The idea of a hero is kind of a funny concept. When we think of heroes, we sometimes think of characters with capes, or individuals that save a community from peril. When we think of heroes, we think about those that have served our country in the armed forces. We also think about parents, teachers, police and firefighters that do thankless work each and every day.
When it comes to individual heroes, I think about my buddy Ryan, who is 10 years old and goes to school with my daughter. He and his parents make their home in Lakewood, California. In many ways, Ryan is just a normal American kid. He enjoys playing video games, kicking a soccer ball around the yard and rooting for his beloved Los Angeles Angels. Recently, he got to meet some of his favorite players, and it was a great moment for him.
Not all is “normal” in Ryan’s life compared to his peers, as his version of normalcy has some unique challenges.
Ryan has an extremely rare bone marrow failure that impacts very few people in the United States. At the moment, Ryan is receiving treatment at the University of Minnesota after going through a bone marrow transplant. He has also dealt with the tough challenges of chemotherapy and radiation during his treatment. Ryan and his parents will be in Minnesota for months as Ryan’s body works to accept the new marrow.
Back home, there is a group of people at Ryan’s church that are shaving their heads to support Ryan’s hair loss due to radiation. It is a small gesture, but it is the least that they can do for a young man who has touched a lot of people in his neighborhood, home church and larger community.
Ryan’s little brother, Tyler, passed away in 2007 from complications related to the same condition. Since Ryan is now older, he has a much better understanding of his current reality. This makes his gusto for treatment all the more heroic. Sometimes kids are a lot tougher than us adults.
The heroics of Ryan are on many fronts. I’m sure Ryan has his moments of frustration as he deals with doctors, needles and a mountain of large pills. Despite all this, he is an incredibly upbeat kid and a joy to be around. He inspires a lot of people with his faith, attitude and spirit.
Rather than feel sorry for himself, Ryan recently took it upon himself to start a company with a few of his friends and classmates. The company makes and sells crafts, and the proceeds go to the University of Minnesota, a school in Africa and Ryan’s local church. Ryan and his pals continue to produce and sell their products during his treatment, while staying in touch long-distance via modern communication tools.
Simply put, Ryan is a cool kid. Many people around him would love for Ryan to somehow avoid the more difficult portions of his young life. And yet, he has taken his challenge and used the obstacles to minister to others. That is heroic.
There are a lot of heroic kids in America today, and around the world. Ryan is not the first kid to have physical struggles, and he won’t be the last. However, sometimes real heroes are those that we can reach out and touch, and walk alongside. For me and my family, Ryan is one of those heroes.
Ryan hasn’t stormed any beaches or jumping over tall buildings (yet). That doesn’t change the fact that to me he is a genuine hero. When I think about my daily aches, pains and irritating hassles of life, I try to focus on Ryan and what he has already experienced.
Heroes have a way of putting life into perspective.