Ryan Shay is a busy young man with important goals. One of those is providing inspiration to others with disabilities by participating in experiences that most might think only possible for the able-bodied.
In September, he went skydiving in Shubenacadie. During the freefall from 5,000 feet the lines to the parachute tangled. Shay, a paraplegic, had his ankles taped to the instructors’ for the descent.
“We started going the opposite way of where we were supposed to go (toward the trees),” says Shay.
The instructor began kicking vigorously trying to untangle the lines and with every lunge, Shay was jerked to each side.
“I say, ‘are we all good?’
“He says ‘yup.’ And I know he’s lying to me.”
The twisting eventually freed the lines but Shay estimates they landed about a kilometre from where they were supposed to, just clearing the tree line.
“I thought I was going to die,” he says.
Far too soon for that. There’s still so much that Shay wants to accomplish.
Even though a single-vehicle collision in 2013 left him a quadriplegic, through determination and hard work he has regained use of his arms and speech and went on to become a para-athlete, focusing primarily on wheelchair racing, competing in the U.K., Winnipeg and Switzerland.
He hopes to someday compete in the Paralympic Games, but the costs associated with that are challenging at this point.
He has time.
“There are people that do my sport and they’re 60 years old and they’re still among the top 10 in the world,” he says.
It’s something he plans on returning to in the future.
Shay has become an advocate for persons with disabilities and also an influencer by creating awareness about disability and inclusion.
He’s developed Shay’s Opportunities for Disabled Youth and held a multi-sports camp at the NSCC Akerley Campus in Dartmouth in August. He hopes to do more camps and speaking engagements.
Right now, he is studying towards obtaining Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification.
The education ties in with Nova Scotia's Accessibility Act – legislation aiming to make Nova Scotia inclusive and barrier-free by 2030.
Shay’s goal is to complete training, pass the exam and create a job for himself.
Successful completion will make him an accessibility assessor, which will enable him to work as a consultant for new builds.
Independence is huge for Shay.
“Especially when you have an injury like this and you lose all the independence,” he says. “Once you start to get it back, you realize how valuable it is.
“I’ve lost a lot of time in my life and I’ve lost the ability to save time. It takes me longer to get dressed, longer to get into my car, longer to shower…. all these things,” he says.
His goal in life is to leave behind a legacy so when people think of accessibility – and even long after he's gone – they’ll remember the changes he helped to bring about.
To contact Shay
To learn more about Shay’s Opportunities for Disabled Youth, see his Facebook Page. Or to contact him for an inspirational speaking engagement, see him on Linked In, Facebook, email or phone 902-229-SHAY (7429).