It’s game night at RIT’s Ritter Arena and men’s and women’s hockey student manager Joe Vicario is briskly walking down the hallway past the home team’s locker room carrying a cooler of ice ready to be transported to the visiting team’s bench. Postgame, Vicario makes sure the locker room is clean and uniforms are laundered for the following night’s contest.
Vicario—affectionately known as “Part-time Joe”—is a third-year applied computer technology student in RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. For the past three hockey seasons, Vicario has helped in all aspects of the men’s and women’s programs, from hanging uniforms to cleaning locker rooms to coordinating pre-game meals.
At 21, Vicario, a Buffalo native, is a model of perseverance, having overcome 31 different surgeries, including 28 surgeries before he was 12. Since coming to RIT, he has had to take three leaves of absence, including one last year, was diagnosed with stage 1B testicular cancer, and has undergone emergency surgery to repair several displaced organs.
At birth, Vicario was diagnosed with Goldenhar Syndrome, a rare congenital defect characterized by incomplete development of the ear, nose, palate and lip; abnormalities in the formation of the face and head; and underdeveloped or absent organs. He was born without a left ear, left lung and left thumb and his aortic heart valve is bicuspid instead of the normal tricuspid, which occurs in less than 2 percent of people. All of the vertebrae on his left side are fused with his neck, meaning he can never engage in contact sports, and his left arm is shorter than his right.
But, despite these physical limitations, Vicario has never given up.
“My mom has always taught me to think positive,” Vicario says. “I owe so much to my parents, who taught me to be strong.”
“Joe has made my job that much more enjoyable,” says RIT Director of Hockey Operations Jeff Siegel, who hired Vicario in 2011 as a student manager. “When things get hard for our guys in the classroom or on the ice, you think of everything Joe has gone through, and all of a sudden our issues seem minor. Joe has become a great leader over the last three years.”
Vicario hopes to earn his master’s degree in sports management and already has his eye on several schools throughout the Northeast. He enjoys hanging out with friends and at nearby The Marketplace mall and watching the Buffalo Sabres.
“Joe is a great guy, and along with Jeff (Siegel), does everything to keep us going,” says Brad McGowan, a third-year business major from Langley, British Columbia. “Even with what he went through last year, he was in great spirits; all he wanted to do was come back and see the boys. He’s an inspiration for all of us.”
“I love it here,” says Vicario. “The team is my second family.”