bedelyon was running the practice.
“I wanted to be there and just rest their minds that I was okay and that I was doing better,” Hangey explained.
Ethan Laird, a senior wrestler, was initially scared when he had heard the news, but when Hangey showed up at practice he was reassured everything would be fine.
“It was like two or three days, I mean, if you know the guy, he never stops,” Laird said. “He is always going nonstop, so it honestly wasn’t a huge surprise, it didn’t slow him down too much. He’s one of the toughest guys any of us have ever met and seeing him back in the room a couple of days later, it kind of made everyone settle down and made us less scared about what happened. We just have to wrestle better and make it less stressful so we don’t give him strokes.”
Jesse Dellavecchia, a senior wrestler, has always had a close relationship with Hangey and commends him for returning so soon while continuing to have a positive outlook.
“That’s just something that Hangey and Nic preach — to be tough and stubborn,” Dellavecchia said. “He wanted to come back fast and that’s just the kind of person he is. It’s nice to see that when they’re coaching and preaching those things that they actually do it instead of just saying it.”
Hangey became the assistant coach at Rider in 2000 for Head Coach Gary Taylor, serving under him for 17 years until he took over the job in 2017. In his many years of coaching, he had a consistent clean bill of health. However, now having survived a stroke, provided him with even more experience to be a better coach and mentor.
Hangey explained, “Right off the bat it makes me tougher. It just puts things in perspective for me. I talk to the kids and try to get more analytical in their heads, getting the emotional connection and getting them fired up and getting them excited. I started talking to them more regularly, I’m sending them things to think about and things to read about. So I think I’ve kind of evolved into that.”
After the Binghamton dual meet, the team had been struggling to get on the right track again until Laird won against a top-five wrestler in the country at Lehigh. The win may have been what the team needed to move forward and come together.
“Our first match we lost to Binghamton and on that same day Hangey had the stroke so we haven’t really been able to rebound as a team until yesterday when we won that match,” Laird said. “Now our confidence is back and we’re back to being the team that we know we can be.”
Hangey believes he has made a full recovery and in regard to the team, he visualizes continuation of growth from here on out.
“It definitely makes you appreciate what you have and it makes you appreciate your job,” Hangey stated. “I feel like the team is progressing well and developing through the trying times of the pandemic circumstances and all that stuff. So I expect nothing but us to continue to grow and recruit good kids and have success on the mat.”
Regarding Hangey’s mental growth, he has learned that you do not need to do everything on your own to reach success.
“You have good people around you, you gotta lean on them and they’ll do wonders for you,” Hangey said. “I think you learn to appreciate it a little bit more and you learn to cherish things. You realize nothing is forever.”