How Oklahoma State’s Rylee Langerman turned alopecia into platform: ‘It’s bigger than her’ – GudMag


STILLWATER — A bulky brace on her left knee and circular bruises on the front and side of her right shoulder were the obvious signs of a grueling basketball season.

But Oklahoma State guard Rylee Langerman was far from slowing down.

She doesn’t know how.

“I don’t think I’ve always been necessarily the most skilled or the most talented, but I’ve always prided myself on working hard,” Langerman said.

There’s a certain beauty to Langerman’s game.

She’s the all-out grinder, the player who never stops. Being a scorer is her last option. It’s the hustle plays that truly matter.

Diving for loose balls. Grabbing the tough rebound. Deflecting passes.

The grittiness she displays on the court echoes her life away from basketball.

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Langerman has alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. Since the eighth grade, she has had very little to no hair on her head. She wears a headband on and off the court.

So, when Langerman and the eighth-seeded Cowgirls open the Big 12 Tournament against No. 9-seeded TCU at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Kansas City, Missouri, there will be no tougher player in T-Mobile Center. 

What could have been a huge burden has become her platform. Deeply rooted in her faith, she lives life with humility and understanding of a bigger picture. She’s the inspiration for young girls also dealing with alopecia. 

“It’s bigger,” said Melissa Langerman, her mom. “It’s just bigger than alopecia. It’s bigger than her. It’s God, God’s hand working it all to make a purpose of it.”

The understanding of the plan took time.

Rylee is a 5-foot-9 senior in her first season with the Cowgirls. She’s started four games and averaged 4.7 points and 3.9 rebounds. She began her collegiate career at Arkansas, where she became a fan favorite, and starred at Christian Heritage Academy in Del City.

In that span, she’s tirelessly worked to be known for more than her look.

Alopecia, as grueling as it can be, has made her nearly unbreakable. Basketball is her outlet and platform. 

It’s also where Langerman is free.

“Once you step on the court, really nothing else matters except for putting the ball in the hoop and winning the game,” she said. “I think having an escape that made me no different than anyone else and was something that I could focus on and work at and put all of my energy and effort into was really good for me. 

“It gave me a sense of comfort and some purpose to just do something that I’m good at.”

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‘A downhill slope’

Rylee Langerman could initially cover the dime-sized bald spots.

She would shift her long brown hair around. Or sometimes a spot was not discovered until hair was growing back in its place.

Stress from losing both grandfathers within a year in the second grade started the symptoms. Doctors then diagnosed Langerman with alopecia areata. 

“I had literally not heard of it,” Melissa Langerman said. “I never even thought in a million years that it would result in losing all of her hair.”

Rylee’s father, RJ, an orthopedic surgeon, quickly learned he could not fix the disorder.

He and Melissa still sought answers. They prayed a lot. But they mostly worked to encourage Rylee.

Rylee also leaned on her twin brother, Ryan.

Born 19 minutes apart, the two challenged each other. Ryan was the better shooter on a basketball court. One-on-one games were ultimately banned, though.

“That was mainly her fault,” Ryan said. “She is definitely the more competitive of the two of us. Really anytime that it didn’t go her way, there was probably some elbows being thrown or some pushing or shoving.

“I probably instigated it and made her more mad than I should have been.”

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But they had each other’s back.

Rylee asked Ryan to always let her know if a bald spot was showing. She would cover it up. So, few knew she had alopecia.

That was their system into middle school. 

One day, though, things changed. Ryan told Rylee of a spot during class. 

She was unable to cover it.

“It was kind of a downhill slope to where she lost all of her hair in about a year,” Ryan said.

In Rylee’s eighth-grade year, the missing patches were bigger and bigger as she hit puberty. She grew around 7 inches by her freshman year as all of her hair came out. 

Her confidence shrunk to a new low. Insecurities creeped in. She sometimes refused to go out in public. 

Rylee trusted her faith, but she was losing joy. 

“I think that time of life for any kid, any girl is already a very challenging time of life just because you’re trying to fit in, trying to be self confident, trying to just figure out who you are,” Rylee said. “So, adding in losing all of your hair and adding in something that makes you literally completely different from everyone else from the moment they meet you, is something that’s really hard to overcome.”

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‘She was a strength’

Sarah Davidson never knew Rylee Langerman with hair.

Davidson first saw Langerman during chapel at Christian Heritage Academy. Davidson was two years older, a sophomore.

The next year, Davidson began to force a life-long friendship. 

They were basketball teammates. Davidson — who is loud and outgoing, the opposite of Langerman — was desperate to hang out, even as her attempts were thwarted.

“I just thought she was cool and fun,” Davidson said.

Before long, she was driving Langerman home from practices. They were spending more and more time together. They became sisters.

Langerman had bad days she has blocked from her memory. Patches of hair would grow back and then fall out. But she ultimately was bald.

Davidson quickly learned Langerman’s strength was becoming unshakeable. 

“She just kind of accepted it from the get-go,” Davidson said. “Being a teenage girl is just terrible anyways. I could never do it and I think that just the way that she’s handled it is incredible.”

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Langerman turned down a wig, trying it on but deciding it wasn’t for her. 

She opted to not join trials for treatments of alopecia. They could have risky side effects. And they were expensive.

“God has given me a clean bill of health,” Langerman said. “There’s literally nothing else wrong with me other than my appearance, so I’m not going to risk my health just to look better to other people.”

While she was growing confidence in herself, Langerman skyrocketed to new levels on the basketball court.

She helped CHA win back-to-back state championships. Division I programs began to show interest. She committed to Arkansas before her junior season.

“She was a wall,” CHA coach Lisa LittleJim said. “She was a strength. She has something internally that very few have.”

Langerman was more comfortable. She was beginning to accept and understand.

“This is just what makes me different from everybody else is something that I just had to hold on to,” Langerman said. “Then having people around me that supported me and made me feel no different than them, and just encouraging me to be exactly who I am is, I think, what helped me get through that.”

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‘She rocks it’

The young girl only wanted to see Rylee Langerman in person.

Like Langerman, she had alopecia. This was a chance to see someone like her thrive.

So, a few years ago, her family drove more than three hours to Athens, Georgia. Arkansas was playing the Bulldogs.

Afterward, Langerman met the girl who had alopecia.

“That was one of the most surreal moments for me,” Langerman said. “The impact I could have wasn’t just bound to Oklahoma or bound to kids around Arkansas.”

Throughout her college career at Arkansas and OSU, Langerman has become the face of hope for young kids dealing with alopecia.

The moments with them are frequent.

At Arkansas, Langerman was selected twice to the SEC Community Service Team. Her platform grew on the Power Five stage with the whole world able to watch. 

Alopecia became her purpose and platform.

“The way she has handled having alopecia says everything you need to know about her,” OSU coach Jacie Hoyt said. “First of all, she has a really strong faith. She feels like whatever hand she’s dealt, that’s her platform to be a witness. I see her do that every day. 

“She never is one to feel sorry for herself or want anyone to feel sorry for her. She’s determined to make the most of her situation. She’s done that in her personal life. She’s done that here as a basketball player, just battling.”

Langerman still refuses to undergo treatments or participate in medical trials. She believes if not everybody can afford it, she has no interest. 

“I want to show them that it doesn’t matter,” she said. “I have nothing to hide and I have nothing that I want to change, so they shouldn’t either.”

Langerman shaves her head once a week — her hair suddenly began growing consistently in black patches again last fall — and she has a name, image and likeness deal with My Two Brows, a company founded by Jason Berndt, who has alopecia, that produces 3D brows.

“She rocks it,” her twin, Ryan, said. “She doesn’t try to hide it. She embraces it.”

Rylee plans to return to the Cowgirls next season as she wraps up her master’s degrees. Then, it’s on to medical school, hopefully joining Ryan at OSU-Tulsa, where he was recently accepted.

Rylee has no idea what field of medicine she will pursue. She just wants to continue to help others.

But basketball is first. On the court, she has a stage and desire to make an impact.

“I think that this is the whole reason why God made me this way,” Langerman said, “is to be able to be on this platform and to be able to talk to other people and to inspire other people to be exactly who they are, and to depend on the Lord’s plan.”

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