Robotics team heads to Hofstra with Ronan Guyer in mind

04/05/2013 11:00 AM |
Southold robotics team

SOUTHOLD SCHOOLS COURTESY PHOTO | Southold technology teacher Phil Caputo (left) works with robotics club members Chris Reilly and Caroline Liegey on a robot they named for Ronan Guyer.

More than three dozen remote-controlled robots will navigate the arena floor at Hofstra University this weekend in a competition challenging high school students’ technology and communication skills.

Ronan Guyer of Southold

GUYER FAMILY COURTESY PHOTO | Ronan Guyer was just 14 years old when he died.

The machines, each 100-plus pounds, are built from scratch and operated by students using funds they helped raise themselves.

Among this year’s crop of robots will be one designed by Southold High School students and named for the one robotics club member who won’t be able to attend the competition.

Its name is Ronan.

“Doesn’t that make the perfect name for a robot?” asked Lori Guyer, mother of the machine’s namesake. “Ronan the Robot. Just perfect.

“Ronan wanted to be in the club,” Ms. Guyer said. “He was in the Lego club in seventh and eighth grade, which sort of leads into it. He had a scheduling conflict while he was running cross country. He had one more race to go and then he was going to commit full-time to robotics.”

Ronan never did run in that final race. He died Nov. 14 after suffering cardiac arrest earlier that week during a practice for the state cross country championships outside Buffalo.

The high school freshman had been in a coma and on a ventilator in a Buffalo hospital for five days before he was taken off life support. He was 14 years old.

“I know other people who have lost their children,” Ms. Guyer said. “You always say, ‘I can never imagine what that would be like.’ I now know it’s a million times worse than I ever would have thought.”

But a funny thing has happened in the five months since Lori and Stephen Guyer said goodbye to the youngest of their three children. His unusual first name has taken on a life of its own.

The name Ronan has been printed on T-shirts for charity and iced onto cupcakes sold in a fundraiser. His name was also used to help raise money through a community race in the days after his death, a Thanksgiving turkey trot re-dubbed the “Run for Ronan.” His family has planned a similarly named event for May 19.

And how many folk can say they’ve had a robot named for them?

“The robot is a nice tribute to him,” said Southold technology teacher Phil Caputo. “It’s sad he isn’t here, but it’s a good thing we can carry on his name.”

Ronan the Robot arrived at Hofstra yesterday, Thursday, for a practice session before the two-day competition this weekend. The 24-x-30-inch robot can shoot four frisbees in less than five seconds, with the object of the game revolving around the discs accurately striking targets.

The machine is sturdy, fast and mechanical, much like the 6-foot-2 teenager it was named after.

From an early age, Ronan knew he wanted to be a naval architect, his mother says. A sailor with the Southold Yacht Club from the time he was 7, Ronan enjoyed being out on the water. And he loved to build. Joining robotics was his next step toward one day reaching his career goal.

“He would have flourished in the robotics club,” Ms. Guyer said.

Since their son’s passing, the Guyers have been overwhelmed by the number of neighbors, even strangers, who have come forward to tell them stories of how young Ronan touched their lives.

One afternoon, Ms. Guyer received a letter from another mother in the community, who shared how much it meant to her when Ronan helped her son, who was younger and whom the Guyers had never met, get acclimated when he first joined Boy Scouts.

Compassion is a trait Ronan developed at an early age, something Ms. Guyer believes grew from how he handled living with his special needs brother, Colin, who is autistic.

Ronan exhibited patience in teaching his older brother, who is now 18, how to throw a ball or how to build with Legos.

“He’d take his brother to the beach and they’d catch crabs,” Ms. Guyer said.

When Ronan was old enough to realize that Colin’s disability made it difficult for him to meet friends, he shared his own pals with his brother.

“In some ways he was the most mature of my children, even though he was the youngest,” Ms. Guyer said.

When Mr. Guyer, a detective in the Suffolk County Police Department, was out of town for training as Hurricane Sandy struck in October, Ronan sprang into action as the man of the house. He got the generator going and made sure the family had extra gasoline on hand. When his father called, Ronan assured him he was “running a tight ship.”

Just two weeks later, Mr. Guyer rushed up from training in Virginia to visit his son in the hospital. As Ronan’s condition failed to improve over several days, the Guyers were forced to make the difficult decision to take him off life support.

But even in death, there’s yet another way Ronan has lived on. His parents made the decision to donate his tissue.

“We couldn’t donate organs like his liver and his kidneys because we wouldn’t be able to be in the room with him,” Ms. Guyer said. “Because they bring them into the operating room, you don’t get to be with them that way. You don’t get to hold them.”

Today, two young children see through Ronan’s corneas. Another young man received one of Ronan’s heart valves.

“They all went to young people,” Ms. Guyer said. “Ronan would have liked it that way. That’s the kind of kid he was.”

Ronan would have turned 15 on April 24. To honor her caring son, his mother is collecting items to donate to Community Action Southold Town. She’s asking local residents to share food, clothing, good used blankets, bedding, towels and kitchen items.

“Anything clean and in good condition that can be used by families in need in our community,” she said.

She’ll be collecting the goods between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on April 20 and 21 at her business, White Flower Farmhouse, on Main Road in Southold. She’ll store the items in her garage and deliver them on Ronan’s birthday that Wednesday.

It’s just one small way she can honor a son she says was “too good to be true.”

Each day since his passing, Ms. Guyer said she is reminded of Ronan whenever she looks out the window at a tree she planted for him more than a decade ago. The Guyers had just built their home in Southold and she asked each of her children to pick out a tree to be planted in the garden. Ronan picked a weeping cherry.

“I thought it would be nice if I placed a bird feeder in Ronan’s tree [after his death],” she said. “I cannot believe how many birds visit that tree every day. Every time I look out the window there are so many birds. I fill up the feeder every day.”

gparpan@timesreview.com