What has amazed Kyle Costigan the most are all the letters. They arrive daily to the tidy home in Wind Lake, so many different postmarks and so much good will tucked inside.
Many are from people he’s never met, folks who just wanted to help a family in need.
Costigan, the senior right guard for the University of Wisconsin football team, squinted into the late-morning sun Tuesday and tried to make sense of the sentimental outpouring that has made a difficult moment in his life easier to manage.
“There’s no way you can ever really express your gratitude to all those people,” he said. “If there’s anything I could do personally to thank them I would. But I don’t really know what to do.”
Six months ago, Costigan’s mother, Sandy, was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer. She and her husband, Dennis, were paying their own insurance premiums, but that became complicated by her illness and her need to travel to Illinois for expensive treatment.
Family friends organized a springtime benefit in Wind Lake, located 20 miles south of Milwaukee, and then took to social media to see if by chance anyone else might want to help.
An account was set up July 15 on GoFundMe — a fundraising website — with a goal of securing $10,000.
In less than a month, 174 parties not only made pledges totaling $10,900, many authored messages of support to the Costigans.
“It’s amazing,” Kyle said. “I talked to my mom and dad about it and there’s no way we could ever thank all the people.
“There were a lot of people that we know that helped us, but there’s countless numbers of people we’ve never met or don’t know us at all that are really supportive.”
The Costigans are hopeful the generosity continues Sept. 13 when another benefit is held from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Roadhouse at KBII in Wind Lake.
That aforementioned tote board total doesn’t include the letters that have arrived at the Costigan’s home.
Kyle, who has three sisters, recounted a recent telephone call from his mother in which she described a card sent from a stranger in northern Wisconsin. The sender forwarded $100 saying she was praying for the Costigans.
“These people are unbelievable,” Kyle said, shaking his head. “It’s a humbling experience.”
As you might expect, this is not an easy topic for Costigan, who was a standout defensive tackle at Muskego High School. Not only is it emotionally delicate — especially for an only son regarding his mother — but casual banter and questions from reporters don’t seem to be among his priorities.
Asked after practice Tuesday how his mother was doing, Costigan’s eyes narrowed.
“She’s OK,” he said. “Some days are better than others. It’s a difficult question to answer.”
Costigan, listed at 6-foot-5 and 319 pounds, is the stoic type who would prefer to let his attitude and play speak. He’s the kind of guy who suffered a dislocated kneecap during the 2012 Big Ten Conference season opener vs. Nebraska, but finished the game. He’s the kind of guy who’s had multiple surgeries as a result of the injury, but doesn’t let on about the pain.
“Kyle, he’s a really strong dude,” UW senior right tackle Rob Havenstein said. “He kind of likes to keep most of his problems to himself.”
That changed when word got out about the family’s plight.
“He kind of opened up a little bit and started sharing what was going on,” Havenstein said of Costigan. “With something of this magnitude, Kyle reached out a little bit and he felt only open arms on the team.”
Badgers teammates young and old have come forward with stories, sympathies and the occasional embrace. Same goes for UW coach Gary Andersen and his staff.
“So many guys have reached out to me,” Costigan said. “It’s amazing how something like this can bring so many people together.”
Havenstein said he’d heard that the Costigans’ fundraising goal had been met — and then some.
“It speaks huge, especially of this Wisconsin family that we have here and I’m not just saying the coaches and the players,” he said. “I’m talking about the fans, the families of the players, the families of the coaches.”
Costigan has managed to keep his worlds separate during preseason training practices at Camp Randall Stadium. When he’s on the field he’s all business. When he steps away, “I’m thinking of her,” he said.
The trying circumstances have definitely changed Costigan. He mentioned how he used to go home with a carefree attitude about family and life.
“You don’t realize how fragile that is,” he said. “You should be able to know you’re not going to have your parents around forever and should be able to understand that in those moments you should be happy and cherish those times.
“You shouldn’t take it for granted. Family should always be No. 1 in your life.”
Costigan is just realizing just how big his family really is.