Courtney Ryan was on her way to soccer glory. The San Diego native was an All-American defender on the Metropolitan State University of Denver Women’s Soccer Team when tragedy struck. While as a junior, she suffered a debilitating injury that left her paralyzed from the waist down. “It was very hard to hear that not only I would never play soccer again. but that I also lost the ability to walk,” she tells HollywoodLife when discussing her journey to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. “It was a very emotional time the first two years and quite the adjustment. I was depressed, angry, and unmotivated to try anything new. I am very thankful that my family was there to help me during that transitional phase and motivate me to try out adaptive athletics.”
“I moved back to San Diego from Denver after my injury to live with my parents again,” Courtney tells HollywoodLife. “My brother, Chris, has a family friend that works for Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). They are based out of San Diego. Travis, from CAF, enrolled me in their peer mentoring program, where I met Erica Davis. The meeting would be groundbreaking for Courtney, with Erica taking on a mentor role for Davis and introduced her to a lot of “different adaptive sports.” However, there was one that caught Courtney’s eye more than others. “When she told me about wheelchair basketball, I found myself very interested. For so long, I identified as an athlete. This motivated me to regain that identity.”
“My family was a huge motivational factor during that time as well. They knew how important sports were to me, so they encouraged and helped me so much.” During her EXCLUSIVE interview with HollywoodLife, Courtney also shared how she prepared for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic games, how she’s proud of her work in the LGBTQ+ community (specifically her partnership with the It Gets Better Project), and why she rocks Converse during her games.
HollywoodLife: How have you been preparing for the Paralympics?
Courtney: I have been attending training camps that are at least on to two weeks long, once a month since May. When we are not training together, I do conditioning and strength training 3 times a week. Each exercise I do is prescribed by our incredible strength and conditioning coach, Katie McClosky. I also get on a basketball court to complete my shooting workouts at least three times a week, sometimes more! I shoot over 1500 shots every week. Finally, I must keep my mental game strong, not just the physical aspect. I do a lot of self-reflection and meditation throughout the week.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far for you?
The lack of support and knowledge wheelchair basketball gets from the general population. Although we get a lot more recognition these days, I still feel we must continue educating and advocating for our sport.
Who’s been your biggest motivator in training?
My sister has been one of my biggest fans and motivators since I started my journey in wheelchair basketball. I remember when I first started playing, she was looking up different skills and drills on YouTube to help improve my game. She was constantly rebounding for me, moved to Arizona with me when I received a scholarship to play wheelchair basketball and complete my bachelor’s degree, and watches all my games when they are live-streamed. I would also have to say, my father. He is also a big fan of my game and the sport as a whole and will look for ways to spread awareness about adaptive athletics by volunteering at different camps and events. You will always find him at any USA game wearing his Uncle Sam costume and getting our fans rowdy and excited!
What’s it like training for the Paralympics?
It is very intense and exhausting but worth it. It helps being involved in a team sport for me because I can look to my teammates to motivate me those days when I feel too tired to train. To be able to represent Team USA on one of the biggest sporting stages in the world is incredible and humbling. I always aspired to be on this stage and have a lot of pride knowing that I made it!
Did you ever imagine you’d play in the Paralympics?
No, when I was younger, I remember watching the 99 USA women’s soccer team and thinking to myself, I want to be a part of this family! I honestly did not know about the Paralympic movement until I became disabled. But I am excited and ready to compete with my family. I can tell my younger self that we made it!
You also do a lot of work in the LGBTQ community with the It Gets Better Project. Talk to me about that?
I am out and proud to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community and thankful to have the family I have that allows me to express my true self. It is so important for me to talk about my identity in hopes that I can help the younger generation teach them that it, in fact, “GETS BETTER”! We all need role models and people that we can look up to. They can remind us that we have similar stories and still can be successful, regardless of what some people may think. Shared experiences bring community, and community brings hope.
What’s something you have to have with you when you play that we wouldn’t know?
I have a certain pair of shoes that I must wear — shoutout Converse! Always looking for sponsors — I also keep my grandfather’s dog tags in my cushion so that they are always with me when I play.
Should you win a medal, where will it live, and what will that mean to you?
I will keep it in my living room next to my grandmother’s photo. It will remind me of my teammates that I had the chance to compete with and all the hard work and dedication we did in order to get that medal!
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. The Tokyo Paralympics begin on August 24th on NBC.
About the It Gets Better Project: Launched over a decade ago by syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his partner Terry Miller, the It Gets Better Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that leverages the power of media to reach millions of people every year and provide critical support and hope to LGBTQ+ youth around the world. Through collaborative partnerships elevating positive portrayals of the LGBTQ+ community, and community building initiatives, the It Gets Better Project strives to uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQ+ youth around the globe. The It Gets Better Project received the 2012 Governor’s Award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; has garnered support from President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama; along with numerous celebrities such as Kelly Clarkson, Gabrielle Union, Josie Totah, Hayley Kiyoko and Patrick Starrr, and more than 600,000 others who have taken the pledge to share messages of hope and to speak up against intolerance.