Aug. 7, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
isconsin right guard Kyle Costigan has shown his toughness on the playing field by fighting through pain. In the 2012 Big Ten opener, he dislocated his kneecap, but he still finished the game against Nebraska. Anyone can be tough, he has maintained, it’s just a mental thing.
"I always joke and give Kyle a hard time that he’s the strongest man in the world,” said right tackle Rob Havenstein. “When it comes down to it, he’s strong, he’s tough; he’s just a tough-minded guy. He’s a born and bred Wisconsin O-lineman, so that comes with something.”
Costigan takes pride in what he does -- and how he does it -- even though the injuries and wear and tear of football have taken a toll on his knee cartilage, his shock absorbers. “As long as you can physically walk or jog,” he has insisted, “I feel like you can practice and play if you really want to.”
It’s that type of toughness -- what he practices, not preaches -- that has earned Costigan the respect of his Badgers teammates who have seen him compete against powerful Big Ten defensive tackles on the equivalent of one good leg at times. “Kyle’s focus is extraordinary,” Havenstein said.
Except when Costigan is confronted with his personal Kryptonite: his mom’s cheesecake and banana cream pie. Sandy Costigan’s homemade cakes and pies are well-known in Wind Lake, a close-knit community of 5,000-plus located 20 miles outside of Milwaukee and 90 minutes from the UW campus.
Costigan may be strong, he may be tough. But he’s still not strong enough to resist Sandy’s desserts. Truth be told, he volunteered willingly, he’s not even the toughest person in his family. “If people think I’m tough,” he said, “they have no idea what my mom is.”
With those words, and he’s doesn’t tend to waste them, he grew silent knowing that his mom’s toughness is being put to the ultimate test. In February, she was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer. “My sister called crying and told me,” he remembered. “Everyone was kind of shocked about it.”
Kyle Costigan took the bus home. He won’t soon forget the phone call, the long ride or the day.
“It was Valentine’s Day,” he said somberly.
• • • •
ince the initial diagnosis, the cancer has spread to Sandy’s bones and her condition has necessitated trips to a treatment center in Zion, Illinois. Obviously it has been tough on her. But she has refused to show any weakness, especially in front of her 6-foot-5, 319-pound son.
You can help: A support fund has been set up for Sandy Costigan and donations are being accepted online:
• Donate to Sandy's Angels
Family and friends have also organized the Cancer Benefit for Sandy Costigan to be held in Wind Lake on Sept. 13:
• More Information
“She has been unbelievable,” said Kyle, 23. “She has been through so much pain every day. But whenever I’m home, she tries to put on a face like it’s not bothering her. She’s always asking questions about me and ‘How am I doing?’ She doesn’t like people talking about her.”
But she’s not alone in this fight. There’s her husband of 25 years, Dennis; the three girls, Tracey, Deanna and Jamie; and Kyle, a fifth-year UW senior. Both sides of the family have rallied around Sandy. So has the Badgers family. And just about everyone in Wind Lake has been there for her, too.
That was particularly true after it became known that the Costigans needed financial help. Cancer treatments are expensive; insurance premiums are costly. A few years ago, Dennis lost his construction job and benefits. He has since picked up work in Wind Lake as a carpenter and handyman and the Costigans have purchased health insurance on their own.
Sandy has been a well-known waitress at a number of local restaurants, including Neitzels, the Rainbow and Fry’s Sports Bar. She has also sold her baked goods at Schmidt’s Gas-N-Go. But late last year, she was experiencing so much back pain that she could barely walk, let alone work.
She had been banking on her part-time employment to keep up with the health care premiums.
Once diagnosed, she was able to get some relief through Obamacare, but the expenses kept climbing. Because Wind Lake is so small, the word spread quickly that the Costigans could use some assistance. That’s how it all started -- as a grassroots endeavor to defray some of the mounting costs.
“We put feelers out for our friends and we had a meeting for the benefit and over 30 people showed up to help organize,” Angie McFarlane Radke said of the fundraising efforts for her aunt. “But we never expected this to leave our little community.
“Once I put the web sites up, we had 200 likes in 48 hours. It has been well received within our community. But now it’s gone beyond my wildest dreams. When we started the GoFundMe page, it was kind of a sidebar. We thought, ‘Let’s throw this out there if someone can’t make it to the benefit.’
“I never expected this to go anywhere near our goal ($10,000) and we’re almost there. It’s funny, when we put up the web site, I put down $20,000 but I thought, ‘That’s way too ambitious. We’ll be lucky enough to get $1,000. So I lowered it.’“
As of Thursday, 143 people had raised $8,180 in 22 days.
The Costigan family, made up of Kyle, husband Dennis and daughters Tracey, Deanna and Jamie, have had Sandy's back during her cancer fight.
“We’re not really sure how we can thank so many people,” said Kyle, noting that his mom has been monitoring the comments on Facebook. “The other night she was crying to me talking about it -- not so much the money donated but all the prayers for her, which has helped so much.”
On Saturday, Sept. 13, there will be a Cancer Benefit for Sandy Costigan from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. at The Roadhouse at KBII in Wind Lake. There will be a live and silent auction and a raffle. (The Badgers have a bye in their schedule that weekend.)
“It’s going to be a huge event,” said Rusty Bonnert, a driving force behind the benefit. Bonnert, the owner of Wind Lake Grading and Landscaping, grew up with Dennis Costigan. “Dennis stood up for me at my wedding. Somewhere along the line, Dennis has helped everybody around here.”
That’s what good people do in Wind Lake, Bonnert stressed, they lend a helping hand. “We just had a benefit for a little girl,” said Bonnert, who has lived 51 of his 55 years in the community, “and we had five or six people say, ‘We don’t know them, but we’ll stop for an hour and buy some raffle tickets.’
“Whether they know you or not, everybody helps out. That’s how Wind Lake is.”
Needless to say, they all think the world of Kyle, who was recruited out of Muskego High School to play on the UW offensive line. But he shifted to defense and played in three games as a redshirt freshman before going back to offense. Since then, he has started 21 times despite the injuries.
“It has been a joy and blessing to watch him and to be with him on his (football) journey,” said Radke. “For the last Rose Bowl, we had 14 family members in a passenger van driving to California and every year at Christmas, we have Badger Christmas, everyone dresses in their Badger gear.”
Radke doesn’t live far from the Costigans. Kyle’s oldest sister Tracey lives in an apartment above her parents. Deanna lives across the street in what was their grandmother’s house. Jamie is living with Dennis and Sandy. When he’s home, Kyle is Kyle, no different than when he’s around his teammates.
“Whenever you see him, he’s quiet, a gentle giant,” Bonnert said. “He’s just the nicest kid.”
• • • •
yle Costigan wasn’t sure how to approach others with what he was trying to keep inside. So he didn’t say much; he usually doesn’t. Last spring, he did bring up his mom’s cancer with one person, roommate Konrad Zagzebski, a fifth-year defensive lineman from Weston (three hours from Wind Lake).
“Kyle is a man of few words; he likes to keep everything to himself, and we absolutely respect that,” said Havenstein, who had heard some things in the locker room about Sandy’s condition. “Kyle is going to deal with it in his own way. We’re just there for Kyle whenever he needs us.”
|“Kyle is going to deal with it in his own way,” Havenstein said of his teammate. “We’re just there for Kyle whenever he needs us.”
Reflecting on how he handled it, Costigan confided, “I thought initially I would have a hard time talking about it. I didn’t think I would be comfortable. But people found out and now everybody knows and I’m more comfortable talking about it. Everyone has been so supportive. It has been awesome.”
Little things have touched his heart; the one-on-one exchanges with teammates, new and old alike, who have come up to him and said, “I heard about your mom and I’m sorry.”
Costigan said UW head coach Gary Andersen made sure he knew that “If I ever needed anything, to come in there (his office) and just talk to him. He treats all of his players like sons.”
When Havenstein was in the fourth grade, his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. He admitted that he was too young to really understand the gravity of the disease. “It was a bigger deal than I made it out to be,” he said. Cheryl Havenstein is now cancer free, he added.
Given this backdrop, Costigan’s teammates have made sure that he had his space.
“We were basically going to do whatever Kyle needs,” Havenstein said. “We’re all real good buddies (on the O-line) and if he wants us to act like nothing is different, that’s how we’ll do it. Once he’s with us, everything is business.”
That’s Costigan’s wish. He doesn’t want anybody making concessions. “You treat him the same, that’s the way he wants to be treated,” said UW offensive line coach T.J. Woods. “He takes a lot of pride in being able to battle through these types of things. But we’re definitely here for him.”
Woods has his own story. “It’s something that I’ve been through myself at a very similar age -- my mom had ovarian cancer when I was a junior in college,” said Woods, adding the cancer has been in remission. “I know the last thing Kyle wants is any special attention. But we’re here to help him.”
Football has been a fallback for Costigan, an unyielding constant in his life. “Being out here with us, and playing and going through training camp, I think that helps,” Zagzebski said. “I don’t want to say it takes his mind off his mom, but it gives him a little escape from the real world for a few minutes.”
Zagzebski has a good feel for what makes his friend tick. “Kyle is a hard worker, he’s an honest guy, and he’s always straightforward with you and I love that about him,” he said. “Tough kid, tough family. It’s a really tight-knit group with his sisters. They always have each other’s back.”
Asked if he takes more after his mom or his dad, Costigan smiled and responded, “I’m pretty much a carbon-copy of my dad. Exact same height, same frame. My mom says I have the exact same mannerisms and all that stuff. My whole life, everyone says I’m like my dad.”
And he knows how tough this has been on him. “My dad is a very prideful guy and obviously he doesn’t want handouts,” he said. “But when other people want to help, it is what it is. The way he looks at it now is that you have to put your pride behind you -- he’s trying to help the person he loves.”
Costigan calls his mother every night after practice. And, of course, he said, “She just asks, ‘How I’m doing?” And they talk for about five to 10 minutes. “My whole life,” he went on, “she has taken care of me and supported me no matter what I do.”
Costigan has occasionally struggled with balancing priorities. “I would never entertain any thought of quitting (football) or anything like that,” he emphasized. “The last thing my mom wanted to make sure of was that I didn’t lose focus on playing. She said, ‘Do your thing, don’t worry about me.’
“Obviously, it’s difficult advice to take. But I’m trying. One piece of advice my dad gave me was, ‘Treat football like it’s a business.’ So whenever I come to the stadium to work out or practice, I’m always focused on football and I’ve stayed focused even though I have so many other things to think about.
“It’s kind of hard because you have your family at home and you want to care about them. Obviously they come first. But you also have your football family and I’m here. You’re always thinking about what comes first … your priorities. I’m trying as hard as I can to figure it out.”
When he thinks about his mom, he thinks about somebody who once weighed 145 pounds and now weighs less than 105. But he also thinks about her toughness and the fight that she’s putting up. “She’s the most amazing lady I’ve ever met,” he said.
He didn’t have to say any more. And he didn’t.