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By Harry Frezza Jr
Published in the Courier News on March 23, 2003
In the room where Carl Riccio is recovering at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, there is no despair. The Watchung Hills High School junior, who suffered a spinal cord injury during a wrestling match at Newton High School on Feb. 22, won't allow it to come through the doors.
His uncle, Roy Dragon Jr., the assistant principal at Bridgewater-Raritan High School and a longtime wrestling official, calls his nephew his "hero," and his son, Roy III, knows Carl as his cousin and idol. Carl has yet to experience significant improvement, but there have been some good signs, according to Dragon Jr.
Though Dragon reports his nephew still can't move his arms or legs, there has been some movement in his right biceps.
"He's eating well and he's breathing on his own," Dragon said. "He's put some weight back on. It's an amazing thing. He is in such great spirits. After you leave him, you feel better than when you came in. He's a special kid.
When the mother of a baseball player whom Carl had played against came to visit, Carl wanted to know how her son was doing. When Carl was able to talk, he peppered his brothers -- Shane and Tyler -- on how their workouts were going. His own workouts are going well, his uncle said.
"Basically, they're trying to stretch him," Dragon Jr. said. "They have him with electrodes attached to his legs. They're working at it. They are working on his shoulders, too. There's been some slight movement. He's doing as much as he with what he has, it's encouraging. He is so determined, his family is so determined."
And his friends and community have picked up the fight, too, volunteering with great passion and spirit. Children have picked up pizza and brought it to the Riccio family at the hospital. They've sold wristbands for a dollar apiece that read "Carl, The Ultimate Warrior." More than 600 T-shirts bearing the same slogan were also sold last weekend at the state wrestling tournament in Atlantic City to help the Carl Riccio Special Needs Trust fund.
On Tuesday, May 27, there will be a benefit fund-raiser held -- a silent auction and dinner -- to benefit that fund. The money raised from the auction, to be held from 7-11 p.m. at Mayfair Farms in West Orange, will help Carl's long term medical care, rehabilitation and recovery. Guests will have the chance to bid on items that will include sports memorabilia, travel, fashion, home decor and fitness.
Tickets are $100 and can be purchased at Sports Minded Unlimited and Warren Health and Racquet Club in Warren. In addition, tickets can be purchased by going to www.carlricciotrust.com or by calling (212) 696-6692.
Denise Cappuccio is one of the chief organizers of the event. Cappuccio, a resident of the Basking Ridge section of Bernards Township, recently organized an event that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for families of the victims of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. She has abundant energy and is committed to help Carl and raise money from the auction.
"The purpose is to help Carl get the best care available to assist in his care and in the rehabilitation and recovery," she said. "All of us pray and direct our talents for Carl in the hopes that he will live his life as independently as possible. In the end, we want Carl and his family to know we all love them and are full of hope that he will reach his full potential under the circumstances. There are so many people volunteering their time and efforts it's amazing."
Carl's uncle said his nephew appreciates everything that has been done. He continues to work hard, not only to get to where he wants to be, but also to put the concerns and fears of family, friends and others at ease.
"Carl goes 100 percent at everything he does, on the mat, in the classroom, on the baseball field," his uncle said. "This is no different. He's giving it everything he can."
The community is attempting to keep that pace.
Harry Frezza Jr.'s column appears each week in the Sunday Courier News