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Greece Thunder Manager Battles Muscular Dystrophy

Andrew Longwell's bond with HS hockey team benefits both
Andrew Longwell has muscular dystrophy. He was diagnosed at age five and confined to a wheelchair not long after. 

"He can't brush his teeth. He can't feed himself. He can't roll over in bed. He can't blow his nose when he has a cold," says his grandmother and caretaker Marlene Fumia. 

What Andrew can do is be the manager for the Greece Thunder. The Athena sophomore tweets updates, gives pre-game speeches and persuades fans to attend games.

"I love hockey. I've always loved it since I was a kid," Longwell says. "I've always wished I could play hockey, but this is the best I could do."

"He brings a positive attitude to the locker room," says forward Nick Cignarale. "Always cheering us up... putting a smile on our face.. getting us motivated to go out there and play."

Austin Briganti played hockey with Andrew's older brother and has known Andrew since before he was diagnosed. "I admire him a lot. He has plenty of courage to keep coming here every day. He wants to come out here so bad. It makes me enjoy the game that much more. If I could give my legs to him and he could come on the ice, I'd do that."

"They go out of their way to help him," Coach Andy Rice says of his players. "Its nice to see. Whether or not they realize it, they do a lot."

"They've been like brothers to me... every single one of them," Andrew says. 

The rink can be a harsh place for someone with MD. Since Andrew can't flex his arms and legs to get blood flowing, he feels the cold faster. The normal stiffness and weakness he feels gets worse. 

"Just the sheer logistics of the rink are a nightmare," Fumia says. "Locker rooms were not created with motorized wheelchairs in mind."

Andrew is an honor roll student. He speaks publicly at Muscular Dystrophy events and does public address for basketball games. He's not sure if he wants to spend his life as a scientist or a youth hockey coach. It's a life his disease is likely to cut short at age 25. 

"In his 16 years, he's really middle age. When he's with the Thunder, he's just a 16-year old kid," Fumia says. "They're inappropriate. They have bad jokes. They're rude. They burp and do all those things and it's everything that he needs."

"Seeing the guys through wins and losses... and the conversations in the locker room, we've really bonded," Andrew says. "It makes my life a whole lot better."
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