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Ridley vows to help Rymer get new van

New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, left, talks with Matthew Rymer during the Hometown Huddle on Friday evening at the Natchez Community Center. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, left, talks with Matthew Rymer during the Hometown Huddle on Friday evening at the Natchez Community Center. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Hometown Huddle was already a chance for Stevan Ridley to promote worthwhile causes, so one more didn’t hurt.

Ridley, the former Trinity Episcopal and LSU standout and current New England Patriots running back, was in Natchez Friday night for his annual event to raise money for Ballet Magnificat! and the Guardian Shelter. But offering a helping hand to a former teammate was also on Ridley’s agenda.

Matthew Rymer, a former Trinity Episcopal football player, was in a car wreck on New Year’s Day in 2010 that left him paralyzed from the waist down. With his occupational therapist, Naydza Muhammad, Rymer has taken steps toward gaining total independence — and an online contest may help him with that goal.

Muhammad plans to nominate Rymer in an online contest put on by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association based out of Memphis, Tenn. If he gets the most votes, Rymer will win a 2013 Custom Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle — and Ridley said he wants to help Rymer any way he can.

“He still needs to be able to live life and do things, and if that wheelchair-accessible van is what he needs to bring his life that much more joy, we need to do everything in our power as a community to get behind him and make sure he wins that award,” Ridley said.

“Personally, I’m going to do everything in my power to push and get enough people to vote for him to win that van.”

Rymer said he was humbled that someone in as big a spotlight as Ridley would help promote his cause.

“It’s such an honor,” Rymer said. “He’s a great guy, and I thank him so much for getting the word out.”

Rymer said he’s working hard going through his therapy, and having a van would add tremendously to his quality of life. He plans to attend Southern Mississippi, and having the van would assist in his commute around campus, he said.

“I would be able to drive when I get my license and get to and from school without having to transfer to a car,” Rymer said.

Muhammad said Rymer has a pressure sore that would be greatly alleviated with the right cushioning, something the van would provide.

“(Having the van) would open doors for him — he could go to class and go on trip,” Muhammad said.

Rymer said it would also give his family one less burden, and he hopes to eventually become self-sufficient in everything he does.

“I don’t want to be a burden on my family,” Rymer said. “I want to be independent like everyone else.”

Rymer has gone from unable to sit up straight to moving his chair without the assistance of electronics, getting dressed by himself and moving from the chair to a car. Muhammad said Rymer’s strength of will and determination has allowed him to come such a long way since the injury.

“He seems to thrive on adversity,” Muhammad said. “A challenge will either galvanize you or destroy you, and this hasn’t broken him down at all.”

That’s not a surprise to Ridley, who remembers watching Rymer in football practice during their time at Trinity together.

“He was always a competitive guy on the field when I saw him,” Ridley said. “Was he the most athletic guy out there? No, but Matthew Rymer was always a kid who gave 100 percent effort, so I told him to make sure he puts the same effort into making a comeback and getting his life back on track.”

To vote for Rymer, go to http://www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com, click “enter or vote now,” and you will be prompted with a text box that says, “Find a local hero.” Type in “Matthew Rymer, Natchez, Mississippi” and hit the search button. Muhammad asks that people vote once a day, every day, until the May 10 deadline.