“I’ve never had an offseason. I’ve always loved the constant busyness of going from one tournament, game, or challenge to another,” said Rian Schwede ’23, a right-handed pitcher who graduates this May with a B.S. in criminal justice.
Schwede spent his whole childhood lacing on his cleats in the backseat of his parents’ car between Little League practices, working his way up to the Masters All-Star senior year of high school in Whitman, Mass.
Heavily recruited by multiple Division III schools, Schwede ultimately chose Endicott as the place to pitch and play college baseball. The close-knit feel of the campus resonated with him, as did the assurances by Coach Bryan Haley that the College’s Division of Academic Success would offer him the support he needed to also achieve his goals in the classroom as a student with dyslexia.
“I had the career ambition from the beginning to graduate from the criminal justice program, pass the civil service exam, and become a state trooper,” Schwede said.
At first, he cruised along at Endicott too, pitching a strong fall first-year season, and bonding with teammates over nightly virtual Xbox hangouts playing Call of Duty and Fortnite after COVID interrupted everything.
But the flamethrower pitcher had no clue that he was about to fight the hardest game of his life. As a sophomore, he was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer. The diagnosis came out of left field while Schwede was quarantining during the pandemic, just like the rest of the world.
A tongue-in-cheek commercial from Manscaped Razors raising awareness about the importance of self-checks for men—and featuring America’s Got Talent host Terry Crews—flashed across Schwede’s TV screen and its message worked. Schwede knew something was off health-wise.
With pandemic precautions that didn’t allow patients to be accompanied by family members at medical facilities, Schwede quickly found himself alone in a claustrophobic office with a doctor, hearing the worst news of his life. “I’m 19 years old,” he thought to himself. “How do I have stage 3 cancer?” He still thinks of that scene as the most terrible moment of his life.
In shock, he went through emergency surgery the following week. After recovering, he felt resilient, but follow-up blood work revealed that the cancer had spread and he was going to need months of chemotherapy—news he received alone over the phone while his parents were at work.
“That whole situation got really serious in the blink of an eye. I thought, ‘Okay, here we go,’” said Schwede.
He steeled himself for lengthy solo inpatient hospital stays of five days at a time for treatment. The first time he reported to the cancer ward, holding his favorite pillow under one arm and a TV monitor under the other, he was spooked by a nurse in full PPE racing past him to treat another patient dangerously sick with COVID-19.
After his second round of chemotherapy, Schwede said, “I felt gross and laid down on my side and all of my hair fell out like a shedding dog.”
His family, friends, coaches, and teammates were a steadying force. Through it all, they texted him constantly. What kept Schwede going was meeting up with them when he could at the baseball diamond.
Once, in the summer, he left the hospital after a round of treatment and drove immediately to the local field for a league baseball game. “It was a Friday night and I was feeling strong. I needed to do something positive at that moment; the best thing I could think of was playing baseball,” he said.
By the fall of sophomore year, with four grueling rounds of chemotherapy behind Schwede, he returned to Endicott with hope, cancer-free. He dug into degree requirements with the consistent support of Endicott academic coach Teresa McGrath who, he said, “is great in every possible situation.”
As his body recovered, Schwede had “a pretty mediocre baseball year” followed by “a solid junior year,” he said. That set him up with a summer opportunity to play in the New England Collegiate Baseball League for the Mystic Schooners, a team ranked #2 in the nation. Totally resetting his workouts during that time was just what Schwede’s game needed.
“I came back to school and had a really good senior fall. My velocities are the highest they’ve ever been,” he said.
And so are his hopes for the future.
He plans to play college baseball next year thanks to an NCAA extension for all students whose 2020-2021 seasons were impacted by the pandemic. Schwede has everything to look forward to—from smashing records to pursuing his state trooper dreams down the road and “going to work to help people each day.”