Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Step By Step, BT Senior Overcomes Tragedy

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 10, 2012

Ryan Boyle walks the hallway at Blessed Trinity High School with an unsteady gait. All around Boyle, other students hustle to the noon lunch. They’ve got things he doesn’t have: the ability to run and jump, move through life with the kind of carefree attitude that high school kids embrace. At the same time, though, Boyle knows something few others in this school know. He’s been at the bottom, so mad at God that he once thought about taking his own life.

One step at a time, Ryan moves forward.

With a 3.5 GPA, the young man attending Berry College in the fall wants to make a career out of marketing high-end luxury cars. But for now he makes do with “Blue Bell,” his Toyota compact SUV.

He’ll be sitting later in his physics class, with its formulas for speed and other car-related problems to solve. “It has a lot to do with cars, so I like that a lot,” he said.

Ryan, 18, has written a manuscript titled “When the Lights Go Out: A Boy Given a Second Chance” about his recovery from traumatic brain injury. It only needs a publisher. He hasn’t always been upbeat about his second chance. He spent the first years after his accident angry, especially with God. “I didn’t know why he would do such a thing to a kid. I mean, I didn’t kill anyone. I didn’t think I deserved it. I had everything going for me before my accident,” he said.

And there was a time when he was just so fed up that the only option looked like suicide. “I seriously thought about it. I thought of the repercussions and how so many people look up to me and so many depend on me,” he said.

Blessed Trinity High School senior Ryan Boyle holds one of his favorite automobiles, a red Ferrari. Boyle loves cars and biking. In the background are a number of trophies he won for mountain and BMX bike races and soccer before his near fatal accident. Nearly nine years later and after several surgeries and countless prayers, Boyle will attend Berry College, Mount Berry, Ga. Photo By Michael Alexander

What stopped him? The unknown future.

“Who knows what my life could materialize as, and from then on it’s been sunny days and blue skies.”

Life is about accepting limitations. The question is how you deal with it, how you learn to put one foot in front of the other despite the circumstances.

A crash at a birthday party changed his life. Ryan had shelves full of trophies for mountain biking on the New England riding circuit. For this boy, a ride on a three-wheeled toy would be nothing. The Big Wheel slid down the rain-slicked driveway onto the road where it collided with a speeding truck.

His life was in the balance that day in 2003. The crash shattered the back of his skull. Doctors removed part of his skull and some of his cerebellum.  It put him in a coma for two months.

“We were so focused on him surviving. He survived that first night. That was the key,” said his mom, Nancy, a former teacher.

Later he was transferred to Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, N.Y.

“Valhalla means heaven. That’s pretty ironic,” Ryan said.

It would be his home for seven months as he recovered. The crash severely damaged his brain. Doctors braced his parents for news that he may be able to recover enough to type with one hand.

Family members were always at his side, said Nancy, who was so determined she talked her way onto the medical flight ambulance transporting her son.

Her boldness came from having had a challenging pregnancy. Doctors put her on bed rest for six months to avoid losing the baby in her womb. “He was such a gift to begin with. That kid is destined to be here,” she said.

The brain injury forced Ryan to relearn how to speak, eat—everything.

He returned to his Connecticut school’s fifth grade. “It was very frustrating because of the physical therapy and school. And also embarrassing because I didn’t want my friends to see me in a wheelchair,” he said.

Nancy and her husband, Matt, director of development at Emory University, said they never had a conversation with their son about what he couldn’t do. Instead, they stressed how he could focus his determination on new efforts. His goal is now the 2016 Paralympics instead of the Olympics.

And Ryan has taken up the challenge. When physical therapy taxed his body, he wanted more. “He’d literally throw up. His body would not do it. But he never quit,” Nancy said.

His recovery has been step by step. He returned to the classroom at the children’s hospital on a stretcher. He later was in a wheelchair then moved to a walker to forearm crutches and then to a cane. He pulls up his pant leg to show the devices around his calves that send electrical impulses to remind his muscles to lift his feet. It is technology designed for people recovering from strokes.

Blessed Trinity High School senior Ryan Boyle rides his CycleOps indoor training cycle. Boyle is training for the Para-Cycling Road World Championships in Greenville, S.C. this September and the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo By Michael Alexander

His recovery is ongoing. He was part of the hand cycle team at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a specialty hospital for treating spinal cord and brain injuries.

But most of his focus is now on cycling. At his family home in Marietta, he has taken over the living room to train for upcoming competitions, including a shot at tryouts at the Olympic Training Center.

In his darkest days, Ryan wrestled with fear for his future with thoughts of killing himself.  But he realized how he would be letting down his family, the specialists who supported him, and his friends. “By committing suicide, it’s saying ‘I quit, it’s too hard.’ ‘Quit’ is not a word that exists in my vocabulary. Yeah, it was definitely the right call not to do that.”

School principal Frank Moore said Ryan sets an example for the school. Students gave him a standing ovation when he delivered a school-wide speech.

“Nothing discourages him … and he takes advantage of every opportunity,” he said.

“He is very hard-working in the classroom and is always upbeat and positive,” he said in an email.

It was the principal who mentioned to Ryan that he would be the school’s representative in the Georgia Bulletin high school profile series.

Ryan took in the news and then continued on. He had a class to get to, and it would take some time for him to walk down the hallway to the classroom.