For two people who spend their lives immersed in the world of sports and entertainment, finding love was something that could never be taken for granted. Their story is a ‘Love Story’ all its own-one that started with an online date gone horribly wrong and one night at a bar to turn it around.
John Gagliardi, coach of St. John’s University and father to NHL icon Chris Gagliardi is no stranger to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – that much was clear when he challenged his daughter Amanda for $50,000 in funding if she could beat him at playing an ice bucket challenge game.
Randel McCoy, 33, sits alone in his vehicle in an empty parking lot on February 7, 2018. He’s trying to digest the life-altering news he just received, imagining a future in which he would gradually lose all he has: his strength, his independence, and his life. He grabs for his smartphone through tears. He dials his brother’s number. Then, despite only knowing her for six months, he phones the person he knows he can’t do this without.
Brianna LaFontaine grew up in the coastal village of Cold Spring Harbor, New York, as the daughter of New York Islanders great and Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine. Randel was reared in a neighbouring town by his mother, a hairdresser. After college, their paths crossed again: he was an assistant coach on Brianna’s high school wrestling team, and she was a special education teacher at a nearby school. They met by happenstance via a mutual acquaintance and were inseparable quickly.
Randel has never had trouble picking up the phone to contact Brianna in the last six months. It’s his favorite part of the day. This call, though, is from the parking lot. Randel is ecstatic when Brianna responds. She has no idea what he’s saying as he tries to regain his breath. Even when he eventually discovers the words, they are just three letters long.
Randel McCoy and his elder brother, Tahid, were reared at Huntington Station, New York, by Evelyn McCoy.
WRESTLING MEETS CAN BE EXTREMELY LOUD. At the same time, you may hear everything and nothing. The screams of parents attempting to will their children to success collide with the groans of sportsmen pushing themselves to their limits. The symphony may be difficult for Randel, or Coach Rans as his wrestlers nickname him. His voice isn’t as sharp as it once was, but it’s just as powerful and meaningful.
“‘You’ve got six minutes in a match,’ he’d remark. You never know how much time you have left in your life, but you must always give it your best “Jacob Bruno, a former wrestler at Cold Spring Harbor who graduated in 2020, agrees. “You must continue to fight. ‘You have to keep going.’”
Randel had the insight from a young age.
In a modest cottage in Huntington Station, New York, his mother, Evelyn McCoy, reared him and his elder brother, Tahid. Her values and etiquette teachings have never left her boys. Tahid, a 42-year-old father of four who works as a janitor in the Cold Spring Harbor Central school system, adds, “She raised gentlemen.”
* Jeremy Schaap tells the tale of one couple’s struggle with love and a challenging prognosis. Tuesday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 or ESPN+
Randel’s grandmother and two uncles were nearly as important in his upbringing as athletics. Randel had the innate potential to be the top athlete on any team, whether it was lacrosse, track, football, basketball, baseball, or wrestling. Until she couldn’t anymore, his mother was a fixture at all of his games, constantly cheering him on.
Randel was completely unaware that his mother was HIV-positive. When he was eight years old, she was diagnosed with the virus. Doctor’s visits took the place of her outings to the field to watch Randel play. Even when the visits evolved into hospital stays, they were merely checks in his youthful mind.
“I was completely unaware. Even telltale symptoms, which I didn’t notice as a child, “Randel, who was in his mid-20s when he discovered the truth, remembers. “We moved slowly from our home to my grandmother’s, which was intended to be temporary until Mom got well.”
Randel’s grandma took him to the hospital often to visit his mother. He’d crawl into the hospital bed with her and lay beside her. He was surprised one day when his mother kneeled down to puke into a nearby rubbish pail. He assumed she was simply ill.
Randel doesn’t remember his final day with his mother since he never intended it to be the last. He doesn’t recall saying goodbye to his mother as he left her hospital room. It’s probable he was preoccupied with the anticipation of his 9th birthday, which was just a few days away.
His mother would be unable to witness it. Evelyn McCoy died on the 21st of January, 1994. She was 36 years old at the time.
After an accidental encounter via a mutual acquaintance, Randel McCoy and Brianna LaFontaine quickly clicked, a destiny Brianna owes in part to Randel’s mother’s ghost looking over him. Brianna LaFontaine is a model and actress.
Brianna LaFontaine’s house was often littered with plans for home improvement projects. It’s one of the reasons she grew up believing her father was an architect who also happened to like playing hockey in his leisure time. That story was not opposed by Brianna’s father. He didn’t want his children to be made fun of because of his true job. Pat and Mary Beth LaFontaine, Brianna’s parents, made it an effort to be nothing more than Mom and Dad to Brianna, Sarah, and Daniel, Brianna’s younger brother. However, the children began to notice the seemingly random requests for autographs from fans while they were out in public, such as when a guy requested their father for a signature on a Chinese takeout menu.
Pat was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003, after a 15-year career that saw him record 1,013 points and 468 goals. Although hockey afforded a nice lifestyle, Pat and Mary Beth always prioritized compassion above wealth.
“Listen, boys, score your goals while you’re young,” Pat advises today, “because in life, it’s about the assists, and the assists are larger and they count more.”
Brianna, an assertive youngster with a calm confidence, was taken aback by this. Her parents referred to her as an M&M because she was tough on the surface but soft on the inside. In 2014, she graduated from Marist College and went on to work as a special education teacher in Huntington, a nearby town.
Melissa Sarducci, one of the three or four aides she worked with, became extremely close to her. They were in Melissa’s home on Aug. 18, 2017, baking cupcakes for her niece and looking at photos from Melissa’s recent birthday celebration. Brianna was browsing through when she came across a photo of a dashing guy with a muscular physique and a nice grin.
Melissa said, “Oh, that’s Randel.” “He reminds me of my brother. We’ve always been great pals.”
After seeing Brianna’s expression, Melissa leaped at the opportunity to play matchmaker and called Randel over. Brianna recalls, “I’d never met somebody who could simply make me giggle like that.” “He relieved all of the stress. He was very funny.”
Randel and Brianna started following each other on Instagram the next day. She went into Randel’s DMs with a letter to Melissa that she had unintentionally written to him after waiting nearly 24 hours for him to send her a message.
Brianna smiles as she explains, “I knew what I was doing.” “I expected him to think that [was intended for Melissa], but he never did. He could tell immediately away.”
Since then, the two have spoken every day.
A wrestling competition in Cold Spring Harbor was transformed into a celebration of “Coach Rans” and a fundraiser for the ALS Foundation’s New York branch. ESPN/Mike Bollacke
Coach Rans was JACOB BRUNO’S wrestling partner when he initially joined the Cold Spring Harbor wrestling team. Randel recognized his own abilities and was keen to expand them. Bruno’s session was mostly a beginner’s class with a focus on grappling and takedowns. Randel would sometimes display a burst of speed or power that would quickly remind Jacob of who the guy across from him was, a former Long Island all-county wrestler and football star.
Bruno was captain of the squad by 2017, and Cold Spring Harbor was one of New York State’s top-ranked programs. Brianna was almost never late for a meet.
Bruno and Randel were fighting during a workout when the instructor abruptly halted them. He joked that he was growing old and that he wanted to go get something to drink. But then Bruno saw Randel struggling to open the bottle top with his hands.
It had occurred in the past. Randel’s hand started to quiver as he reached for a fork during breakfast in 2015. He shook it off and went to the gym to set some new weight-lifting objectives to help him regain some of the strength he’d lost as he got older. He was in his 30s, after all.
The trembling, though, persisted. It wasn’t always there, and it wasn’t obvious. But that was bound to happen, a growing sense of inadequacy. Randel trembled again as he grabbed for his coffee cup during a monthly Tuesday meal with several pals. Randel told the gathering that he was in good health. Perhaps it was a precursor to his family’s history of diabetes. He, on the other hand, was not interested in learning more.
Brianna sensed something was amiss with Randel a few months after they started dating, and she gave him the push he needed to seek answers. It was a tense chat, and she sensed he didn’t want to discuss it. Randel had put in a lot of effort after the death of his mother. He worked his way through school and established a job. Randel was concerned that whatever was occurring to him may jeopardize all of this and more. Brianna was his true love.
He told her this one October night in 2017, while they waited for an Uber in New York City after a party.
He merely looked across at her and said it.
“Are you aware that I adore you?”
“My heart began to flutter. I was aware of it “Brianna explains.
“I adore you as well.”
Brianna proposed a deal to Randel. She had started smoking and wanted to quit. Randel was irritated, so she made him a promise. If he would simply go to the doctor for a checkup, she would stop smoking cold turkey. He concurred. He left when she resigned.
The results of blood tests and MRIs poured in. Everything seemed to be in order. Instead of being reassuring, the news just added to the anxiousness. Randel was well aware that his gradual deterioration was not typical. He started visiting a variety of physicians, then neurologists. Randel was on his way to Brianna’s apartment around the block from the school one day after practice when his phone called. It was a nurse who gave him information about his upcoming visit and advised him to bring someone with him this time for support.
Randel explains, “That’s when I realized it was serious.”
Randel ignored the advise and arrived at the appointment alone. Randel had already decided that whatever the news was, he would stay cool when the doctor entered the room. As he heard his diagnosis, he was stoic and attentive. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a neurological illness that progresses over time. In the brain and spinal cord, ALS destroys motor neurons. Muscle control and movement, as well as the capacity to breathe on one’s own, are lost as cells die. There is no way to stop it.
He went to his vehicle once his appointment concluded.
Brianna was waiting by her phone at home. She was greeted by an unusual sound when the phone rang. Randel was in tears. She became numb.
She cried when she phoned her parents. Randel was 33 years old when he was diagnosed, which was 22 years younger than the usual age of diagnosis. Brianna was certain there had been a mistake.
Although there were second and third views, only one diagnosis was made.
Randel explains, “It’s me being cut short.” “I felt the same way about my mother that I did about myself. The only word that comes to mind when thinking about ALS is ‘terminal.’”
Randel returned to work in the days that followed. His love was coaching, and he needed it more than ever. It didn’t help him forget the diagnosis, but it did enable him to temporarily conceal his panic. Anthony Servidio, a boyhood friend and fellow instructor, welcomed him with a tremendous embrace the first day he returned to the gym. Every wrestler in the program did the same thing. Above all, they wanted him to know that he wouldn’t be battling alone.
“The kids make you realize there’s more to life than just getting by,” Randel explains.
Randel and Brianna planned to take a trip to St. Maarten in the Caribbean later that month to escape the harsh New York winter. On the surface, the vacation was intended only for leisure and pleasure, but Randel was already planning for the future. He felt jittery.
Brianna was everything to him, and he adored her. Their families were well-known for getting along. However, he had just been diagnosed with a fatal illness 16 days before. Their future was ahead of them now, and it was much more difficult.
His head was filled with impossible questions and solutions. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with her. Will she be able to take it all? Randel, on the other hand, discovered clarity on that journey. He wasn’t going to let ALS control how he spent the rest of his life.
On the island, it was a calm Tuesday evening. Randel didn’t want Brianna to miss anything, so he enticed her out for a stroll down the white sand beach to a little rock wall. Randel inhaled deeply and spoke from a section of his body unaffected by ALS.
He informed her, “I’m giving myself to you.” “You know where I am and where I’m going. I want you to be my wife if you can accept it.”
There was no reluctance on my part. Yes, that was true. Yes was always the answer.
Brianna adds, “We need each other.” “To me, ALS stands for A Love Story.”
On Nov. 8, 2019, they married in front of family and friends at a winery on Long Island. On the front row’s aisle seat, there was a framed portrait of Randel’s mother.
Pat, Brianna’s father, adds, “At the end of the day, all we have is love.” “It triumphs over everything.”
At a reception honoring the couple’s engagement, Randel poses with his uncle Terrish McCoy, Brianna’s father Pat LaFontaine, Randel’s uncle Allen McCoy, and cousin Darren Hardy (from left). Brianna LaFontaine is a model and actress.
THE DRIVEWAY OF THE LAFONTAINES is bordered with white and silver stone bricks and winds about 100 yards before presenting a spectacular 6-bedroom, 612-bath mansion on a 2-acre site. The driveway splits as you get closer to the home. A three-car garage is close to the combined basketball court and hockey rink on the right. Brianna and Randel live in an apartment above the garage.
Randel goes gently to the beige and brown bathroom every morning, immediately after opening his eyes, and finds his toothbrush perched on the edge of the sink. It’s already perfectly covered with toothpaste, like something out of a Colgate advertisement.
Randel adds, “She’s always one step ahead of me.”
It’s January 2020, and every simple act, no matter how insignificant, has the potential to create a memory. It’s how Randel and Brianna prefer to live — in moments rather than years. Randel’s arms and hands have become brittle, and his balance has deteriorated. He had had a nasty fall a month before that had terrified everyone. Randel is the same person he’s always been cognitively, but Brianna now assists him in getting dressed, from his shirt to his shoes and socks. She also does not want him to struggle with the toothpaste tube. Brianna is now assisting him in his preparations for a huge meet against a rival school, Manhasset, who is coached by Randel’s boyhood buddy Stephon Sair. The meet had been planned for some time, but it has evolved into something much more: a tribute to Randel and a fundraiser for the ALS Foundation’s New York branch.
“He is deserving of recognition,” Sair added. “What better place to achieve it than in the company of kids who adore him, instructors who adore him, and his family who adore him?”
Wrestlers and spectators wear white T-shirts with blue and red lettering that say “Takedown ALS” on the front and “Wrestle for Rans” on the back, and the gym is lit up in blue and orange, Manhasset’s school colors. As the competition starts, Randel is wearing his red Cold Spring Harbor coaching polo and seated in a folding chair with his feet on the wrestling mat.
Younger wrestlers from Cold Spring Harbor fall behind early. It seems like the night will finish early at one point. Mike Ferrugiari, the head coach of Cold Spring Harbor, draws his players to the side.
He assures them that they may still return the match. And you’re well aware of who you’re fighting for. It’s about something greater than oneself in this case.
Bruno and co-captain Ethan Burdo go to the middle of the mat with a microphone before the match begins. They speak to Randel in front of the crowd of a few hundred people.
“You’ve resolved, Coach Rans, to make every minute matter. We’re in the same boat tonight “Bruno explains. “Let’s all get together to promote awareness, see some amazing wrestling, and support Coach Randel McCoy, our buddy, brother, coach, and inspiration.”
The audience rises to their feet and applauds Randel. He thanks you with a grin and a nod of his head. Brianna pauses in her clapping to wipe the tears from her eyes. A new memory, a new moment.
Burdo then goes to the mat and pins his opponent, eventually turning the tide. Burdo’s partner Greyson Meak gets a massive pin against a difficult opponent shortly after, before Jackson Polo closes the match with his own triumph.
Bruno adds, “It’s the finest high school sporting experience I’ve ever had.” “It’s more than a triumph against adversity. We were fighting over someone who meant a great deal to each of us.”
Randel and Brianna sit on the same bench on Long Island, where they both grew up and where their lives are still intertwined. ESPN/Mike Bollacke
THE MEDIAN A person diagnosed with ALS has a two to five-year life expectancy. Randel’s diagnosis was four years ago this February.
His speech continues to tremble, which might lead to misunderstandings on occasion. He once told Brianna how much he admired “C.C.,” as in former New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia. Brianna misheard him and instead gave him a jersey autographed by “Didi,” as in Didi Gregorius of the New York Yankees. Randel grins as he recalls the incident.
This voyage is nothing what he or Brianna had thought it would be. Despite this, the two have a greater appreciation for everything that makes life worthwhile.
Brianna is still awestruck by the magnetism that brought them together on that fateful day. A part of her feels it was Randel’s mother, her spirit, who used Cupid’s arrow to find her. However, other from fond recollections, the couple does not dwell on the past. Or, for that matter, the future. They prefer to live in the present moment.
“We don’t have time to get worked up about little matters or to ruminate on the past,” Brianna explains. “It’s just him and me,” says the narrator.
“Everyone dies at some point. I’m simply taking a closer look at my timepiece “Randel explains. “There is nothing on the illness. We’re not going to let it influence our choices. That is our way of life.”
Despite the condition, living on their own terms brings a sense of fulfillment in the daily battle for their future. They purchased their first home about a year ago, just as they had hoped. It’s a charming ranch on a quiet Huntington street. Living on a single level makes life a little bit simpler for everyone. Randel just obtained a motorized wheelchair, but he prefers to move on his own. It’s a lot simpler having Brianna at his side, even if it’s a fight.