For the love of the game

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Sports

July 12, 2019 - 3:16 PM

Ryker Curry delivers from the mound on June 26 against Garnett for the A Iola Indians. Curry leads the team in strikeouts (44) and batting average (.382). The Indians travel to Emporia this weekend for their zone tournament. REGISTER/ERICK MITCHELL

Adversity. Coaches use the term loosely, but few athletes have truly experienced it like Ryker Curry. 

The thought that he might not ever return to the mound or batter’s box after multiple heart procedures was always in the back of Ryker’s mind, but he pushed through. 

“It’s been tough,” Ryker said. “I try not to think about it, but how it has got me here.”

This summer, Ryker is arguably the reason the A Iola Indians sit in a prime position to make a run at state. Not only is he sending batters back to the dugout, as he leads the team in strikeouts with 44, but also leads the team in batting average (.382).

The right-handed thrower/lefty slugger has the Indians in a prime position; they currently are the two seed heading into this weekend’s zone tournament. Two wins, and state awaits. Some would call this scenario pressure, but nothing compares to nearly losing your lifelong love — baseball.

When Ryker was 12, he and his father, Heath Curry, were wrapping up an afternoon session in the batting cages. Ryker said he wasn’t feeling well and went inside to catch a breather. 

“I walk into the house and see him on the stairway lying down,” Heath Curry recalled. “I thought he was dead. I rolled him over and he was like lifeless.” 

In March 2016, Ryker had open heart surgery at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. All went well, and in due time Ryker was given the OK to continue playing baseball. By that May, Ryker returned to his travel ball routine and stayed active, competing in other sports, including basketball.

Ryker still dealt with irregular heart beats, but they were never caught by medical professionals. Ryker was given a heart monitor, which he wore during ball games. The wires ran up and down his chest with electrodes, making him appear to be the second coming of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character the Terminator. 

In a tournament in Manhattan during 2017, Ryker’s heart rate skyrocketed after a hit. He returned to the dugout but was called upon to finish off the game on the mound. As the next game was about to start with Ryker in center field, his heart rate jumped up to 275, leading him to have another heart procedure, an ablation, followed a few weeks later with a heart catherization, putting his baseball future in doubt. 

“It felt awful. It was bad.” Ryker said. “I was really upset.”

After the procedure, Ryker never really truly recovered and was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a condition that affects the body’s circulation. The condition made it difficult for Ryker to participate in any physical activity. He began 8th grade with a cane. But Ryker didn’t let the diagnosis deter him and began rehabilitation with earnest.

“They had me on the treadmill and what not, because I was dizzy, and I used that for support to get back in shape,” Ryker said.

Even so, POTS presented a whole new challenge for Ryker, a condition he still deals with to this day. 

“POTS tells your body you can’t do certain activities, and you just have to fight through it,” Heath said. “When Ryker stands up, all the blood goes to his legs, and he doesn’t have much up top, making him feel light-headed. He is supposed to drink 100 ounces of water a day. He can’t get enough water or salt.”

The setbacks didn’t stop with just his heart. Near the end of last summer’s season, Ryker suffered broken fragments in his throwing right arm along with some cartilage that had torn away from the bone. Elbow surgery was required. A hole was drilled to help the cartilage heal correctly. The procedure kept Ryker from playing ball until late October. 

After four procedures — three heart and one arm — Ryker still leads with his play on the diamond. This weekend presents an opportunity for him to help lead the Indians to the state tournament in American Legion junior action. A young man of few words, Ryker lets his play speak for himself. 

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