Hillsdale College announced the creation of a merit-based scholarship to honor the late Ryan Newbanks, a young man who became close to the football program while battling Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The scholarship announcement coincides with the one-year anniversary of Newbanks’ death in 2015, and also with Coach To Cure MD week in college football which takes place this weekend on September 24, 2016.
The Timothy Ryan Newbanks Scholarship recipient will be a Hillsdale College student who exemplifies the qualities and values Ryan lived out on a daily basis: overcoming adversity, shining a bright light of hope and joy into the world, demonstrating unconditional care and kindness to others, and a “never-give-up” attitude. Special consideration will be given to an applicant who engages or has engaged in at least one meaningful mentoring relationship with an individual who has faced or faces hardships in life (medical, financial, etc.).
The initial scholarship will be awarded during the 2016-17 academic year. The scholarship was created by former Hillsdale football player Matt Eltringham, who met Ryan while working on a home restoration project in their native Loveland, Ohio in 2010. Eltringham was the starting punter for Hillsdale from 2011-14, and he introduced the team to Ryan, who led the team out of the tunnel before a game in 2014.
Ryan’s family will travel from Ohio to be honored when Hillsdale hosts Michigan Tech this Saturday at 4:30 pm on Coach To Cure MD week. For the ninth straight year, thousands of coaches across the nation will wear a Coach To Cure MD arm patch on the sidelines to raise funding and awareness of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Football fans can help support the fight to end Duchenne by either going online to www.CoachtoCureMD.org or by texting the word CURE to 90999 (a $5 donation will automatically be added to your next phone bill). The program is a partnership between the American Football Coaches Association and Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy.
An in-depth story of Ryan’s journey by his mother, Cheryl
I can remember the day so vividly, holding our 4th boy in my arms who was only 4 months old and waiting in an exam room at Children’s Hospital to see a neurologist for our beautiful 5-year-old Ryan. After many years of telling our pediatrician something didn’t seem right, as Ryan was always falling and he ran strange, our pediatrician, without concern, sent us to a physical therapist. She, after only a couple of minutes of observing Ryan, said we needed to see a neurologist right away.
So here we were, waiting, oblivious to the words that would rock our world for the rest of our lives. As the neurologist gave us the diagnosis, “Duchenne muscular dystrophy” and began telling us the progression and prognosis, the entire event became surreal. It was like a scene in a movie where the camera slowly pans out and moves close in on the person who is supposed to be hearing the doctor speak. The doctor’s words become muffled and the person seems to be just starring off into space and withdrawing into themselves to shut off the receiving of information to painful to process. As we left the hospital life seemed like a bad dream and we drove home in silence.
As we desperately tried to hold onto believing “this will never progress” and believing “this really isn’t happening” and believing” he won’t go into a wheelchair,” we began to see the progression. We would hit stages of mourning, but then came the acceptance of a new stage of weakness. Steps became impossible for Ryan to climb and even walking was becoming challenging, especially without falling. The loss of ambulation was the first and biggest setback for Ryan. In a sense, he was glad he had a device that would allow him to keep up with the other children when he was so tired of trying. For a while, when he was younger, the kids thought the wheelchair was cool and would jump on the back of it for a ride, but as time went on, it became a barrier for some children that made him unapproachable to them.
Having to ride the short bus (the handicapped bus) by himself for the first time was also very painful. He was adamant that he would not get on it and deeply saddened that he would no longer be on a bus surrounded by peers. Duchene was seeming to tear at him and setting him apart from everyone else. The effects of feeling less and different seemed to be taking a toll. As he pulled away that first day by himself, after trying to be especially cheerful and positive, my heart broke in two as he waved good bye. I could no longer hold back the tears and I sobbed as he left. But when Ryan came home that afternoon, he said something that shocked me. He said he felt sad at first, but then he realized it was a good time for him to talk to God. He said it was quiet and he was alone, so he talked with God the entire ride to school and then he didn’t feel so alone. It made me happy and sad all at the same time and I just hugged him and tried to choke back my tears.
There was hope in Ryan.
Ryan and his dad, Kevin
Despite what Duchenne could have communicated to him; “you’re all alone, you’re crippled, you’re not important, you can’t do anything,” Ryan had hope that there were still good things in life for him and a God who loved him despite his circumstances. This didn’t mean that Ryan’s life was without struggle. There were many days that lack of friends, boredom, and frustration of not being able to care for himself would overwhelm him. He had many angry mornings because I couldn’t get his clothing adjusted quite right and he had many tearful nights over never being able to drive, not being able to play any sports, and not having a girlfriend.
One particular night, Ryan was crying quite a bit, saying he would never do anything in life. He seemed to be spiraling downhill and seemed especially depressed. I told him, “It is true you have a difficult life and I don’t want to make light of those difficulties at all. But you do have some friends and you do have a family that loves you greatly and you do have the best dogs in the world and you do have a lovely home and a Tempur-Pedic mattress and you always have good food and we watch great movies together and we have heat in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer. And there are some kids who don’t have a home or parents that love them and some children even have parents that abuse them. And some kids are starving tonight and some of them are cold, scared, and alone. So yes, there are things that you don’t have and we can’t do anything about most of them, but when you just think of them, of course it makes you sad. When you start to feel that way, if you will think of all the wonderful things you do have, I think you will feel happier.”
He said, “Yes I know, and I do have the best dogs in the world don’t I?” I said” Hands down!” He said,” I love you mom.” I said “I love you more! “He said “I love you more!” and it went back and forth until we both laughed.
Ryan & Joey
Though Ryan would drift at times towards anger or sadness over having Duchenne, there was an anchor of faith and hope that kept him from drifting too far into emotions that could have become destructive. He realized if he focused on the things he couldn’t do, Duchenne would not just rob him of strength but joy. He decided to focus on the good things he did have in life and this was defeating Duchenne, instead of Duchenne defeating him. This is why most of the time there was a smile on his face and you could see joy in his eyes. Ryan had a great sense of humor and a belly laugh that was so contagious you couldn’t help but laugh along with him, even if what he was laughing about wasn’t funny!
Ryan didn’t let Duchenne define who he was. He became determined that it would not be a weight to oppress him, but a platform instead to let his light shine from. It was no longer just a battle with Duchenne – it was a battle we all face, the battle of faith, to believe God is for us despite our circumstances. This faith was escalating significantly the last year of Ryan’s life.
Begging and fighting to believe that God would heal him was replaced with restful believing that God’s love for him was immeasurable and that God wanted him healed more than Ryan or I did. He believed the price had already been paid for it by Jesus himself 2,000 years ago. Ryan didn’t need to plead with God or ask for mercy, he was determined it was already purchased for him at Calvary and he would indeed receive it by faith. It wasn’t an easy thing, as he labored to stay at rest in what God had already paid for.
One day Ryan said “I’m trying!”
I said, “I know it’s hard to keep believing, maybe think of it like this, if you called Grandma in Florida and asked her for $600 for a new PlayStation and she said ‘Yes honey, I’ll put a check in the mail.’ You wouldn’t need to call her back and beg her and ask again. Instead you would just be so excited knowing that she already said yes and it was coming. You would just be waiting joyfully, not stressed. You could call her back as many times as you wanted to thank her, but you would be sure it was coming because you trust her and you believe her word.”
Ryan said to me, “Yeah! I get it!”
The last week of Ryan’s life, every day that I would come on the bus and kiss him goodbye before he left for school, he would say to me, “It’s coming mom, I can feel it. God is going to heal me; I’m going to walk.” I told him, “I believe it Ryan, God wants it more than either one of us.” We both, of course, thought it would take place this side of heaven, but God saw fit not to just heal Ryan…but to take him home to paradise.
After Ryan passed, many people told me what an inspiration Ryan was to them. They said they couldn’t get over how he was always smiling and seemed so happy even though he was in a wheelchair. They said it made them think – if Ryan could be so positive despite his circumstances then it inspired them to do the same. I wish people had told him that when he was alive. It was so important to Ryan, as he put it “that his life counted for something.” I knew what he meant, that something positive would come from him having to bare this adversity. If changing peoples’ lives could come from people seeing light in a dark situation, then that would be adversity for good. If it had some positive effect to change the world around him for the good that would be “having his life count for something.”
Most of the time he thought people just felt sorry for him, or didn’t respect him, or thought he wasn’t important because he was in a wheelchair. Even some of the wonderful things people did for him, seemed to Ryan like people just pitied him. What qualified Ryan for trips or special events was because he was “terminally ill” or “under privileged.” Don’t get me wrong, they were wonderful and very gracious people and events, but you were there because people felt sorry for your condition and wanted to do something nice for you.
Though I thank God for charity and charitable events, I do have to say that there was only one event Ryan was invited to where he truly felt he was doing as much for those who invited him as they were doing for him. In 2014, he was invited to Hillsdale College as their guest for the Coach To Cure MD game. When we arrived at Hillsdale, Ryan was made to feel like the guest of honor. He did not feel pity from the coach or the team, but he felt for the first time he was just being honored for being an inspiration to them. Ryan led the Charges out onto the field that cold, cold morning in Hillsdale, Michigan and went on to the field for the coin toss. Ryan cheered from the stands as Hillsdale won that day after a string of losses. Hillsdale won big that day, not just in a football game but in instilling in Ryan, what we all deserve, a sense of respect and honor that we are important and that when we endure hardship we truly do inspire others.
Ryan won big too that day, he was so humbled when he was made to feel important after so many years of feeling sad that he could not play a sport or be a part of a team. That day he felt a part of a team and felt as if he led the team to victory. He felt like his life “counted for something.”
On the field
Many people still tell me how much they think of Ryan’s smile and ask how he stayed so positive. I think I would have to liken it to the story of Gideon. Gideon went to battle against insurmountable odds: 300 men against 135,000. Gideon did not go to battle with sword or spear, but he went in faith and did exactly as the Lord commanded him. They took only earthen vessels with lights hidden in them in their left hand and trumpets in their right hand. When the enemy was surrounding them, they threw down their earthen vessels breaking them, so that light shined in every direction and then they blew their trumpets. Their enemy was so confused some killed each other and the others fled.
Likewise, Ryan faced insurmountable odds. He did not allow his earthen vessel to keep his light hidden. He let it shine. Duchenne did not break him, he broke it by casting it aside. It may have crippled him physically, but it would not cripple him spiritually and therefore emotionally. He defeated his enemy by letting his light shine in every direction and he blew his trumpet to proclaim the good news that despite your circumstance, God loves you and is for you. He defeated his enemy because he would not let it define who he was, he chose rather to believe how God defined him, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Matt Eltringham, who was the starting punter for Hillsdale College from 2010-14, is also a bright light in a dark world. Matt befriended Ryan and brought Ryan into the Charger family in 2010. Matt and his family created an endowed scholarship at Hillsdale College to honor Ryan and provide a legacy for years to come.
Ryan & Matt
The announcement of the Timothy “Ryan” Newbanks scholarship will take place at the Coach To Cure MD game at Hillsdale College on September 24, 2016, which is almost exactly one year to the date of Ryan’s passing. As I read the announcement that the recipient should have, the qualities that Ryan possessed, such as his “never give up attitude” it reminded me of a favorite saying of Ryan. If anyone had an excuse as to why they could not do something he would say, “that’s lame!” The ironic thing is, the statement was coming from someone who was physically lame. I realized being lame can be a physical state or a mental state. I’m not sure which is more crippling. The mental state of being lame keeps us from being what we were created to be and doing we were created to do. We can all find excuses why we can’t. Why we can’t for ourselves or why we can’t for others. Lame is a matter of choice for some of us. Boys with Duchenne don’t get a choice for their physical lameness, but we get a choice to how we respond. We can help them overcome emotional lameness by letting them know their lives count for something and that they inspire us, that their bravery and their spirit helps us be stronger, that they matter greatly. In doing so, we not only raise money to help find a cure for their physical condition, but we overcome our own state of lameness.
As the anniversary of his death, September 28, approaches I can feel my sorrow over missing him trying to cripple me, but I can hear Ryan saying, “That’s lame Mom, get up, let your light shine!”