Remembering Connor

Norwich and Castleton climbing event honors lacrosse player who died his sophomore year

 

Connor Roberts, #9, and his brother Ben                      

The youngest of four siblings, an engineering management major, and an athlete.

Connor Roberts came to Norwich in the fall of 2012. A Vermont native, hailing from St. Albans, Connor spent two years at Norwich, while the rest of his siblings attended Castleton University.

He played two seasons of lacrosse and one season of football in those two years here, and left a strong impression. However Connor didn’t know that he had a condition that would lead to him passing away the summer after he finished his sophomore year.

Connor died because of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. According to The American Heart Association, “hypertrophic cardiomyopathy occurs if the heart muscle cells enlarge. It is a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young people, including young athletes.”

The shock of Connors death in 2014 led to the beginning of The Connor Roberts Foundation.

“I had just spoken to him about 20 minutes [beforehand],” said Connor’s mother, Peggy, in a phone interview. “My daughter Courtney, works in the emergency department where Connor was brought in, and she was the one that had to call me and tell me.”

Connor had been at home the day he passed away, preparing to go out golfing with a few of his friends when he collapsed.

Yet it is not Connor’s death that echoes in the minds of everyone that knew him, but rather how he lived and how he impacted the lives of others.

Since the Connor Roberts foundation was created, it has been able to help many different people and organizations locally, including both the Castleton and Norwich men’s lacrosse teams.

“We donate to our youth programs for kids that want to play sports that can’t afford it. We donate to the local football team and bought all of them rain jackets because Connor hated playing in the rain,” Connors mother said with a laugh.

The foundation also helped support a new cardiac unit in the same hospital that Connor was born in and ultimately passed away in.

While the family has a handful of other fundraisers for the foundation, the Climb for Connor event is one of the larger ones. The climb is held in two different locations, one at Norwich and the other at Castleton.

The event at Norwich was run by the Norwich lacrosse team and was held in Shapiro Field House, starting at noon last Saturday, Feb. 9 and through the night until noon on Sunday, Feb. 10.

“The [Climb for Connor] benefit became a challenge,” said the lacrosse head coach, Neal Anderson. “The challenge is beautiful, because it’s like, can you keep someone climbing a rock wall for 24 hours?”

The goal of the event is to have people continuously climbing up the wall. Once a person reaches the top, someone new begins at the bottom. The rock wall becomes sectioned to allow for multiple people to climb at the same time, and this goes on for 24 hours.

Promoting the event is one of the ways the lacrosse team works to keep Connor’s legacy alive.

Nick Fischer, the assistant coach for the lacrosse team said, “Connor was a bridge builder, whether it was Castleton and Norwich, or the hockey team and the lacrosse team, civilians and the corps, and we want this event to represent Connor.”

In some fun rivalry, Norwich and Castleton University compete against each other to see how many times they have people scaling the wall in the 24-hour time frame.

In attendance of the Climb for Connor event was Connor’s mother, Peggy. “I go every year,” she said. “I even climbed one year.”

Photo by Patrina Krewson

This event isn’t the end of Connor’s legacy though. His spirit is not the only thing that lives on.

In the hospital after his death, his mother decided to donate Connor’s organs. Due to a time restriction, Connor’s eyes were the only part of him that could be donated.

“They were sent to the Connecticut eye institute, and my only stipulation was I wanted them to go to some kids, and because of that two kids that were blind can now see,” Connor’s mother said.

His family and friends continue to remember him in every number nine (his jersey number) they see, when a cardinal passes by the window, or when the local bands play Connor’s favorite song in his tribute.

Connor’s niece, Evelyn, was only a year old when he passed, and she still thinks of him today, even using the nickname she had had for him. “For the last four years she would always say, Umple Cheech is here,” Connor’s mom said.

“He had a special and different bond with every one of his siblings and even with his niece who was only a year old when he passed away,” Connor’s mother said.

“He was very carefree,” said Ben Roberts, Connor’s only brother, in a phone interview. “He was always very positive and he cared a lot about others; he always had a smile on his face or some sort of joke.”

The number nine jersey that Connor wore while he played lacrosse is also being worn and carried on in his memory, but not without stipulations.

The first person to wear Connor’s jersey after his passing was Ryan Dart, who was “one of Connor’s best friends here. He was the one who came up with a rubric for who would fit the mold to wear Connor’s number,” said assistant lacrosse coach Nick Fischer.

Connor’s number is currently being worn by junior, Peter Orlandella, a computer security and information assurance major, from Wayland, Mass. Orlandella plays long stick middie (LSM) for the men’s lacrosse team.

“It’s pretty special to have been selected to wear his number,” Orlandella said. Orlandella didn’t know Connor since he had arrived at Norwich in the fall of 2016.

“Everything that I have known about Connor and what he has instilled in the program from when he was here, that’s still here and it is something that I would love to emulate. The fact that I’m mentioned in that conversation is great,” Orlandella said.

The helmet that Connor wore “still hangs in his locker and we bring that to every game,” said Neal Anderson, the lacrosse head coach. “(Connor) is a motivator, he still is to this day.”

Part of the Connor Roberts Foundation is to educate and inform people and parents of the condition that took Connor.

“I think there were signs, but he just wasn’t one to complain,” his mother said. “Towards his senior year of high school, he would comment about how his chest hurt, but we always thought it was his asthma.”

The Roberts family is working to make it mandatory for kids on their 18th birthday to have the required testing done to see if they have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The testing requires an echocardiogram for the initial diagnosis, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The family’s hopes are to prevent another death. “I wouldn’t wish this pain on anyone ever,” Connors mother said solemnly. “I hate when people have to join this lonely club that I belong to.”

Comments

  1. mike Singer says:

    Connor, with your help I know I can defeat these demons of mine. I can’t wait to see you again in that great river in the sky.

    ““Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”

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