Courtesy of Ryan Boyle
While Adam Rippon and Chloe Kim became the stand-out stars of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, there is another set of athletes with their eyes on future games. Among them is Ryan Boyle, who has his sites set on the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan.
The path to medaling on the international stage is never easy but Boyle’s comes with unique challenges. As he recounted in a recent interview, “I was born at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, and I grew up in Monroe. On Columbus Day at the age of nine, I was at a friend’s sleepover-party when I slid down his driveway into the path of a speeding pickup truck. I was hit and dragged for 55 feet forcing me into a 2-month long coma. My biggest injury was to my head. The impact of the truck crushed the back of my skull into my cerebellum, which controls many of the body’s functions including balance, so a large portion of that had to be removed. Aside from that, I broke my left shoulder, left forearm, my pelvis, right femur, and 6 ribs. I was not given much hope of survival.”
Thanks to what he described as “an incredible medical staff, support of family and friends, the power of prayer, and memories from before,” Boyle started on the difficult path to rehabilitation. “Nothing was ever enough when it came to my treatment for my parents, always fighting for the best for me,” Boyle acknowledged. “Someone was always with me throughout my coma whether it my mom, dad, or brother; I was never alone even when I wasn’t aware of it. After my coma, my mom researched rehab hospitals for me, she lived with me in Blythedale Children’s Hospital for the next 7 months. We had a strong faith at the time and were well connected within the community to have many jump at the chance to pray for not only my survival but also my recovery.”
All the while, Boyle was motivated by his passion for being active. “I loved to mountain bike, BMX race, run, ride my dirt bike, anything that kept me active when I was a kid… I wanted to get that quality of life again no matter how hard it was. Having those memories of growing up were invaluable to me because I just wanted to get back to that.”
He continued, “After my accident, I didn’t know what to do athletically, but swim. I spent a month at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for therapy and it impressed me so much that we all moved down there. When we did, I was recruited onto their swim team, which I was on for a year until I was awarded a handcycle.”
That prize would change Boyle’s life. “I trained and did a race in South Carolina on it and that introduced me to Paracycling,” he explained. “There was a Paracycling coach in the audience who saw me after the race but noticed I had use of my legs meaning I couldn’t race a handcycle competitively. I had to race a tricycle with two rear wheels instead of one. The trike is powered by your legs and is very similar to a traditional road bike.”
Boyle quickly set a lofty goal for himself. “After learning that, I wanted to be World Champion,” Boyle admitted. “That was six years ago. I was going off to college at this same time, so I would get my daily workouts in before class each day, and within a year I was representing Team USA at World Cups in Europe. I was living my childhood dream.”
Boyle had just started Para-cycling at the time of trials for London 2012, so he didn’t go to those games. But he made the 2016 team in Rio. It was time to set a new goal — medaling.
And Boyle did just that. “Winning a silver in Rio was incredible,” he admitted. “I couldn’t control my emotions. Thinking back to all that I’ve been through to achieve that one moment was a tremendous feeling, and to have my parents there with me just made it that much more special.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Boyle has set a new objective. “My goal in Tokyo is to win gold because that would just be the icing on the cake.”
In the meantime, Boyle has penned a memoir about his experiences called When the Lights Go Out. “What inspired me to write the book were all the reactions I got from people over the years that heard of my story. I realized then just how unique, inspiring, and touching my story is — and who am I to keep the world from that? I am passionate about helping others because it was selfless acts of others throughout my recovery that got me to where I am now. What better way for people to learn what a person can come back from than through a firsthand account?”
Boyle hopes that his book impacts his readers’ lives. “My parents would have loved a book like mine to read while I was going through my recovery and all, so now other parents have this. It isn’t just for people like that though, it’s for everyone, to give them hope, to inspire them whether it be from some sort of trauma or simply getting out of bed in the morning.”
There’s no doubt that Boyle’s story and book will do just that.
To get a copy of When the Lights Go Out and learn more about Ryan Boyle visit www.ryanboyle.me.