So if you’re going to set goals, might as well set them high. That’s what Ryan has done as he aims to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. On his Facebook page called Ryan Shay Paratrack he’s posted an advertisement featuring paralympians.
“If I inspire you, this inspires me. Love this,” he writes on his page. “I want to be on one of these ads one day. Actually I'm going to be.”
Aside from his training in Nova Scotia, Ryan has attended a training camp in Atlanta and has another one coming up in March in Daytona. His first wheelchair race was the Runway Run in Halifax.
“It was five kilometres and I had never pushed in a race before,” he says, noting his main area of training is in the shorter distances of 100 metres or 200 metres.
“I was expecting it to be flat. It wasn’t,” he says with a laugh about the Runway Run. “It was flat, turn, hill, steep incline and then downhill. It was quite a push and the chair wouldn’t go straight. I had to turn the steering every few pushes but it was exciting.”
He did the race in a time of 28 minutes and 19 seconds. He was thrilled to have been under the half-hour mark.
Equally pleased was Ryan’s coach Ueli Albert, who spoke with the Vanguard about Ryan’s training and his potential. Albert says Ryan shows initiative, he’s mature and he’s known from the start that you want something, you have to work hard for it.
“Because he was doing AAA hockey before and he did track before, he knew what he has to put into it. Right away I was impressed with that,” says his coach. “I was also impressed with his strength.”
So does he think Ryan can qualify for the 2016 Paralympics? “Absolutely,” he says, adding, however, Ryan still has a long way to go but he’s on the right path.
“When he first started out with the chair it took him about 40 seconds in 100 metres and now he’s down to 21 seconds,” says his coach. “In order to qualify for the Paralympics he’ll probably have to push on 18 seconds.”
Eventually having his own customized chair will help, it’ll probably shave off at least another second from his time right away. Racing with the proper size wheelchair is as important as racing in the right side shoes, his coach says.
“If it’s too wide it’s almost like running in too big shoes,” says Albert. “And if it’s too small, obviously you don’t fit into it.”
Meanwhile, his coach continues to be in awe of Ryan’s determination.
“He drives up here two times a week from Yarmouth. He drives six hours to do a two-hour workout, which just shows you his commitment,” he says. “He’s the package, he’s got it all. It’s just a matter of staying focused and putting in the work.”
In May, Ryan will be traveling to his coach’s home country of Switzerland to compete.
“It’s the biggest wheelchair competition in the world,” says his coach, who describes it almost like a world-cup race. “This will be a huge chance for him to measure himself up against his competition.”
One thing Ryan Shay doesn’t lack is supporters. From the healthcare workers who treated him after the accident, to the people at home that organized fundraisers and a benefit to help him and his family – a big one was held at the Grand Hotel last March featuring the Rockabillys – to his former teammates, coaches, his friends and even people he’s never met, everyone is pulling for him.
“I was never alone unless I wanted to be,” he says. And now he’s feeling the support once again on the Facebook page that he set up to help with fundraising and to chronicle his training, his competitions and his goals. He was amazed that within the first week he had reached around 1,600 likes of his page.
(Incidentally, he’d love more likes on his page. And anyone who feels like throwing some likes the way of his friend and training mate Ben Brown on his Facebook page, he says, would be great too.)
As for his biggest supporters, that honour is reserved for his parents, Greg Shay and Monette Shay, who still get emotional talking about how far their son has come, and how far he’s determined to go. Aside from the training he’s doing, he’s also driving again with the assistance of special adaptations for his vehicle, and while he depends on others, he’s also very independent. It’s a vast difference from where Ryan and the family found themselves a year ago.
“We’re very proud of how far he’s come in a year,” says his mother Monette. “A lot of athletes don’t choose to participate in sports until they’re two or three years after their injury. We’ve very glad that he’s determined to give it his best. He’s got a lot of focus.”
Says his father Greg, “He’s been presented a unique opportunity . . . it could open some good doors for him in the future if he pursues it and sticks with is. It’s exciting and impressive the way he’s stuck with it so far.”
Ryan’s girlfriend Bryce also says he has come a long way since the accident.
“I go up to Halifax with him every Sunday when he goes up and trains,” she says. “He looks a lot faster. I’m really proud.”
This isn’t to say there aren’t days when Ryan doesn’t feel like training.
With the good days, come the bad.
But giving up isn’t an option.
“I look at it as if I’ve got to do it,” he says, not just for himself, but also for others. He wants to create awareness for all para-athletes who, like himself, are making huge strides in their sports. Many of these athletes, he says, are accomplishing things that wouldn’t even cross his mind.
He also wants others with life-altering disabilities or injuries to be encouraged and inspired by what para-athletes are doing.
“I see a lot of people liking my Facebook page who I saw in rehab and they’re in a wheelchair and they could be doing something, or they could be trying to do sports but they’re not.
“A lot of people just lay in bed after their injury and let their body go to waste,” he says. “I want them to look at me and think about themselves and say, ‘Just because I’m injured and it’s a horrible thing I have pretty good chances for good stuff afterwards too.’”
Because although circumstances, at first, may appear life ending, instead they’re really just life changing, he says.
And they can also be unbelievable.
Note to readers: On Ryan's Shay Facebook page will also be information on how people can support him financially or through fundraisers as he looks to raise money to purchase a customized racing wheelchair and raise money for his training and competitions.
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