"No man left behind" - How Jayden LoBasso's community aided his recovery and return from GBS
After the conclusion of the 2022 NPL SA season, Adelaide Comets defender Jayden LoBasso joined Johnny Keko on the Kickin' It Local Podcast to discuss the diagnosis that not only derailed his season but also his life. LoBasso discussed how he overcame his condition with the support of his family and teammates.
Despite the odds being stacked against him, Jayden LoBasso appeared in the NPL SA Finals Series months after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. (Adam Butler/80kms)
Football is much more than 90 minutes on the pitch. Few are more familiar with that fact than Adelaide Comets defender Jayden LoBasso.
LoBasso grew up in Port Pirie, just over two and a half hours away from Adelaide, with a population of 15,000. Football was much different for LoBasso as a young player compared to the kids 200 kilometres south in the state's capital.
Playing for the local side, Northern Demons, was as much a sporting exercise as a social one. His father has been involved with the club for years, and brothers Matthew and Daniel play for the side, with the LoBasso name remaining popular in Port Pirie.
In such a tight-knit community, achievements get celebrated. That was the case for Jayden LoBasso when he was selected for the Under 13 State team. Most young footballers and their families in Adelaide wouldn't think twice about accepting that offer. But living two and a half hours outside the city, where the training sessions would occur, threw a spanner in the works for the LoBasso family.
LoBasso's community was never going to stand in his way after he received the opportunity of a lifetime, instead going out of their way to help him achieve his dreams. State training occurred in Adelaide three times a week, which meant his parents would have to accommodate three five-to-six-hour road trips every week, not including the training time.
Leaving at two o'clock in the afternoon and returning at midnight multiple times a week was a sacrifice LoBasso's family decided to make. Friends, family, school, and workplaces made it possible to accommodate such a drastic lifestyle change. But in a closely bound community, they wouldn't have it any other way.
A young LoBasso was the only country boy selected to represent South Australia in his age group. (Port Pirie Recorder)
LoBasso now lives in Adelaide, with his brothers and parents also moving over the last few years. After representing Adelaide United Youth and South Adelaide, he has found a home at the Adelaide Comets, where his values of putting the community before himself have been evident and reciprocated.
Growing up, LoBasso was a forward who later developed into a midfielder. At Comets, a side with an abundance of midfield quality, he was deployed as a fullback. While many players may have been annoyed or even offended at the suggestion of such a drastic move, LoBasso took it in his stride and has not looked back.
Entering last season on the back of a third consecutive Grand Final loss, but with the majority of their squad intact, it was clear that Comets were a tight-knit group. That fact was confirmed by LoBasso, who has found a home away from home at Ellis Park, despite seasons constantly ending in a painfully familiar way.
"I’ve never been part of a group that’s been so together over the last four years. Losing Grand Finals takes its toll, emotionally and physically, but because the group is so together, it’s like we are all best friends; we find the motivation to come back every year to go one further. I think it speaks to our character and what our club is about," LoBasso shared on the Kickin' It Local Podcast.
LoBasso playing in the 2020 NPL SA Grand Final against Campbelltown. (Adam Butler/@8zerokms)
His side's inability to win on the big day may have been frustrating for LoBasso, but it was the least of his concerns last year. A few rounds into the season, the fullback showed up to training and left early, citing numbness in his arms and legs, highly unusual for an athlete in his early 20s.
When the condition worsened to the point where he was eventually hospitalised, the doctors could not give him an instant diagnosis and even completed tests to rule out Motor Neurone Disease. After being fully fit a week earlier, LoBasso went into detail about how much and quickly he had deteriorated.
"I had something connected to me at all times, and they would frequently take blood from me every hour or two. It was quite gruelling that week and a half in the hospital. It just kept getting worse every single day to the point where I ended up in a wheelchair to get to my appointment because I couldn’t walk, couldn’t chew my food, because I couldn’t open my jaw. I basically became almost paralysed; it was crazy," he said.
With the possibilities of a pinched nerve, an infection, and MND all ruled out by tests, doctors eventually diagnosed LoBasso with the rare Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). In this condition, a body's immune system attacks its nerves.
After a couple of weeks in hospital care, with his family constantly by his side, the pain eased up for LoBasso, and he was discharged. Losing 10 kilograms worth of muscle and being bedridden for weeks meant that LoBasso had a battle on his hands to return to an NPL field and regain his everyday life.
LoBasso faced an uphill battle, but his family was with him every step of the way. From having to dress and shower him in the early stages, LoBasso recalled his initial efforts to get comfortable with walking again.
"Once I started being able to walk again, that’s when my brothers really took the reigns and tried to push me. There’s a 400-metre block around my house, and we used to walk it, and we’d time it every day," he said.
"That 400-metre walk would take me about 15-16 minutes. It was very slow, but we’d time it, and the next day we’d try to beat it. They’d do it with me, their support was awesome, and my whole family really leaned in and helped me get through it.”
His family was instrumental to LoBasso during that difficult period. But once he was discharged from the hospital, his football family contributed, especially coach Barney Smith.
"As soon as I got discharged from the hospital and got home, Barney came over, and he was messaging me, ringing me throughout the whole process. He came over several days and just spent the morning with me, having a coffee and whatnot. He said, 'just manifest that you’ll be back and playing with us for finals,' and I took his word for it, and I did it," LoBasso shared.
Smith backed his words with action. After LoBasso returned to the club to regain his fitness, his manager insisted he would train with the first team, even though he was miles away from being physically ready.
“Even when I got back to training, I was really uncoordinated. I still had a bit of loss of sensation in my feet, and I had to learn how to run again because I was so uncoordinated and whatnot. But he (Smith) was adamant that I was training with the first team," LoBasso said.
"Even though I’d break drills down, which sometimes was frustrating for the boys given how limited I was, how bad I was those first few trainings, but he (Smith) said, 'you’re doing this journey with us because you’re going to play this year.' I don’t know why he had that belief, you’ll have to ask him, but he was a massive support and made me feel confident in myself that I could do it."
LoBasso eventually returned to the pitch with the Comets Reserves side to get match fit. He returned to the senior team for his side's first finals match against Croydon about half a year after his diagnosis.
LoBasso stated that he could not have recovered as he did if not for the support of his family at home and his adopted family at the club. He recalled his teammates taking care of him and presenting him with a Liverpool jersey during his absence from the club, along with countless messages of support. Teammate Julian Torresan was even telling him that he wanted him back to watch a match, to the extent that Torresan would carry him if he could not walk.
Even though he was overwhelmed by the care and affection displayed by the people of his club, LoBasso was far from surprised that the Comets organisation got around one of their own. It's evident why a boy from a tight-knit community in Port Pirie has fit in so well at Ellis Park.
"It is our mindset [that] if one person is in a shit situation, everyone will band together and pull you along with us. That’s how we got to our Grand Finals, no man left behind, everyone chipping in and helping everyone get to where they need to, it extends through the whole club," LoBasso shared.
"In terms of what the club has given me, it is far more than I can ever give the club and the playing group."
Despite all the odds stacked against him, LoBasso, as his coach predicted, did not just play finals but also appeared in a fourth consecutive Grand Final. Losing yet another may have been disappointing for Comets. But just making it there and going through his harrowing ordeal contextualised the loss for LoBasso, who tweeted afterwards: "the world does keep spinning, who would of thought..."
With a new season approaching and LoBasso remaining faithful to the community that stood by him in his lowest moments, the defender is getting stronger in his return to full fitness. Completing tasks that he used to take for granted is now a reminder of the fight he had on his hands only months earlier.
"I am trying to get fit for pre-season, and I went for a run around the 400-metre block that it took me 15 minutes to walk around, stumbling around where the weight of my shoes was too much to lift my foot up, and now, I am flying through it running. It just takes you back to how far I’ve come, and it changes your perspective for sure," he said.
The Adelaide Comets have changed their coaching ranks and senior team, getting younger in the process, as they fight to return to a fifth consecutive Grand Final and finally win it all in 2023. LoBasso's story has only been partially written. Potential success at Comets would be the perfect ending to a tale of resilience and a community banding together to support a brother who would not hesitate to do the same if the roles were reversed.
Click here to listen to part two of the Kickin' It Local Podcast episode with Jayden Lo Basso, where he discusses how he came back from his GBS diagnosis. In part one, LoBasso shares more about his football journey coming from a tight-knit community in Port Pirie.
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