Former UMD basketball player remembered as inspirationRon Metso, a former Bulldogs center who was paralyzed in a diving accident in 1990, died of heart failure Sunday in Robbinsdale, Minn. He was 54.
By: Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune
Former Minnesota Duluth men’s basketball coach Gary Holquist remembers Ron Metso as the most positive person he ever had been around.
That never changed, Holquist said, even after Metso was paralyzed in a diving accident in July 1990. In fact, it was that same attitude that helped sustain him through all the subsequent challenges.
Metso, a former Minnesota Duluth center, died of heart failure Sunday in Robbinsdale, Minn. He was 54.
“Ron showed that you can still live a great life even after something tragic like that happens to you,” Holquist said. “Ron embraced life. If I could think of anybody who epitomized being a positive person and taking the best that life gave you, and living it to the fullest, it was Ron Metso. He embraced every second, whether it was before he was in a wheelchair or after. He amazed me.”
Metso grew up on a dairy farm near Barnum before going on to a stellar four-year career at UMD. As a senior in 1979-80, he ranked second on the team in scoring (a career-high 15.8 points per game) and rebounding (9.8 rpg) while leading the Bulldogs in field goal percentage at 51 percent.
Metso formed a tough post presence with Rockne Johnson and left UMD as the No. 25 career scorer with 966 points. He played professionally for one year in Luxembourg before returning, beginning a career as an American Family Insurance agent in 1983.
Butch Kuronen was a teammate of Metso’s for one season and later worked with him as a student assistant. Kuronen compared Metso’s deceptive playing style to Iron Range great Kevin McHale and talked about how Metso used to work out wearing a weighted vest.
Kuronen and Metso remained close throughout, calling each other about once a week even after Metso moved to Maple Grove, Minn.
“Ron was a self-made player,” Kuronen said. “He stayed in Duluth in the summers and just worked and worked and worked. He’d always be up in the hallways of the gymnasium running with that vest on and doing agility drills. He made himself into a very good player. He took advantage of every ounce of ability he had. As a coach, you talk about potential. Well, he reached his potential more than any player I ever saw.”
The 6-foot-6 Metso was injured after diving into a friend’s swimming pool in 1990, hitting the slope separating the deep end from the shallow end and breaking his neck. He was paralyzed from the shoulders down. Nine months after the accident his wife of nearly eight years left him and he never remarried. Even though he was confined to a wheelchair the rest of his life he was able to regain some function in his arms.
Infections eventually led to Metso losing both legs, but he remained positive through it all.
“Ron was amazing. Just unbelievable,” Kuronen said. “You came away feeling better after you talked to Ron, no matter what you had going on. It didn’t matter if he was lying in the hospital. He had pneumonia about two years ago, and while in the hospital, they found out his kidneys were failing. To him, it was a positive spin: ‘Sure, I got pneumonia, but they were able to find the bigger problem.’ He would always find the positives in any situation.”
Metso lost his older brother, Michael Metso, to a heart attack in March.
“Of all the challenges Ron had, I never saw him cry, I never saw him get emotional, except about his brother,” Kuronen said. “That was very hard on him.”
While UMD basketball remained dear to Metso, he was a fan of all Bulldog sports. It wasn’t unusual for him to attend a UMD volleyball match when the Bulldogs played at rival Concordia-St. Paul.
A memorial visitation for Metso will be from 10 a.m. until the 11 a.m. memorial Mass Saturday at Holy Angels Catholic Church in Moose Lake.
Holquist said Metso will be remembered forever as an inspiration.
“Whenever I spent time with Ron Metso, I felt I was invincible and like I was a better person in my life,” Holquist said. “That’s the way Ron made you feel. He made you feel like there was a purpose in life. He was an incredible, incredible man. The ‘Bulldog Nation’ is going to miss him dearly. He touched a lot of lives.”
Comments posted on this page do not reflect opinions of Forum Communications Company. Forum Communications Company does not endorse and is not responsible for any statement, opinion, advice given or made. All replies are subject to approval and must follow Forum Communications Company guidelines concerning statements of libel, personal attacks or defamation of character. Replies in the "Talk About It" section that criticize a person by name may not be posted, unless that person is openly involved in a public issue. Comments written in all capital letters or bold print will not be considered for inclusion in the forum.