Last year I had an entry about Champestrong, how it embodies some of our core values such as perseverance and our sense of family and how it is woven into the very fabric of our school community. And so when Ryan Kwak was seriously injured in a car accident over a week ago, Champestrong was an immediate rallying point for his support. As the extent of his injuries became more apparent, the word “Ryanstrong” spread quickly throughout the school, community, and social media. In fact, you might have seen one of the Ryanstrong shirts that the lacrosse team is selling. As of today, those shirts have raised $3,350 to help the Kwak family with the staggering cost of a rehab center. But this post is not about the fundraising that has been done—which is still important—but rather about Ryan’s spirit and the outpouring of support from the school and community.
I had the opportunity to visit Ryan yesterday, and if you have been keeping up with the updates on his GoFundMe page, you are aware of how significant his injuries are. To briefly summarize, he suffered a serious spinal injury and was told he would be paralyzed from the neck down and would never be able to walk again. He is fully coherent but is unable to talk because of the tracheotomy. Even having seen those pictures, it isn’t until you are in person that the gravity and enormity of the situation strike you. As a parent, it is a terrifying thought, and so I am amazed by his family’s strength and faith. I am proud of how well his friends are coping with not seeing him on daily basis in their senior year and how optimistic they are. But most importantly, I cannot fathom how Ryan must feel, the daily struggle and challenges he faces and will continue to face.
And so when I visited him, it was so heart-warming and inspiring to see him smile, to see a slight smile and a glimmer of optimism on his face. When I pointed out that we had matching purple wristbands (which SCA had been selling and as of this post 953 people had purchased with only 47 remaining) and that everyone wanted one at school, it was apparent that this meant something to him. I also shared with him how tonight’s football game at Broad Run was a purple-out (in honor of Ryan and his love for the Ravens) and that BRHS students would also wear some purple to show their unity, I could tell how much it meant to him. Between the meals being organized for him and all of the fundraising efforts, what is inspiring also is how much people want to help and how much they care. None of us know what he is going through but what we all know is that to feel that people are supportive can make a difference.
And apparently that has.
Ryan certainly faces an enormous battle, but a week ago he was told he would be paralyzed from the neck down. Perhaps you saw the video then three days ago of him waving his hand. He was told he would never walk again; two days ago, a video was shared of him in a wheel chair. These are miraculous feats, and Ryan is a person with a strong sense of faith, which has certainly comforted him and has helped him in his journey towards recovery. But it is also knowing that he is not alone, that his entire school and community is thinking of him and supports him that gives him the strength to continue, to persevere.
After I said goodbye to his mother, I returned to Ryan’s bed and told him I would see him soon. He raised his left hand and made a slight fist to give me a fist bump on my way out.
That is Ryanstrong.