Coach Pete

Expert advice for Swimmers, Triathletes, and Coaches

Ryan McLean….Who is she?

Last night on the evening news there was a story about a young lady who was a high school swimmer and had been in a terrible auto accident that left  her in a wheelchair. Her spinal cord had been severally damaged and is paralyzed from the waist down. Swimming has been her salvation and she is now a swim coach for her high school team she once swam on. I thought that she would be a great inspiration for you guys   out there, who sometimes take things for granted and moan and grown when things get a little tough! here is her story. I know that after reading it you will be as generous as you can be, every little bit   will help….I would love to see the swimming community get behind this young CHAMPION !

Thanks, Coach Pete….to find out more about Ryan go to my blogroll and click on Ryan McLean

My name is Ryan McLean. I was born on August 18th, 1980. I was raised in Denver, Colorado where I attended Cherry Creek High School. In 1997, I was a junior on the varsity swim team. After leaving a school-sanctioned dance, I piled into a car with my friends and headed off to the bowling ally. We never made it there.

The driver of the car lost control on the highway. The car flipped through the air across the median and collided with oncoming traffic and I was projected out of the car through the side window. I landed an estimated 150 feet from the car. As if someone picked up the snow globe of my life and violently shook it up, everything changed in a matter of seconds. I broke my spinal cord, collapsed my lungs, endured massive road-rash on my back, and broke nearly every bone in my legs.

After arriving at the hospital I endured over 20 hours of surgery before being placed in the Intensive Care Unit. That is where I stayed for the next month. After I was strong enough to breathe on my own, I was placed in another unit in the hospital for three weeks. From there, I moved to a spinal cord and brain trauma hospital for three months of additional recovery.

At Craig Rehabilitation hospital I learned how to live my life from a wheelchair, paralyzed from the bottom of my ribcage down. By the time school started up again in August I was as ready as I would have ever been to encounter a world I no longer knew. Going back to a senior year of high school, once my whole life had been turned around, was no small challenge. Quickly I learned that maintaining normalcy was going to be the only way to progress from what had happened some months before. So, the day that I left the rehab hospital I began coaching at a private swim club. That winter I joined the swim team as I had every year prior, only this time swimming with the slower, junior varsity team. I have always been quite competitive both in and out of the water, which made the swim season in my senior year frustrating. I was too weak to last more than twenty minutes in the water and could only manage to swim very short events in meets. I swam almost four times as slowly as I had before and had to get used to coming in last place every time. Then, I was embarrassed, but now I am proud.

I finished my high school career and moved on to college. I began my studies as a liberal arts major and quickly realized that was not where my passions lay. My extended stay in the hospital spurred my interest in Biology and I chose this as my new major. I struggled with my studies because science had never been something that came easily to me, but I enjoyed every second of it thoroughly.

After finishing my undergraduate degree, I relocated back to my hometown and began coaching swimming for the very high school from which I graduated. I felt elated about being able to lend my talents to the very community that supported me when I needed them most. After watching me interact with my swimmers, Kathy Smith, the school principal encouraged me to think about teaching. I truly believe that moment changed my life.

I had never considered teaching as a career before. I immediately applied for a secretarial position within the science department while I pursued my teaching license and my master’s degree.

I never would have believed how much I enjoy tutoring and mentoring children. I feel a huge sense of pride being a part of such a prestigious department at one of the top high schools in the country. It has been the greatest experience of my life and I know now that this was the job I was born to do. I love spending time with my students every day trying to inspire them to learn, not only biology, but tolerance as well. Each day I try to lead by example. I challenge them to believe in themselves the way that I believe in myself. I show them that the world is not about what happens to you, but rather how you perceive and react to those events. I take extra time with students who are struggling academically or personally and make sure that they know they have a place to study, get help or just talk. As a result, I often find my office full of students during my planning periods or after school but I believe it is really important to give kids a safe place to be when they need it. I also feel that I have made a significant contribution to the biology program here and enjoy planning and interacting with my fellow teachers. . All in all, I have a beautiful life.

Since my accident I have pushed the limits of my abilities in other areas of my life as well, ranging from sports to travel. Through motivational speaking engagements, I have shared my story with thousands. I hope that I have inspired people, if nothing else, to wear their seatbelts! I have kept up with my swimming and have been exploring other sports such as cycling, racing, and ice hockey. 2007 was a year of firsts for me. Last summer I entered my first marathon and triathlon. This fall I became a member of the first paraplegic basketball team in Denver. I also bought and decorated my first home in the foothills outside of Denver. I am proud of my accomplishments, but I want even more.

Just recently, I was approved to travel to India to undergo stem cell treatment in hopes of regenerating some of my spinal nerves. After extensive research, I believe this treatment to be ground breaking, giving me the potential to increase my longevity and possibly regain some movement or function. I have taken this opportunity to teach my students about stem cell research, which has resulted in many stimulating discussions in my classes. At the very least, this experience will affect me in mind, body, and spirit. I realize how few people have had this opportunity and I am anxious to see if this technology will make a difference for me. My mentor while I was at Craig Rehabilitation Hospital recently underwent this same treatment and she has seen miraculous results. Although the treatments are relatively new, I am excited to be at the forefront of a technology that offers so much hope to people with disabilities. I have started a blog on line so that I can keep a diary of my experiences in India and beyond that. I plan to share it with my students, friends and anyone else who may want to learn about this procedure. I’m also excited to see India and will hopefully be able to travel around a bit during my two month stay. After that, who knows?

February 28, 2008 - Posted by | Age Group, Coaches, Masters Swimming, Parents, Triathlons


  1. Your blog is really awesome. Thank you so much for the kind words you wrote about me on your latest post! It is so amazing meeting so many wonderful people who are willing to reach out to me. You will never truly know how much this touches me.

    Best regards,

    Comment by pspag | March 2, 2008 | Reply

  2. I have known Ryan for 10 years and she’s an inspiration to everyone she meets. She coached my children for several years and taught them so much more than swim strokes. She’s an awesome young lady and we are truly blessed to have her as part of our lives. We are hoping the best for her in her trip to India!


    Comment by Shannon | April 17, 2008 | Reply

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