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Ryan Boyle: From Tragedy to Triumph

By Angel Neri

This year's Winter Olympics in South Korea have closed, and the winners have brought their medals home; but for many other athletes, the road is only just beginning toward Tokyo 2020. One of those athletes is American Paralympic silver medalist, Ryan Boyle.

Ryan Boyle - When the Lights Go Out

Every Paralympian's story is worthy of admiration. They're all full of incredible struggles and difficulties to overcome, but Ryan's story is especially exemplary.

Suffering from a traumatic brain injury after an accident in his childhood that forced doctors to remove a portion of his brain, his family was left with not much more than the hope that, in time, he might be able to regain movement in his righthand.

Now, Ryan is the author of a book, "When the Lights Go Out," in which he shares history, and has won the silver medal for Paracycling in Rio 2016. His story is one of perseverance and drive; a story sure to inspire hope.

I had the pleasure of speaking to him over the phone about his story, his achievements, and what's next, for In Entertainment:

Would you mind sharing your story?

Sure! When I was 9 years old I was at a friend's party playing on his big-wheel toy, when I slid down the road into the path of a speeding pick-up truck, which hit me in the back of my head and dragged me under the axle for 55 feet before coming to a stop.

That immediately forced me into a 2-month long coma in which I had to undergo emergency brain surgery, where they had to remove a large portion of my cerebellum, which controls many of the body's functions, mainly balance.

My skull was crushed into my brain upon impact. When I was wheeled out of the operating room, my neurosurgeon told my parents, "I operated on him as if he had a chance - but I don't believe he does."

That sort of set the tone for the next two months. I slowly showed signs of improvement. As I began to come out of my coma, my mom researched rehab hospitals for me to re-learn how to walk and be a normal human being again.

[Later] the neurologist who first gave the prognosis of my well-being, he told my parents, "I'm optimistic that he'll regain enough strength in his right hand to type." Immediately my parents shot back, "No, you're wrong about that. He'll be back up running and riding his back again". The running part is still a bit - still working on that. But I'm back on my bike.

Tell me more about your recovery. What did it consist of?

Tons of therapy. First, I went to physical therapy, and occupational therapy. Sometimes those were together. And then I would go into the pool, and once I progressed enough I would ride an adaptive tricycle. But at the end of the day there was always a recreational therapy. That was my favorite because we just got to play videogames.

What would you say was the hardest part of that process for you?

It was a lot of hard work, and there were no easy parts about it. I would just say the hardest thing [was] learning how to walk again; it kind of combined every aspect that I had to relearn because you have to be able to sit, stand, swallow, eat, all that, in order to walk.

You've done so much! What would you say was the most meaningful to you?

[hesitating] That's a tough question. [laughing] I mean, it's a good problem to have! But, I can offer you a two-part answer. At first, quickly, I would just say, getting my silver medal; because that is a symbol of how much work went into where I am now, and how many people helped me along the way.

But, in another regard it would be my book, because all I want to do is help people and make an impact on others during this life. I will always have my book to sort of go back to spread inspiration.

When did you decide to begin writing it?

The summer of my 8th grade year, so roughly ten years ago.

Are you writing anything else at the moment?

Yeah! I'm actually finishing my next book. It has the working title of "The Fruit of All Evil".

Now, the Olympics. I'm sure people ask you all the time, too, but what was it like being there? I mean, huge achievement. It's the Olympics. What was that like?

It was pretty surreal. It was beautiful. The village had about twenty 18-story buildings for all the athletes to stay in, and the village was right on the bay. We could go up to the tops of the buildings and look out to that phenomenal view. The climate there was just ideal. That enabled a lot of the architecture to be built with a focus on being outside, and I love being outdoors.

Do you have any cool stories from your time in Rio? Anything funny you'd like to share?

[laughing] Yeah, I do! So, the night before my timed trial. It was late, and I just needed to pack my bags and then go to bed. But my floor was tile, and I was wearing socks...so I slipped, and I whacked my face on the metal bed frame and, my tooth! My tooth went through my lip! My friends made me compress some ice on my lip and then, long story short, I got to bed an hour after I anticipated, so I was frustrated with that, but - y'know, it got me a silver medal! Fortunately, I did get the stains out of that shirt and I can wear it again [chuckles].

What was it like interacting with the other athletes?

Oh it was phenomenal. I really enjoyed that. One of my favorite things about Rio was going to the dining hall, because it was just a melting pot of all the different nations. I befriended the Irish team, and the British team and then the last night I wanted to get rid of some of my clothing that I would never wear, and so I just looked around for [someone] and I found some coaches from Kenya. So, I'm like, "Here, have these!", and... their faces just lit up.

Besides your book, is there anything else you're working on now?

Well, you know I'm trying to finish my book so I've been doing a lot of writing. I also need to get through the class I started taking in January - Intro to Communication Theory. I'm a Communications major and what I want to do is be a motivational speaker and, well, I think I'm taking all the right steps.

Is there anything else you'd like to add before we finish?

Yes. As for what you can expect from me in the future; a major thing I neglected [mentioning], is getting the gold in Tokyo.

So, you're training now?

Yeah, every day. It's pretty grueling, I must say, but today was an easy day. I relish my easy days. They don't come around often.

Ryan is no stranger to that kind of effort. He survived they accident, he's won a silver medal in the Olympics, he's written a book is working on a second one, taking communications, and is training for the upcoming Olympics. As an illustration of what the human spirit can accomplish, you can't do much better than Ryan Boyle.

To get a copy of When the Lights Go Out and learn more about Ryan Boyle visit www.RyanBoyle.me.

Hollywood, CA

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