Chasing Her Dream: Ryen Reed
I was born with cerebral palsy and hip dysplasia. I grew up being regularly told what I couldn’t do: play sports, run, and I was even told I may never walk again. But nothing could stop me from being an athlete; sports have been and always will be one of my greatest passions.
Growing up in Southern California, I did able-bodied sports like every other kid. I competed in softball for 8 years, played outside for hours, and basically did everything my doctors said I couldn’t. It wasn’t until 2015 at 25 years old that I found out about the Paralympics and realized that my lifelong hope of being an elite athlete was feasible.
I have been chasing that dream ever since.
I had just discovered this whole world of Para sports, and I turned to the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) in San Diego to help me navigate it. Simply put I would not be where I am today without their support.
For the first time in my life, I was learning everything I could do as an athlete. CAF provides equipment, grants, coaching, mentorship, etc. for every type of athlete; it’s an amazing organization.
I tried out nearly every single Para sport there is, and it was in triathlon that I found my love of hand cycling.
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Legs are designed to push hard during long mileage; that’s why we typically cycle with them. Hand cycling presents a unique challenge because arms aren’t really designed for that type of endurance and output, and as hand cyclists we do a lot of work to prepare our upper bodies for the demands of the sport.
So you can imagine how “jokes” like “Oh, she’s laying down on the job,” or “That looks comfortable,” irk me: nothing is relaxing about this at all! We cycle between 9-12 miles for our time trials, and road races are between 29-36 miles, depending on the course and type of race. All with an upper body that we had to tirelessly adapt to participate.
Every single athlete in Para sports has overcome incredible obstacles just to compete. Adaptation and resiliency is the name of our game. Often, athletes find their way to Para sports after becoming injured in their 20s and 30s, and they transform their bodies through training for a whole new sport. Others become injured while competing in their able-bodied sports, and they adapt to compete in Para sports.
It is because of our unique journeys that to me, nothing represents the indomitable spirit of an athlete quite like Para sports.
Seeing is Believing
You would think that I would have been introduced to the Paralympics, organizations like CAF, etc. early on. But when I was growing up, there was simply less visibility around disabilities in sports.
This is why I am so passionate about the mentorship aspect of being a Paralympic hopeful. We get to visit hospitals (not during COVID, of course) and meet these kids. Whether they’re injured or born with a disability, we show them that their lives are not over, and they can realize their dreams of being an athlete or even a Paralympian.
If I had met a “Ryen” when I was growing up, I guarantee you I would have been training for the Paralympics much sooner! I probably would have also been more accepting of my cerebral palsy and hip dysplasia, the importance of which cannot be understated.
Seeing is believing. When these kids meet us, my hope is that they feel empowered to chase after whatever their goals are.
2020 was a tough year for everyone, and sports were no exception. With the Paralympics pushed back a year, I had to seriously dig deep to keep myself in the right headspace to maintain the level of focus and training necessary to earn a slot in Tokyo.
Every day I remind myself of the countless hours of training I've put in, the hundreds of miles logged on my trainer in the garage, the hot days, and the cold mornings. And above all, I think of the people who have supported me on this journey.
I use my social media as a platform to share my training and experiences. With every post, I use the hashtag #NeverGiveUp. While it’s impossible to express in just one hashtag, if I had to capture the essence of my journey as a person and an athlete, #NeverGiveUp is it.
I will never give up.
Ryen Reed is a PFW ambassador and Paralympic hopeful currently competing for a spot in the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo this summer. Follow her journey here!