RYAN SCULLY DEFIES LABELS AT RIVER DELL
Record - 4/22/2018
ORADELL -- Asperger's, speech apraxia. Those are just words to Ryan Scully.
Let the River Dell senior be defined by what he can do. Look at his 2:04 in the 800 meters during the indoor season, and the 4:56 he ran Friday in the mile for the Hawks on the first day of the Jack Yockers Relays, both personal bests.
Find out that the reason why Ryan ran so hard Friday was because he was motivated by the sudden death of Robert "Jay" Esposito, a family friend and longtime coach at Midland Park.
"The wind was being a pain and it held me back a little, but I kept telling myself, 'Ryan, you came here to run for Jay,'" said Scully, 18. "He was family to me. He did a lot."
The story of how the Daly Twins (Colin and Will, now at Penn) and the rest of the Hawks track team took Ryan under their wings resonated throughout the North Jersey athletics community three years ago. It connected to me personally, since my middle son is on the spectrum. Cole, 7, does not run -- unless his brothers are chasing him.
It is a daily struggle to accommodate Cole's unique needs, the correct foods, the exact time homework has to start, the stuffed gator in the right spot before bedtime. But through all of that, his successes are incredibly gratifying. Wearing a costume on Halloween, sharing details about his day, and being invited to a birthday party are reasons to celebrate in the Cooper house.
Which is why what Ryan Scully has accomplished should resonate. He's not on the team as some indulgence. He trains. He runs. He's fast.
"He's completely part of this team," said River Dell coach Raz Blau. "He's very into the sport. He loves to compete. He has very high goals for himself, which I think is great."
"Everyone has a lot of respect for Ryan," said River Dell senior Gary Wilhelm. "He puts in the work and is a real leader. I like him for who he is. He has a great personality. I don't put anything on him."
Ryan's speech is somewhat slow, and he looked off to the side at times during our interview, but his words were sharp and focused. Running is life. It's not easy, but he stays motivated to chase down the goals he's set. He takes great pride in being a senior and passing down his knowledge to the freshmen.
"I remember him saying to his coach one day, 'I want to be great one day,' I want to be like Will and Colin [Daly]," said Ryan's father Mark. "We learned long ago that with his diagnosis and treatment that kids need a lot of full-body movement, pitching [in baseball] isn't enough. You need to move everything. Running is regimented. It just fit in."
The dark prescription sunglasses Ryan wears while running have become his trademark. It's kind of hard to pass a baton off to a teammate when you can't see him, but chalk it up to one more thing Ryan has overcome.
"Last year at state sectionals in our 4 x 8 I was our third leg and I was coming down to pass off to my teammate and I couldn't see him," explained Ryan. "I didn't know where he was until the last few meters. I knew my eyesight was getting bad and I had to do something about it."
Growing up, Ryan tried a few different sports, ran with the Striders youth track program in Hackensack, actually threw the shot put. He played some soccer. He earned a black belt in tae kwon do.
But running was it. It gave him direction. He will continue running at Bergen Community College next fall.
"I guarantee you he's the hardest working kid here," said Mark. "He never misses a practice and when he doesn't win or do well, he's not happy about it."
Ryan was happy Friday after his race. It was the first time he's broken five minutes in the mile, and he was eager to come back Saturday and compete again.
But it didn't take long for his thoughts to go back to Esposito. He had helped Ryan get summer jobs and certified as a lifeguard.
"I know he is still around here somewhere, and I wish I could just keep saying to him, 'thank you, thank you,'" said Ryan softly.
The person who deserves the biggest appreciation is Ryan. He's shown that labels and diagnoses aren't what matters. It's the respect that you've earned. It's the time on the clock. It's what's in your heart.
North Jersey Record
USA TODAY NETWORK - N.J.