Atlanta, GA,
09:30 AM

Former Patient Finds New Ways to Pursue Lifelong Hobbies

Bobby Ryals, of Kathleen, Ga., finds joy in everyday life.

Two decades ago, Bobby Ryals, 40, was a competitive, athletic 19-year-old centerfielder for Georgia Southwestern State University’s baseball team. Then, suddenly, he wasn’t. Bobby sustained a spinal cord injury in a car crash that paralyzed him from the waist down.

“At Shepherd Center, the biggest thing I learned was that I could still do just about anything I want to,” Bobby says. “It’s just about adapting and figuring out new ways to do certain things.”

One of the first activities Bobby learned to do was water ski, something he’s still passionate about 20 years later. Just last year, he added snow skiing to his sports resumé, thanks to an intense five-day training session in Breckenridge, Colo., by the Alpine Adaptive Scholarship Program, which was founded in cooperation with Shepherd Center. Halfway through the first day, Bobby was skiing independently. By day two, he was already seeking more difficult terrain higher up the slopes.

“Being an athlete is something that does not go away – the drive and the competitive spirit,” he says. “So to find a new way to stoke that fire, that was great. I wanted to be the most successful guy in the program!”

Today, Bobby, a professional risk manager for State Farm Insurance, shares his story with schools and youth groups, focusing on choice and consequence. He also has found a way to stay involved in baseball through the years, both as a coach and mentor. On the first Saturday of August, Bobby hosts Bobby’s Backyard Wiffle Ball Tournament in his hometown of Cordele, Ga., to raise funds for a program that sends low-income schoolchildren home with food for the weekend. Last year, 38 teams raised $3,500.

If Bobby’s life – sports, work, giving back – doesn’t seem all that unique, well, he says, that’s kind of the point.

“Walking isn’t the only miracle that’s performed at Shepherd Center,” Bobby says. “I live such a normal life. I enjoy my family. I work 50 hours a week. I have fun on the weekends. I think that’s the true testament to what happens at Shepherd Center. My life is really no different than anyone else’s.”

By Phillip Jordan

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.