Disability doesn’t stop Ryals

Inspiration abounds in the outdoors space, but amid the scope of a major fishing tournament like the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open on the Kissimmee Chain, which concludes today, it’s easy for tales of personal triumph to get lost in the stats.

We’re not gonna let this one get lost.

Ron Ryals Jr. of Live Oak, Fla., placed 37th out of 225 pros, largely on the strength of a big Day 2 effort that was anchored by a 7-pound kicker. 

He did so without the use of his legs. Since age 5, the now 37-year-old angler has been wheelchair bound; the paralytic result of complications from open heart surgery. 

Limitation? Maybe in some ways, but Ryals dismisses the thought with a megawatt smile and an infectious joy founded in the confidence that comes through deciding — key word, deciding — to pursue one’s passion, regardless of what life throws in your path.

To that point, Ryals offers this motivation to anyone facing challenges: “Getting outside (beats) sitting around the house moping around. Get out there and have fun. You can do it.”

Ryals fishes from a sitting position on his pedestal seat and compensates for lower casting angles with strategic tackle choices. 

“Flipping heavy cover, I use a 9-foot flipping stick,” he said. “It helps me get leverage while I’m sitting down. Then you just take your time and try to get their heads up out of the cover as soon as you can.

“Offshore, you want the longest cast you can, so if you need a a little more distance, you can use lighter line. I’ll use a medium-heavy 7-3 to 7-6 rod and I use 10- to 12-pound line. You just adapt as you need to and you just have to do things a little differently.” 

Ryals started fishing local tournaments with his dad and would later find his way into events focused on disabled anglers.

“There are actually quite a few disabled tournaments scattered around, and you can find those in your local area and start there,” he said. “I got more into the bigger tournaments fishing disabled events. The Paralyzed Veterans of America runs a bass trail that goes all over the country. They have a really good group of people, and I fish quite a few of those — you don’t have to be a veteran. Any disabled angler can fish them.”

Clearly, this is one angler who has embraced the sport he loves and honed his skills to a competitive level. Again, 37th place out of 225. 

So, what’s the point? Easy — live your life. Not a limited or a suppressed version of it; live your life and do the things you want to do. 

Ron Ryals lives his. He does what he enjoys.

And he catches ‘em.

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