Remembering the distance traveled

Earlier this month I sat around the TV in my basement with a group of guys watching the Cincinnati Bengals game on Monday night football. The food was great, the camaraderie even better. Nothing like arguing over an array of pointless sports-related issues with guys during a football game. In the moment though, I couldn’t help but notice how much of the evening had to be catered toward me due to my physical limitations. I would have preferred not having to rely on a friend to feed me. It would be nice to join in the high-fives after a touchdown rather than leave my motionless arms resting in place by my side while others jostled around the room. It also would have been ideal to not be restricted to my parents’ basement since my wheelchair cannot get into other friends’ houses.

Then the thought hit me like a wrecking ball: I should be on a feeding tube.

Multiple times along the journey over the past few years I have been reminded of a quote that became embedded in my mind after seeing it each day at the the spinal cord injury facility, where I had physical therapy when I returned home:

“Do not focus on the road ahead without remembering the distance already traveled.”

On November 20, 2009, the night my car flipped off the side of the highway and I was airlifted to the hospital, the emergency room doctor on staff was quick to tell my parents that I had sustained a Christopher Reeve type injury. The ensuing medical prognosis was that I would be dependent on a feeding tube and a ventilator to breathe, while being unable to move anything below my shoulders…for the rest of my life. Talk about instilling hope from the get-go.

This picture gives a glimpse into how bleak my situation may have looked to an outsider. This was taken over two months after the accident, exhibiting immense weight loss, muscle atrophy, and skin as white as a ghost:

While I gained a great amount of weight and muscle back I still haven't found the answer for the paleness four years later

While I have since gained a great amount of weight and muscle back I still yet to find the answer for the paleness

For weeks after the accident, I was not only unable to move anything below my shoulders; I could not talk, I could not eat, and I could not breathe on my own. For those wondering, I enjoy doing all three of these things quite a bit.

After two months, I managed to get off the ventilator, but it was a round-the-clock marathon as respiratory therapists put me through the ringer to strengthen my lung power in order to enable me to breathe independently. After three months of being unable to eat, doctors and speech therapists had no explanation for a miraculous event that took place over a weekend in which I went from struggling to get ice chips down on Friday to enjoying Eggplant Parmesan the following Monday. (Hospital food never tasted so good).

I was told that any movement I was going to regain would return within the first few weeks and that after this brief window closed there wouldn’t be much more hope for any physical recovery. However, immense breakthrough has continued to take place nearly four years after the hopeless prognosis. A few portions of that are recorded in this video:

This progress has been nothing short of miraculous. While this movement is far from complete restoration, God says to not despise small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10), and in fact to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18.). “All circumstances” includes the simple joy of being around friends watching football while not losing sight of how far God has brought me to this point, regardless of whether or not I can yet feed myself or exchange a high-five.

It’s interesting how so many times in life, I will focus on what I don’t have, what I can’t do – instead of what I have, what I can do, and what I’ve been blessed with. While I currently may be limited with what I can do physically, I do not want take for granted basic life luxuries such as talking, breathing, and eating.

It may not always be easy, but when I am able to genuinely thank God for the distance traveled rather than worry about what’s ahead, what is missing from a physical standpoint in the moment begins to minimize. Giving thanks in all circumstances keeps my focus on God and how far he’s brought me, and doesn’t allow me to fixate on what’s lacking. However, this doesn’t mean that I just sit content and accept my physical circumstance as permanent – as the doctors may have said. I know nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 19:26) and he is still able to do far beyond anything I can imagine.

  1. Steve Wenstrup said:

    Thanks Ryan. I have no doubt you were meant to be challenged because God knew through you he would have an Effective message.

    Keep up the efforts. You will prevail.

    *Steve Wenstrup*


  2. Meg Hughes said:

    Ryan you are so amazing. I went to UC and was a Kappa and remember when the accident rocked so many people. Thank you for writing this and sharing your story, you are an amazing inspiration and I am sharing it with so many!


  3. Donna Fisher said:

    You are such an amazing young man, but that is something I knew from the first time I met you way before the accident. So awed by how far you’ve come, but I’m awed by all God’s wonderful handiwork. With you, I’m trusting God for His healing and peace and strength for you. His timing is perfect and I know He has wonderful plans for you. I posted this quote on FB yesterday and I want to share it with you. “Your pain won’t last forever, but you will. What is coming will make sense of what is happening now. Let God finish His work.” Max Lucado. Love you Ryan and my prayers are always with you.


  4. Brian Tome said:

    You are such a good and Godly man. Thank you for helping us see aspects of life and Jesus and faithfully communicating truth. Your blog is turning out to be a bell of clarity. Well done.


  5. Whitney Graf said:

    Hi Ryan,

    I don’t know you and we’ve never met, but I came across your story on a friend’s page and was so moved. Thank you so much for sharing. You’ve clearly come such a long way and continue to move forward everyday. Stay positive =)



    • Tom Lipsey said:

      Thanks Ryan for sharing your journey and the amazing truth you are living and reminding us all to embrace! You are the man.


  6. Norm Baker said:

    Ryan — I am rereading a 1942 novel, The Robe. As you may know it is the story of a Roman soldier who wins Christ’s robe and then sets off on a journey to find the truth about the Nazarene and his robe. In his quest, he learns about Christ, His message, and His miracles from the very people who were closest to him and who experienced his miracles. For me, reading the novel refreshes my spirit and strengthens my faith. Your postings have the same impact on me. Thank you for your inspirational message. You are a blessing!


  7. Karen Woelk said:

    Amen Ryan! Thank you for writing.


  8. Phil Dinovo said:

    Ryan, loving the updates, man. You continue to be an inspiration to myself and lots of others. Keep up the good work. S&C


  9. Jen Luckett said:

    Thanks for sharing…you are a strong source of encouragement. May you continue to know the Presence of The Lord in and through you along this journey. Hope to visit soon 🙂


  10. Lori Taylor said:

    Hi Ryan, Have not met you but a friend posted this on Facebook. My daughter was in a car accident almost 11 years ago. Her SCI is at C1-C2. You too are very inspirational! Thanks for telling your story. My daughters name is Jenni. Her blog is The site that breathes. Check it out if you have time. You would have a lot in common! You will be in our prayers.


  11. Karen Meyer said:

    Thanks for sharing Ryan. I hope you continue to share your journey. Our family has always kept you in our prayers. We live down the street from you and I am going to share these posts with my kids. Your faith and determination will inspire many.


  12. Nancy Powel said:

    God is working through you Ryan in a most remarkable way. I am inspired by your words and Christ-centered sharing.


  13. Judy Dalambakis said:

    Ryan, you are truly an amazing individual! I am blessed to know you and your wonderful family! Love your blog. You are a very talented writer. Judy


  14. Kathleen Fussinger said:

    Ryan, thank you for this blog. You are an inspiration. Sharing your journey is a gift to so many.


  15. Hannah Spieles said:

    Thanks for the reality check Ryan. I am humbled by your strength and faith. Blessings and healing to you!


  16. Jay Payne said:

    So great to be able to hear whats going on in your mind, and to see the progress you are making.


  17. Jon Doerger said:

    Ryan, thanks for sharing your story and reminding us about what is most important in life. Your ambition, strength, perseverance, and faith is such a powerful motivation to many. Reading your blog these past couple of weeks has been uplifting and inspiring. Keep up the awesome work!



  18. Ryan,

    You continue to be an inspiration.

    It has been wonderful to watch you from your elementary days all the way until now.

    Certainly not everything as we would have planned, but you have seen God work each step of the way.

    Will continue to pray for you and am so thankful for you.

    God Bless,
    Mr. McCollum
    I Corinthians 10:31


  19. Sue said:

    Way to go, Ryan! Your progress truly is miraculous. I appreciate how you are giving God GLORY through every phase of your journey. You are running your race well!!!
    Continued blessings in Christ. BELIEVE for the impossible! With God NOTHING IS!!! Woot woot!


  20. Kristin Bartunek said:

    Hi Ryan, I just found your page and I have to say that you are very inspiring. While I am not even close to being injured in your manner, I too was in a car accident 4 years ago that has changed my life I have had to have multiple back surgeries and have nerve damage to my left leg. I struggle daily with staying positive and seeing the good. Reading your stories help with that! So thank you and God bless you.


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