Simeon Fryer ’22 Overcomes Rare Medical Disorder to Shine as Islanders Basketball Star

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – From an early age, Simeon Fryer ’23 dreamed of being a Division I student-athlete. However, before he could even step on the court at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, he was sidelined with a rare disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) that left him wondering if he would ever play basketball again. 

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Fryer was an athletic kid, playing almost every sport he could. It wasn’t until his 8th-grade year that basketball became a passion.

“At first, I didn’t take basketball seriously; I was more of a football player,” Fryer said. “As I got older, I realized I had an aptitude for basketball, and my height gave me an advantage over the other kids. From that point on, I was in love with the sport.” 

Fryer continued to develop his physical conditioning and basketball skills throughout high school and, upon graduation in 2017, attended the Community College of Beaver County, where he continued to pursue his dream of transferring into a Division I athletic program. Everything seemed to be on track until the summer of 2018, when Fryer began to feel more tired than usual. 

“I went to the gym with my friend from the junior college, and I felt like I had worked out before going. I tried to dunk the ball, and I could barely do it,” Fryer said. “The next day, I could hardly stand up and get out of bed. It felt like I had bricks on my feet.” 

Despite the growing weakness in his legs, Fryer continued to believe nothing was seriously wrong.

“For days, I just got weaker and weaker until one day at the mall, I tried to get on an escalator, and I couldn’t get my feet onto the steps,” Fryer said. “I took 10 more steps, and it became hard to breathe. That’s when I got nervous.”

Fearing that his condition was life-threatening, Fryer called his mother, who told him to go straight to his doctor’s office. Upon arriving, the doctor performed some basic reflex tests and determined that his body was not reacting normally to stimuli. Fryer’s doctor immediately ordered more testing.

“At the hospital, they performed a spinal tap and, based on the proteins in my spinal fluid, diagnosed me with Guillain-Barre Syndrome,” Fryer said. “One week later, I couldn’t walk at all.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, GBS is a rare disorder in which a body’s immune system attacks its nerves. The exact cause of GBS is unknown, and while most people recover completely from GBS, some severe cases can be fatal.

A short time after being diagnosed with GBS, Fryer suffered Bell’s Palsy on both sides of his face, which severely affected his ability to communicate. At the same time, Fryer struggled to breathe, and doctors cautioned him that he might need to be placed on a respirator. The physical toll GBS took on his body was tremendous. At its worst point, the medications and muscle atrophy left Fryer’s 6’5” frame looking skeletal. During his 45-day stay in the hospital, Fryer dropped from 185 pounds to a mere 135 pounds. Along with his physical stature, Fryer’s basketball dreams also seemed to be slipping away.

“At one point, I remember asking the doctors if I’d be able to play basketball that year, and they told me that they couldn’t put a timetable on my recovery because sometimes people don’t ever bounce back from GBS,” Fryer said. 

Fryer was not content to accept his fate, and through a combination of physical, speech, and occupational therapy, Fryer embarked on a journey to regain his previous fitness level. Every aspect of his life had to be relearned, from making basic facial expressions to putting on his socks, Fryer pushed himself to get back to the sport he loves. 

“Being an athlete, I’m used to intense workouts, but the recovery process was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” Fryer said. “I had no strength, and I would break into a sweat just trying to stand up and take two steps.”

Fryer was released from the hospital with braced crutches and a walker to continue his rehabilitation from home, where his mother helped push him to work harder. He returned to his junior college determined to claim his position back on the court but sat on the bench most of the season while he regained his strength and coordination.

In 2020, a year and a half after his release from the hospital, Fryer was recruited to play for Islanders Men’s Basketball. Fryer credits his recovery to his junior college teammates, along with his mother and son.

“Iron sharpens iron,” Fryer said. “Seven players from my junior college team went on to play division I and II basketball. When you are around good players, they push you, and you push them, and everyone elevates their level of play.”

Now a redshirt senior and team captain for Islanders Men’s Basketball, Fryer has found success on the court, including being the only student-athlete to start all 35 games last season, winning the Southland Conference Championship, and advancing to the NCAA tournament. 

“Sim is the heart and soul of our team. He has been voted as a team captain in back-to-back years, which says a lot, given that he hardly knew any of his teammates before they got to campus. He brings great energy in practice, warmups, and in the games, whether he is on or off the court,” said Steve Lutz, Head Coach of the Islanders Men’s Basketball team. “When I learned about his story, it made sense knowing that his hardship gives him a different perspective on what is important in life, and he uses that to lead others. We are better for having Sim on our team and at our university representing the Islander Nation.”

Fryer graduated on Dec. 10 with a Bachelor of Arts in university studies with a concentration in psychology and will pursue a post-baccalaureate degree in business beginning spring 2023. He said all student-athletes go through hard times, but finding a support system and learning how to respond positively to challenges makes all the difference.

“There are going to be lows in your life, and it is going to be hard, but you can’t give up. Keep grinding and don’t stop, no matter what,” Fryer said. “Everything I do is for my son. He is my number one person; he’s the one that keeps me going.”