Ryan Groves of Brighton won the gold medal in the baseball throw in the Michigan 2013 Special Olympics Summer Games, and in 2010 he won two silver medals in track and field events at the Special Olympics USA games in Lincoln, Nebraska. Ryan is also one of only 50,000 people in the USA living with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), a rare, multisystem genetic disease that causes seizures, cognitive disabilities, behavior problems and potentially life-threatening tumors.
“The week before Ryan’s first birthday [in 1987] he began having spells where he became glassy-eyed and non-responsive for about one minute,” his mother Kathy explains. “Over the course of the next few days we observed several more of these episodes so we took him to our pediatrician who sent us to the local children’s hospital. A few days later we first heard the words, ‘We think your son has Tuberous Sclerosis.’ There was no definitive test [at that time] just a guess based upon various symptoms.”
Kathy and her family joined the National Tuberous Sclerosis Association (now the TS Alliance) and learned that the tumors associated with TSC are normally benign but can grow in many different organ systems including the brain, heart, lungs, eyes, kidneys and skin. The Alliance turned out to be a great source of objective information, helping them to stay on the leading edge of research and become friends with many other TSC families.
TSC notwithstanding, from the time he could walk, Ryan had a basketball in his hands and was physically active.
“When we moved to Michigan in 2004 we began searching for a way for Ryan to continue his experiences in athletics,” Kathy explains. “We had heard of Special Olympics but had never participated. Ryan has been an active SOMI (Special Olympics Michigan) athlete ever since: Soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring, baseball in the summer, plus volleyball, golf and bowling. The SOMI coaches are all volunteers and they are some of the kindest, most giving people we have ever met. They are encouraging and help each athlete find success.”
Ryan has a job and other interests besides athletics, he explains. “I have worked at Krogers for about 7 years. I like that, and the people I work with are really nice. When I’m home I like playing with my 2 dogs, Samson and Jasmine. I like watching movies on my iPad, listening to music (Creed, Alterbridge, U2 and Daughtry) and playing video games. My favorite video games are DragonballZ and Final Fantasy.”
He offers this advice to other athletes. “Winning medals is sometimes really hard. You just have to keep trying and not give up. If you don’t get a medal this time, you just need to practice harder for next time.”