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Spirit & Sports

Women’s basketball players are fans of this special kid

Expressing how the team feels about 6-year-old Landon McChesney, guard Jacy Sheldon says: “Having him here inspires us.”

Ohio State women’s basketball players circle around a boy in a wheelchair, who is wearing a team and seen from behind. Most of the women are smiling or laughing.

Landon McChesney beams at Kaitlyn Costner (right) as the team surrounds their pal in celebration of a January win over Illinois. (Photo by Corey Wilson)

As the women’s basketball team arrived on the court for a January showdown with Illinois, several players stopped to greet a group of people behind their bench, most wearing shirts reading “LandOn A Cure.” Smiling and waving, the women gravitated toward 6-year-old Landon McChesney. A few hugged him.

Landon has become the players’ pal, and they’ve thrown their support behind his family’s race to discover a treatment for his rare disorder. “Having him [at our games] is really special for all of us,” says guard and grad student Jacy Sheldon ’22. “Having him here inspires us.”

Because of a mutation in Landon’s protein-coding TBCD gene — a condition completely unknown before 2016, with only a few dozen cases documented worldwide since then — he cannot walk and struggles to talk. Doctors predicted he wouldn’t live past age 4. But he’ll turn 7 in April, and his parents, Mike and Jaren McChesney, are pursuing multiple treatment options.

Tournament central

The Buckeyes earned the third seed in the 2023 NCAA women’s basketball tournament. Keep up with the latest news, find brackets and get game tickets on the Ohio State Athletics website.

In 2021, they learned of Rarebase, a company that works to repurpose drugs for new treatments. To participate, the McChesneys had a month to raise $50,000. With the Ohio State-Michigan football game approaching, Mike drove to Ann Arbor with a sign soliciting donations. He maneuvered his poster behind Kirk Herbstreit ’93 during ESPN’s “College GameDay,” and the campaign went viral.

That brought Landon’s case to the attention of Dr. Allison Bradbury, an assistant professor in Ohio State’s Department of Pediatrics and a principal investigator in the Center for Gene Therapy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Her lab is exploring a gene therapy approach to treatment. (Read about her work in this Ohio State College of Medicine story.)

Fundraising through the McChesneys’ LandOn A Cure nonprofit persists, and the Buckeyes are faithful supporters. Coach Kevin McGuff met Landon’s grandfather via a friend of the program and invited the family to a practice in September. The bond between Landon and the players was immediate.

“It was really amazing to watch how authentically they engaged with a kid with special needs,” Jaren McChesney says. “Some people might shy away from interactions, not sure what to say or do. They just jumped right in. Hugs. Passing the basketball. It was just a beautiful moment to watch him be so included and loved.”

The family has attended games and practices, and the team turned out for the LandOn A Cure Foundation’s inaugural Roll-A-Thon fundraiser in October. “We’re excited to continue to be a part of everything they’re trying to do in terms of raising awareness,” McGuff says.

At the game in January, the McChesneys’ story was shared at halftime. And after their come-from-behind win to continue an unprecedented season-opening winning streak — which would last for 19 games — the Buckeyes swarmed Landon.

“The team loves being around him,” says guard Rikki Harris ’22. “It just makes us happy to see him happy.”

A 6-year-old boy with pink cheeks and pink ears sports an openmouthed smile that hints at his front teeth coming in.

Landon shines when the women’s basketball team takes the court. (Photo by Corey Wilson)

A way of life

Community outreach comes naturally to the students who make up this basketball team, who say they’re proud to be role models.

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