Paralyzed Navy veteran Ryan Lindstrom believes every human being has a personal mountain to climb. His mountain was erected in 2003, when a life-changing car accident left him in a wheelchair.
“Nobody has a perfect life; everybody has their mountain they climb,” Ryan says in a video for Paralyzed Veterans of America. “Mine is physical; I had no clue what life was going to be after I got hurt. When you’re fresh in a chair, you’re like a newborn baby almost.”
Born in Tampa, Fla., into a strong military family, Ryan enlisted in the Navy after graduating from Tampa Bay Tech High School in 2002, shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Envisioning a Naval career in advanced electronics, Ryan entered technical school after completing boot camp in 2002. While home on leave from training, he fell asleep at the wheel of his car and broke his neck, leaving him partially paralyzed.
“I was lucky enough to have a good family and good background to support me,” Ryan says. “The way I was raised was you have your problems, yet you just keep pushing through. It happened, and now I have to keep moving; I can’t quit.”
It didn’t take long for Ryan to go from looking up from the bottom of his mountain to moving it. In 2003, while working with a recreational therapist as part of his rehabilitation, Ryan discovered wheelchair rugby – a sport that helped him not only overcome what he once considered physical limitations but also discover that life could continue to be lived in full following a disability.
Now, 11 years after starting quad rugby, Ryan’s push to train and compete in quad rugby has become a full-time job. His ultimate goal: qualifying for the U.S. Quad Rugby team for the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Ryan’s club quad rugby team, the Tampa Generals, recently placed fourth in the national championships and improved their standing from division 2 to division 1. He’s also been the recipient of several all-tournament and most valuable player awards.
Ryan maintains a humble attitude, attributing much of his success to the efforts of his team. He also recognizes the support of his parents and family, as well as the role of Paralyzed Veterans of America in helping him discover adaptive sports and providing all the resources necessary to adapt and overcome his life-changing injury.
“Paralyzed Veterans of America gave me the right direction to go as far as which sports to compete in, and they also helped counsel me to find direction in life,” Ryan says. “They provide you with all of the information you need to make your life better.”
While Ryan’s greatest form of rehabilitation has come through adaptive sports, he has not given up on his life goal of eventually going to college to become a teacher. He also hopes his story will inspire other veterans faced with a life-changing injury.
“Life is far from over, and you can do anything you want to do; you just do it sitting down,” Ryan says. “It’s all a matter of getting out there and pushing yourself.”
Read about more Paralyzed Veterans of America members
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.