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.
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!