After surviving knee surgery and stroke, York College lacrosse standout ready to return

ROB ROSE
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York College lacrosse player Gunnar Reynolds.
  • Gunnar Reynolds is a standout men's lacrosse player for York College.
  • Nine months ago he had major knee surgery, which later resulted in a stroke.
  • Reynolds is now almost ready to return to powerhouse Spartans program.
Gunnar Reynolds

Sitting in a hospital bed, Gunnar Reynolds was faced with a difficult and emotional task.

Just hours after he was woken by a pulmonary embolism that resulted in him having a stroke, Reynolds was told by his doctor that if the blood clots moved from his lungs to his brain, the resulting surgery could change him forever. She insisted that Reynolds let the people he loved know what they meant to him in case he never got to tell them again.

So, Reynolds took out his phone and called his parents, his girlfriend and her mom and sent a message to his other family — the York College men’s lacrosse team.

“Hey guys, just thought I’d bring this to your attention to give you a little update on me,” Reynolds wrote to his fellow Spartans. “So, last night in the middle of the night I was woken by a bad heart scare and not being able to (breathe). They still don’t know what happened, those results could take a few hours. After the CT scan results came back, they noticed I had blood clots covering my heart and lungs. I now have to get a brain scan to see if they have wandered up there. If so, I have to get brain surgery and I’ll never be the same. I just ask for your forgiveness for not leading you guys this year, I’ve been lost in the dark. If I have ever done you wrong, or mistreated you, I am sorry. I wish now more than ever I could just be in the locker room celebrating with you (guys). I am confident you guys will pray for me and support me no matter what. I am confident that I’m going to get through this and be the same (guy) you guys already knew. Love you (guys) forever. Gonna be a story.”

Reynolds’ story, however, is far from over and the latest chapter has the Spartans’ senior midfielder set to return to the field in a month after a hectic eight months of recovery from injuries and illnesses.

Born in Elkton, Maryland, Reynolds picked up lacrosse in middle school after playing several other sports. He was introduced to the Spartans’ program by 2019 York College graduate Brad Casale, who Reynolds played against in high school and looked up to. Reynolds eventually committed to the York program.

Gettysburg's Nate Capriglione, left, stays on York College's Gunnar Reynolds during mens lacrosse action at York College of Pennsylvania in Spring Garden Township, Wednesday, March 4, 2020. Gettysburg would win the game 7-6 in overtime. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The health scares start: So, when the pair faced off in a Maryland tournament last summer, Reynolds wanted to show off against his former teammate and foe when the string of medical issues began.

“He was lined up against me and I was like, ‘I’m going to do the most right here,’’ Reynolds said with a laugh. “I did a little too much and I was just laying there on the ground screaming. I just knew right away something was messed up.”

When Reynolds saw a doctor, he was informed he tore his ACL and MCL and dislocated his knee cap. A month later he had surgery and everything seemed normal for a few days. After Reynolds went for a check up, the doctors discovered an underlying issue.

They told him he had a blood clot in his knee and put him on blood thinners. Four days later, Reynolds woke up in the middle of the night unable to move the left side of his body. He tried to make a fist, but nothing happened. He couldn’t swallow and started screaming and smacking the bed for help.

York College lacrosse player Gunnar Reynolds.

Drawing inspiration from his mother: A trip to the emergency room revealed the three blood clots had traveled through his heart and into his lungs, and resulted in the message he sent to his teammates. Reynolds then used a battle that his mother, Susan, had with breast cancer to motivate him to fight through his situation.

“Everyone was so scared for me and that’s not what I needed because I was so scared,” Reynolds said. “But there wasn’t a doubt in my mind I wouldn’t overcome it. If my mom can face those struggles head on, that’s laid out for me. She’s the biggest role model. Being her son, who am I to ask everyone to feel sorry for me?”

Reynolds fortunately returned home 48 hours later after he nagged the hospital to let him see his family. He resumed his knee rehab, which he said has been the easiest part of the entire ordeal. Reynolds said his doctor believed the clots were caused by the surgery and won't stop him from playing again. 

A coach for the Spartans: While he waits to be cleared to play because of the knee injury, Reynolds has become a coach for the powerhouse Spartans program.

York College head coach Brandon Childs said having a leader such as Reynolds helping to teach is invaluable, but the coach can’t wait until he gets back on the field again.

York College lacrosse coach Brandon Childs.

“It allows for him to deliver the exact same message, but do it in a way in which it’s probably better received,” Childs said. “It’s been a real blessing to have him on our side. I was joking that it’s going to be a shame when he gets cleared because we’ll lose that, but what we gain is definitely worth that loss.”

Strong relationship with the Spartans head coach: Reynolds credited his relationship with Childs for his growth in the program and his ability to get through the challenging situations he has faced.

When Reynolds found out about his mother’s cancer diagnosis, he called Childs and the coach didn’t say anything to Reynolds, then a high school senior, about lacrosse. The conversation cemented a bond that let the Spartan senior know he made the right decision to pick York College.

“He never mentioned one thing about lacrosse,” Reynolds said. “He never asked if I was in shape or if I was ready to come here next year; nothing about lacrosse. Right there, all those thoughts went away from that simple phone call. He doesn’t even know I think about that phone call every day, but it helped me get through some tough times.”

He's hoping to return for York's playoff run: In the six games the Spartans played before the 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Reynolds had scored seven goals and at least one in each contest. As a junior, he set career highs in goals (20), assists (seven) and points (27).

Reynolds is hopeful to return for a playoff run with his teammates in May. The Spartans are currently ranked No. 6 in NCAA Division III. Reynolds has also received a medical redshirt to play next season.

York College's Gunnar Reynolds, left, works to get the ball past Gettysburg's Nate Capriglione during mens lacrosse action at York College of Pennsylvania in Spring Garden Township, Wednesday, March 4, 2020. Gettysburg would win the game 7-6 in overtime. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Ready to return to the game he loves: Nearly nine months after a devastating knee injury started a chain of events that threatened his life, Reynolds is on the brink of rejoining the teammates he had to say goodbye to, just in case he was never the same.

Once he gets the OK, Reynolds plans to show everyone he’s the same player he was before the injury and illness, and is fueled to get back to the game he loves again.

“It gives me more confidence and more motivation,” Reynolds said. “Going through everything I did, nobody expected me to get through it. My motivating self thinks, ‘Everybody is doubting you, everybody is counting you out Gunnar.’ I’m exceeding my confidence level I once had. Once I get back on that field, I won’t take a second for granted. I always have been a 110% effort-type person, but now I’m going to have to ramp that up to 210%. I’m ready.”

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.