On the morning of November 29, 2012, Ryan Viola was walking to his bus stop with his brother, Vincent, when he was struck by a car while crossing the street. Vincent, only 14 at the time, rushed to him and covered him with his jacket, performing CPR on his older brother. Ryan was soon rushed to the hospital. His injuries were too traumatic; he would not survive.
The Viola family knew Ryan’s desire to be an organ donor. So, an 11-year old girl has Ryan’s heart. An 8-year-old who otherwise would not have made it to Christmas that year has one of his kidneys. Two infants survived because of his liver. Two women can see because they were given his corneas.
In December of 2013, I stumbled across the “Ryan Strong 5k”, a run taking place at Bucks County Technical High School in honor of Ryan Viola. In that instant, I knew this was going to be the first 5k I would run in my life. The story of Ryan Viola was enough to make me put aside my disdain for running to honor his memory.
Seeing how something so beautiful could come of something so tragic was absolutely touching. While I didn’t know Ryan personally, learning his story made me wish I did. He was going to join the army after high school, which is where the “Ryan Strong” logo comes from. After seeing the turnout this past Sunday, it’s clear to me that being “Ryan Strong” is something the community strives for, and for good reason.
The event kicked off with some heartwarming words from local congressmen, presenting awards to Vincent Viola for his actions taken on that dreadful morning. If that wasn’t enough to make you shed a tear, there wasn’t a dry eye in the building after Ryan’s mother spoke about her son and the 16 months that have gone by since his passing. We weren’t there to mourn his death, we were there to celebrate his life and the life that has come because of him. After a quick prayer, the participants were out to the starting line.
It might not make sense to a lot of people to run 3.1 miles in the rain at 9:00am, but all of us had good reason. The started shouted “GO!” and we were off! I quickly broke to the front of the pack and found someone whose pace I could stick with. I moved forward to a few different runners whose paces I felt comfortable with and before I knew it, I had finished 5th place out of over 300 participants. With my time clocking in at 22 minutes 31 seconds, I ran a steady pace of 7 minutes 14 seconds per mile, or about 8.3 miles per hour. That’s faster than the speed limit in some parking lots, so I’m kinda proud of myself for that. My parents were the first ones to congratulate me at the finish line and despite the fact that we were given times and places for finishing, fellow runners congratulated each other because none of that real mattered. We had all done it for bigger reasons.
It was an amazing experience to have my first 5k event be something so meaningful to not only myself but the entire community. My heart goes out to the Viola family for all they’ve been through and how they’ve made something beautiful out of all of this. I may have not run a half-marathon or made a dramatic recovery of some sort, but I’m proud of myself for this accomplishment and can say I now have one run under my belt. You can bet I’ve already been looking for more 5k’s to run in the new couple months and eventually I’ll work my way up to the half-marathons and even beyond.
If you keep pushing yourself far enough, you’ll soon realize the only limits you have are the ones you set for yourself. Whether it be for an honorable cause, an inspiring story, or your own determination, go out and run for your life.
If you’re interested in reading the full-length version of this story, visit my personal blog.