Ryan Berg runs for Jared Brown
By KATIE LEFEBVRE, Globe staff reporter
“I love being involved with anything inspirational, and this group sounded like something that would be filled with inspiration,” said Ryan, who teaches language arts and 12th grade religion.
He was matched with Jared Brown in February of 2014 through I Run 4. A friend of his, Todd Nicholson, told him about the organization when Todd was matched with a young boy in Oklahoma who had cancer.
“I couldn't have asked for a better match, and I feel very blessed that I was matched with Jared,” said Ryan. “He has been a tremendous inspiration to me, and I am honored to be able to run for him and provide some inspiration as well.”
Jared, who turned 18 on June 22, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was 14 months old. Later, he was more specifically diagnosed with dystonia, a disorder that causes muscles to spasm uncontrollably, explained Ryan.
He pointed out Jared was able to walk when he was younger, but after a growth spurt, he had a harder time controlling his muscles. Jared began using a wheelchair in eighth grade.
While in high school, Jared had three surgeries to try to help with his condition. He had two brain surgeries, and his last surgery came about two weeks after Ryan was matched with him. Jared had a baclofen pump inserted in his stomach that pumps medicine directly into his system to help calm his muscles to give him greater control of his movements, Ryan said.
“What amazed me most about Jared from the very beginning is how determined and caring Jared is,” he said. “He set the goal of walking at graduation when he was a sophomore. He has worked unbelievably hard to accomplish his goal. He also taught himself sign language in order to be able to better communicate since talking clearly is often difficult.”
Ryan attended Jared’s graduation from Parkland High School on June 9 on the campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.
“I was there for less than 24 hours, but it was one of the most memorable times of my life,” said Ryan. “When he told me that he wanted me to be at his graduation a few months back, I had told him I couldn't come because I had a baseball game to coach. I was quite disappointed that I wouldn't be able to go because I knew seeing him walk would be unbelievable.”
The team his team was supposed to play on June 9 ended up cancelling their season in early May as a result of not having enough players to field a team. With no game, Ryan began making plans to be there.
Ryan told Jared's mother that he was coming, but they kept it as a surprise for Jared. When Jared's mother picked Ryan up at the airport, she told him there was going to be a television crew at the house doing a story on Jared. They wanted to capture Jared's reaction when he saw that Ryan came, since this would be their first time meeting in person.
“When I walked around the corner and he saw me, he immediately opened his arms and gave me a huge hug,” said Ryan. “Seeing the excitement on his face was priceless. He must have thanked me 100 times for coming.”
Then it was time to head to graduation. Ryan said when it was time for the conferral of diplomas, it was hard for him to stay patient until it was Jared's turn.
“He pulled himself out of his wheelchair and grabbed hold of the gait trainer that he used for support,” said Ryan. “His physical therapist and an aide who worked with him at school assisted him with making turns, and he proudly marched to receive his diploma as the crowd gave him a standing ovation. He triumphantly held up his arms, holding his diploma up high for all to see. That image will be permanently etched in my mind as the perfect example of what determination is all about.”
Ryan gave Jared a couple graduation presents. One was a small decorative item that said, "Many people catch our eye, but few people capture our hearts." The other was the same gift Ryan gives to all students on their graduation, a Success Globe.
“My trip to see him and his walk at graduation have gained so much wonderful publicity,” said Ryan. “I am so happy that so many others have now had the chance to learn a little about the type of person Jared is. He is truly remarkable, and I wish everyone would have the chance to meet him in person.”
Even though Ryan has only known Jared for about four months, he said he could tell “very quickly how special Jared is. That is why I really wanted to be there for his graduation to see him accomplish the goal he worked so hard for. Jared is the type of example everyone can learn from when it comes to working hard, overcoming obstacles and making the most of the abilities you have.”
I Run 4
I Run 4 Michael is the full name of the organization since the person who started it runs for a man named Michael. For more information, check out the website at www.whoirun4.com or the group page on Facebook - I Run for Michael.
According to Ryan, there are currently more than 3,000 runners on a waiting list to be matched.
“There is a constant need for people with special needs to join the group if they would like to be paired with a runner and form a bond like the one I have with Jared,” said Ryan.
He will see Jared again this summer. While on vacation, Jared’s family will be stopping in Storm Lake to visit Ryan, who said he is “looking forward to it already.”
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