A silver medalist at the 2016 Paralympics, road cyclist Ryan Boyle, 24, lives at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The day I called him for an interview, he was packing to fly to Belgium for the 2018 UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup.
Ryan has competed in bike racing since he was a child. At age 8, he was the top mountain bike racer in New England for the 8-13 category. He also was a BMX racer, which earned him the nickname “Flyin’ Ryan.”
A few months before his 10th birthday, Ryan’s life changed after a horrifying accident. His doctors predicted he wouldn’t recover, let alone return to racing.
He lay still under the truck
A Big Wheel bike — yellow wheels spinning — went skidding down the steep driveway backward. Even though he was an experienced biker, Ryan couldn’t turn the toy around. The wet leaves littering the pavement — soaked from the rain that had fallen the night before — made it impossible for the plastic wheels to gain traction.
That October 2003 morning in Monroe, Connecticut, Ryan never saw the speeding Dodge truck as he hurdled down his friend’s driveway toward the road, but the woman who was driving saw him and tried to stop before skidding over Ryan’s head and dragging his body 55 feet.
When an ambulance came, Ryan was barely breathing. He had internal bleeding, a crushed skull, and multiple broken bones including the femur, thigh bone, pelvis, ribs, and collarbone.
The hospital told Ryan’s parents, Nancy and Matt, that they doubted their son would survive because the injuries to his brain were too severe. The Boyles were in a fog of shock, and they couldn’t believe what was happening to them and their son.
During the surgery, the neurosurgeon removed a portion of Ryan’s skull and part of his cerebellum — the part of the brain that controls muscle movement and balance. He told the family that all there was left to do was pray.
Ryan lay in a coma unable to breathe on his own or respond in any way.
One night when Ryan’s dad, Matt, was praying the rosary for his son, he saw a startling sight. Surrounding his son’s bed were eight people who were praying. Five were deceased relatives — including Matt’s dad, two brothers, aunt, and mother-in-law — but there were three other people whom he didn’t immediately recognize.
One of the strangers, a young man, turned to Matt and told him with surety that his son would be fine. It dawned on Matt that the man talking to him was Jesus, and the other two were his parents, Mary and Joseph.
From that moment on, Ryan’s dad did not doubt that his son would live.
A few days later, the Boyles received an unexpected call from a woman who worked with the Sisters of Charity. She told them that earlier in the day, she and some of Sisters of Charity nuns had been at a Mass in honor of the beatification of Mother Teresa. They had heard Bishop William Lori in his homily tell parishioners about Ryan’s dire circumstances, and he was asking for prayers for the boy. The woman explained to the Boyles that the sisters wanted to come to pray over Ryan.
Matt, in Ryan’s book, When the Lights Go Out: A Boy Given A Second Chance (WestBow Press, 2012) says, “Little did I know at the time the miracles that would flow through these holy women into our lives.”
The Missionaries of Charity sisters arrived the next day bringing with them Miraculous Medals with Mary’s image on one side and Mother Teresa on the other. The sisters prayed and placed a medal around his neck, and they taped several medals on all of Ryan’s injury sites. Near Ryan’s head, they laid a relic card — a piece of cloth with a stain of Mother Teresa’s blood on it.
Ryan’s vital signs were grave, but as the sisters prayed, his vitals improved dramatically for a short time to the surprise of the hospital staff. The sisters would come weekly to pray, and each time Ryan’s vital signs would improve temporarily.
Sign on the door
On one of their visits, the Missionaries of Charity were praying for a miracle for Ryan’s breathing tube to be removed. Doctors had tried twice to take the tube out, but without success. Ryan’s parents begged his doctors for a third attempt to see if their son could breathe on his own.
To the amazement of physicians and nurses, on this third attempt, Ryan began breathing on his own. Ryan’s mom placed a sign on his door: “Miracle in Progress.”
Though Ryan was still in a coma — and would be for two months — doctors were now preparing for him to wake up.
The Boyles youngest boy lay in the coma unaware that he was teetering between life and death, but aware enough to know that his family was present. Ryan recalls his dad reading Hardy Boys mysteries out loud to him and hearing scenes from movies that his older brother “watched” with him.
When Ryan finally came out of the coma after two months, he faced an arduous road to recovery. Because he had lost so much of his cerebellum, Ryan would have to learn how to breathe, swallow, eat, talk, and move.
“I was very fortunate where the truck crushed my head because it didn’t affect my personality or my memory,” Ryan explains.
Mother Teresa was watching out
Ryan’s daily life was one therapy after another. He and his parents desperately wanted him to be able to speak, but Ryan was unable to sound out even one syllable. One night, his mom was coaching him on his letter sounds when Ryan finally had a breakthrough with sounding out “da,” “B,” and “H” sounds.
Excited, Nancy called her husband and put Ryan on the phone. That night Ryan said three words to his dad, “Hi,” “Dada,” and “Bye.”
Matt felt this was an answer to his prayers. Earlier that day, he had asked Mother Teresa to intercede for his son. He begged the saint for a sign that Ryan was making progress.
“More specifically, he asked that if I could begin speaking, he would know Mother Teresa was helping us,” Ryan writes in his book.
After that day, he progressed quickly — but not quickly enough for Ryan — needing only seven months of rehab. Over the months and years, he would overcome many physical and emotional challenges. He even had to conquer suicidal thoughts.
“I am incredibly blessed in that I no longer have many limitations,” Ryan says. “But something I deal with 24/7 is ataxia, which makes my brain say one thing and my muscles do another. The ataxia makes me rather spastic particularly when walking — when I am seated, you wouldn’t know.”
Ryan enjoys life and likes a good laugh. He says because of the ataxia, “I use a cane, so people don’t think I am drunk all of the time.”
Ryan is currently majoring in communications at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. “I want to be a motivational speaker, which I already am. I just need a piece of paper to prove it.”
TO LEARN MORE: