Interview with Paralympian Cyclist Ryan Boyle

When Ryan Boyle suf­fered a trau­mat­ic brain injury in 2003 at the age of 9, doc­tors had doubts he would even wake up from his coma. But Boyle shat­tered all expec­ta­tions, relearn­ing how to walk, talk, and even­tu­al­ly ride a bike again. Fast for­ward to today and Boyle is now a mul­ti­ple-medal win­ner of the Par­a­lympics Cycling Team and an author—both tru­ly remark­able achieve­ments for a boy who lost part of his brain.

Over the past decade, Boyle has become an accom­plished cyclist, win­ning a gold, two sil­ver, and two bronze medals at the World Cham­pi­onships in 2014, 2015 and 2017. His most recent win, the gold medal in the men’s T2 road race at the Inter­na­tion­al Cycling Union (UCI) Para-cycling Road World Cup in Emmen 2018, cements Boyle as a pro­fes­sion­al ath­lete with a very bright future. Boyle’s book, “When the Lights Go Out: A Boy Giv­en a Sec­ond Chance,” chron­i­cles his jour­ney through­out the last few years.

We talked to Boyle about his past, his train­ing, and what comes next.

THE CLYMB: You were very young when you had your acci­dent. Do you have any mem­o­ry of it and the months that fol­lowed?

RYAN BOYLE: I don’t remem­ber my acci­dent, so my par­ents had to fill me in on what hap­pened, and I remem­ber laugh­ing hys­ter­i­cal­ly because I thought that no one sur­vives some­thing like that! The fol­low­ing months were filled with ther­a­pies. There was a pub­lic school sys­tem with­in the hos­pi­tal that I would attend when I wasn’t in ther­a­py.

Leav­ing the hos­pi­tal after the acci­dent

THE CLYMB: When did cycling become a part of your life and how did it hap­pen? How and why did you start train­ing?

RB: Cycling had been a part of my life since birth. I moun­tain biked and BMX raced grow­ing up, then my acci­dent hap­pened, putting a stop to all that. Back in the hos­pi­tal for ther­a­py, there was some­thing called “bike ther­a­py.” I rode a large and heavy sup­port­ive tri­cy­cle with a ther­a­pist walk­ing along­side me a few times a week. After that, I real­ly didn’t ride until I was award­ed a hand­cy­cle years lat­er because I didn’t know of any adap­tive cycles aside from that. I trained and did a race a few months lat­er where I was intro­duced to a Para-cycling coach who showed me the tri­cy­cle, which I now com­pete on. It has a cus­tom axle giv­ing it 2 rear wheels for sta­bil­i­ty, but oth­er than that, it is a reg­u­lar road bike. Once I saw it, I said, “I need to be World Cham­pi­on.” This guy said he’d be my coach, and since I’ve always been a com­peti­tor, I need­ed to com­pete to fill that void in my life.

THE CLYMB: What prompt­ed you to start com­pet­ing rather than just cycling for fun?

RB: I missed com­pe­ti­tion from before my acci­dent, so I need­ed it back.

THE CLYMB: You were the youngest mem­ber of the USA Par­a­lympic Road Cycling Team in the Rio 2016 games. Can you tell us about that expe­ri­ence and your win?

RB: Rio was incred­i­ble! There were 30 17-sto­ry build­ings the ath­letes stayed in and 5 big, beau­ti­ful­ly-tiled pools. It was a brand new con­do com­plex that would be sold to res­i­dents after the Games. The din­ing hall was one of my favorite places, but not for the food—for the dif­fer­ent cul­tures. It was like a melt­ing pot of var­i­ous coun­tries in there, and see­ing all the dif­fer­ent pins they had to trade was a blast as well. When the day came for my race, I was excit­ed to just be rac­ing in the Par­a­lympics, let alone have a shot at medal­ing. The race was fan­tas­tic because I did all the pass­ing and no one passed me, so I knew that was a good sign. When I crossed the line, I wait­ed in antic­i­pa­tion to hear how I did. Being that this was a time tri­al, each rid­er was sep­a­rat­ed by a minute mak­ing the knowl­edge of your place­ment dif­fi­cult. My care­tak­er even­tu­al­ly said, “Ry, I think you’re on the podi­um.” I lost it when she said that; I did even more when she said I took the sil­ver posi­tion!

THE CLYMB: Are you cur­rent­ly liv­ing at the Olympic Train­ing Vil­lage in Col­orado? What’s your train­ing sched­ule and a typ­i­cal day like?

RB: I am cur­rent­ly liv­ing at the Olympic Train­ing Cen­ter in Col­orado. It’s like a very small, exclu­sive col­lege cam­pus where every­thing you need to make you excel in sports is with­in walk­ing dis­tance such as the gym or the sports med cen­ter, etc. The food is pre­pared for you, which is a tremen­dous asset as well. My typ­i­cal day con­sists of rid­ing, eat­ing, rest­ing, and going to the gym.

THE CLYMB: How are you prepar­ing for the Tokyo games and what are your hopes for the com­pe­ti­tions there?

RB: I am putting a lot of miles into my bike, and always think­ing of new exer­cis­es to do in my pur­suit of being the best. How­ev­er, I did just win both the time tri­al and road race at the World Cham­pi­onships a cou­ple weeks ago, so I’m just focused on stay­ing on top to get that gold in Tokyo.

THE CLYMB: Tell us a lit­tle about your book and why you decid­ed to write it.

RB: My book is the sto­ry of my recov­ery from being hit by a truck at the age of 9. My recov­ery is not over in any way though, so I do have anoth­er book in the works about my cycling career. What made me write it is the num­ber of peo­ple who heard my sto­ry and told me how tru­ly remark­able it is and how I should write it down. I knew that get­ting the word out about my sto­ry would help and inspire oth­ers, which is what I need­ed to do.

I’d like to get my sec­ond book pub­lished and begin build­ing my career as a moti­va­tion­al speak­er. As far as cycling goes, I just became World Cham­pi­on and now I need to stay World Cham­pi­on, so I have my work cut out for me! Like I said, I want to get gold in Tokyo, then we’ll take it from there!