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
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.