TROY — As a college hockey coach who spends a lot of his time on the recruiting trail, Nolan Graham is used to the long road.
As an ultramarathoner who races at distances much farther than the 26.2 miles of a typical marathon, he’s doubly familiar with that concept.
But the RPI assistant faces the longest road of his life, after being hit by a car on Tuesday, an accident that has left him in the intensive care unit at Albany Medical Center with serious head and brain injuries.
Graham, 38, a 2003 RPI graduate who played for the Engineers from 1999-2003, has been on the RPI staff since the 2010-11 season, retained when Dave Smith was hired to replace Seth Appert as head coach prior to this season.
In the wake of his accident, the RPI community in particular and the college hockey community as a whole have rallied in support of Graham, who has a wife, Crystal, and young daughter, Ellie.
Smith said Graham has been heavily sedated at Albany Med while his doctors monitor the swelling and a bleed on his brain.
“The big window, I guess, for head trauma is in two to five days,” Smith said on Sunday morning. “He has shown steady but inconsistent progress. Today is the fifth full day, so everybody is anxious about today.
“Considering what happened, he’s doing better . . . but he’s not better. He’s not fixed, so it’s a long road.”
Graham was coming out of a Rite Aid in Troy with his 7-year-old nephew Tuesday evening when he was struck by a driver backing out of a parking spot, Smith said.
He has been under sedation at Albany Med ever since.
One of Smith’s duties has been to keep his players updated on the status of their coach. The Engineers have a mandatory week off after their season ended and went on spring break last Sunday.
“For me, I think everybody reacts a little bit differently,” Smith said. “My first thoughts went to him as a dad, and as a husband.
“It’s such a fluke thing, and shows you how nobody is invincible. Here’s a guy who does marathons, who does ultramarathons. He pushed his nephew out of the way of the car. For me, as we get older, we have less of a feeling that we’re invincible.”
While Graham is in the difficult state of recovery, a far-ranging response has come forward.
The GoFundMe account www.gofundme.com/nolan-graham-
“Crystal’s got a lot of support and a lot of family here now,” Smith said. “The RPI community and the friend community have banded together. She’s a strong person who understands what’s going on and is dealing with it remarkably well.
“Besides RPI, if you look at who has stepped forward, it’s Union people, it’s Notre Dame people, it’s the BCHL Juniors. It stretches from Boston to Vancouver to Phoenix . . . you’ve got different threads that have crossed Nolan’s and Crystal’s paths. His teammates and alums come to RPI for hockey and to get a degree, then they go somewhere else, but they always carry that RPI with them.”
After graduating from RPI, Graham played minor league hockey in the East Coast Hockey League, Australian Ice Hockey League and the Central Hockey League before serving as a coach and general manager in the British Columbia Hockey League.
“Every single one of our players has reached out, and they ask a lot of questions,” Smith said. “ ‘How bad is it? What does he look like?’ A lot of them haven’t experienced anything like this and have a lot of questions. ‘How long will it take?’ The answer is we don’t know.”