Posted on 13 September 2014.
Kids change a lot between the eighth grade and their senior year in high school.
They grow up, fill out, dress differently, change their hair. They learn to drive, get cars, start dating. Some get jobs.
Their interests change, too, and often they make new friends who share those interests. They learn a lot of new things.
They forget some things, too.
REMEMBERING RYAN – Chico High School seniors Austin Martin, Maddi Umphress and Marco Arredondo are among those working to raise funds for their fifth MDA Muscle Walk. Maddi holds a photo of Ryan Ruddick, their classmate who died as an eighth grader from muscular dystrophy, and Marco holds a Millenium Falcon Ryan built with Legos. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
This year’s Chico High School senior class is no different – but there’s one friend they won’t forget.
Ryan Ruddick, the valedictorian of their eighth grade class, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was 18 months old and was confined to a wheelchair by the time he was in the second grade.
In 2010, at the start of their eighth-grade year, Ryan and many of his classmates took part in the MDA Walk at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The annual fall event builds awareness of diseases that weaken the musculoskeletal system, supports research and provides assistance for patients and their families.
On May 19, 2011, Ryan died – having outlived his doctors’ expectations by several years.
WORKING TO RAISE FUNDS – Chico High School seniors held a car wash last Saturday to help raise funds for the Sept. 20 MDA Muscle Walk to be held at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. To help, donate through wcmess.com/MDS. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
That fall the class – by then freshmen at Chico High School – turned out stronger than ever for the MDA Walk, honoring their friend’s memory. They have continued to raise funds and take part in the walk every year with the team name, “Ryan’s Padawans.”
Last year they raised around $10,000. This year, they’ve already had a car wash and a dunking booth, and they’re still accepting donations.
“The first walk, he went with us,” Chico High School senior Austin Martin said. “After he passed away, we wanted to do another one, keep it going.”
In addition to their fundraising events, they get lots of pledges and participation from the community – led by the class of 38 seniors.
CHS teacher Diana Bland has been the class sponsor since they got in high school, but takes no credit for their charitable efforts.
“They’ve done this on their own,” she said. “This is all them. It’s an amazing class.”
Among those leading the effort have been Martin, Marco Arredondo, Macie Moss and Maddi Umphress.
“We were really close to him,” Maddi said. “We would always ride on the back of his wheelchair.”
Tracy Davidson, now special education teacher at the high school, was Ryan’s aide all the way through elementary school, moving up with him through the sixth grade.
“He started out, he could walk around the room, but when we went outside we went in a wagon,” she said. Then he got this other little rollie chair in first grade, and in second grade he got his motorized wheelchair.
“He liked to go fast, and he liked us to chase him,” she said.
Putting a mischievous second-grader at the controls of a motorized vehicle was an adventure, they all agreed.
“He always ran over my foot, then he’d say, ‘I couldn’t control it! I didn’t see you!'” Austin said. “I’d say, ‘Yes you can. I’m pretty sure you saw me!'”
Davidson said Ryan was “very smart – a straight-A student.”
His classmates said he likely would have been valedictorian of their high school class, too.
“He was so smart,” Maddi said. “I used to get so mad at him because he was so smart, but he would never let me cheat off him.”
“He wouldn’t let me, either,” Austin said. “I sat by him in every class. I’d try to get the answer and he’s like, ‘No, come over here and let me explain it to you, how we did it.’ So I would learn how to do it from him.”
Bland said Ryan had a magnetic personality that drew people of all ages to him.
“I never really had him in class, because he passed away in the eighth grade, but everybody knew Ryan,” she said. “Even as his health deteriorated, he was at all the events. He had that motorized thing everywhere and kids just flocked to him. Little kids, older kids – he was an inspiration.”
Austin said he always had a smile and an upbeat attitude.
“That was the thing that influenced me the most – seeing him, sitting in a wheelchair and not being able to do anything close to what I could do, and he still had a better attitude than I did,” he said. “He would tell me all the time to suck it up, because I would complain about something.
“I couldn’t tell him, ‘Well, you don’t have anything to complain about!’ because he did. He just didn’t complain about it.”
Last year, they said, 20 or 30 people took part in the walk – classmates, parents and people from the Chico community. Ryan’s parents, Noel and LeeAnn, have stayed close to his friends and take part as well.
“For this class, a lot of this is just honoring Ryan,” Bland said. “They’ve grieved – this is their way to honor him, and what he meant in their lives.”
Gloria Arredondo, Marco’s mom, said Ryan continues to be an inspiration.
“These children have been deeply impacted by a young boy who fought hard and loved his family and friends,” she said. “His legacy and his courage will live on in us.”
So what about the team name, “Ryan’s Padawans”?
“He loved Star Wars and he loved Legos,” Austin said.
“Then Lego Star Wars came out,” Marco said. “You should see some of the Lego stuff he’d build. He built a Death Star – the whole thing.”
In the Star Wars universe, a Padawan is someone in training to be a Jedi – but not yet a Jedi.
“It’s like an apprentice, and he was like our Yoda,” Austin said. “He would always say we weren’t good enough to be Jedis, so we chose that for the team shirts, the first year after he passed away. We were never going to be Jedis. We would always be Padawans.”
As they talked, they reminisced about wheelchair races, playing dodgeball and video games, having nerf-gun wars.
“Me and Austin would go over to his house and he’d come up with these crazy plans – and we had to do it,” Marco said.
His wit was legendary.
“Anything you did that was funny, he never let it go,” Maddi said.
As kids, they didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the future – what they wanted to be when they grew up – knowing Ryan probably wouldn’t get that chance.
But from their stories, it was obviously fun being a kid with Ryan.
From their persistence, what’s also obvious is that they will never forget him.
2014 DFW MUSCLE WALK
- Sept. 20, 2014
- 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
- The Ballpark in Arlington
- donate through wcmess.com/MDS