Rylan Joins UConn Huskies for Memorable Championship Win

Eleven-year-old Rylan, of Ellington, CT, had the experience of a lifetime this week when Team IMPACT flew him to Houston to experience the Final Four championship games alongside his Huskies.

Rylan’s Story

Rylan was matched with the University of Connecticut Men’s Basketball team in September 2018. He lives with chronic immune dysfunction, which requires regular intravenous infusions. Rylan developed strong bonds with his past and present teammates, including Alterique Gilbert, Christian Vital, RJ Cole, Jordan Hawkins, and former athlete, current UConn Director of Player Development, Mamadou Diarra. It’s through these relationships that Rylan has transformed his mindset and approach to his medical treatment — focusing on hope and perseverance instead of fear and anxiety.  

“Team IMPACT saved Rylan, truly saved his life. We were very concerned about Rylan physically and mentally prior to Team IMPACT. This has given him back his childhood, made him feel special, and he loves that his UConn buddies treat him like he’s normal. It brought our family back together when it was struggling.”

– Tanya, Rylan’s Mom

A Birthday Surprise

Rylan has had a momentous ten days. On his birthday, his fellow Huskies asked him to join a Zoom where he thought he would get to talk to them about the upcoming game and get some birthday messages. On top of a team rendition of Happy Birthday, Diarra broke the very special news that Team IMPACT would be flying Rylan out to Las Vegas for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games, followed by a trip to the Final Four if they made it. Rylan’s genuine delight and excitement to join his teammates gave his teammates an extra boost of confidence before the trip.

UConn surprises Rylan on his birthday with a trip to the tournament.

The Tournament

While traveling to the tournament games has brought an extra dose of excitement for Rylan and his family, feeling a part of the team is nothing new. Supported by a customized match program based on each child’s needs, Team IMPACT ensures children matched with college athletic teams are long-term, life-changing experiences for both the child and student-athletes. Rylan is a true member of the Huskies, attending practices, games, and other team events regularly during and between seasons. The team cheers on Rylan at his baseball games and is always available for a FaceTime. Rylan’s Team IMPACT case manager, Lynn LaRocca, reflected on the growth she’s seen over the years.

“Over the past three years, I have had the unique opportunity to be involved and watch Rylan’s relationship flourish with the UConn Men’s Basketball team, staff, and extended family members. Being able to support his trip to this year’s NCAA tournament has been professionally rewarding as a clinican, and personally rewarding as a mom.”

– Lynn LaRocca, LCSW – C, Rylan’s Team IMPACT Case Manager

The Championship Game

Heading into last night’s game was pure magic for Rylan. He knew how special the game was for his teammates and wanted to be right alongside them as they fought to be National Champions.

Upon the win, Coach Hurley and the team brought Rylan down to join the celebrations. Says mom Tanya, “He will remember it forever. [After the game], the team stopped to hug him and thank him for being there.”

“He’s a part of this team just as much as anybody else.”

– Mamadou Diarra, Director of Player Development, UConn