At first glance, Ryan Osborn is your (above) average kid. He’s a football star who also wrestles and runs track and still manages to find time to visit with children at a local hospital. He is a leader on and off the field, but there is something else about Ryan that makes him unique.
When Ryan, a senior at North Tonawanda High School, was 10 years old, he was diagnosed with Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare condition in which abnormal cells in the immune system deposit and build up throughout the body. Ryan struggled with the disease and had to sit out of football until June 2010, when he was finally cleared to play. He overcame his illness to be a three-year varsity football player, and increased awareness for the disease. It is for these reasons that Ryan was chosen as this year’s winner of the High School Call to Courage Leadership Award, which was presented last Saturday by former NFL quarterback Frank Reich. According the event’s website, “The Call to Courage Award is given to an athlete who displays exemplary character through adversity and triumph.”
Ryan has been playing football since seventh grade, but had to sit out much of his seventh and eighth grade years due to his illness. In his freshman year he was cleared to play, and excelled on the field. His performance on the freshman football team earned him a spot on the varsity team his sophomore year at North Tonawanda, playing nose tackle, right guard and long snapper. His junior year, he received All-Western New York Honorable Mention for his performance on the gridiron, and his senior year he earned a spot on the All-WNY Second Team Offense.
But Ryan has achieved off the field as well. He won the Great Give Back Award in November 2013 for his fundraising efforts for Camp Good Days and Special Times. This organization helped him through his time of need. He also participated in the Hospice Walk for three consecutive years – and convinced his whole football team to do the same.
“My teammates have rallied around me,” Ryan said. “We all wear our football jerseys at the Hospice Walk. We also did a fashion show for Camp Good Days where we all modeled different brands of clothing to raise money.”
Football has been an outlet for Ryan; a place where he can go and be a part of something bigger than him.
“We do a lot of stuff together. We go to games, practice, and hang out together,” he said. “It’s been a huge help, and you feel good about yourself because you’re helping everyone.”
Ryan has responded valiantly to a life-altering situation. “Me being sick wasn’t what really changed me,” he said. “It was the fact that I was going through my illness with everyone around me and supporting me. I made lifelong friends. But it’s not just me. I have my teammates and coaches to thank. When I was in middle school, my friends ran a benefit for me and raised over $500. It really means a lot to me.”
Ryan has had many supporters throughout his teen years, but his biggest have been his parents and grandparents. “They’ve been huge supporters, my mom especially,” he said. “She’s worked three or four full-time jobs this whole time, working over 70 hours a week. When I was sick, I wasn’t getting the help I needed, so she took a stand and ran for school board. That’s the kind of mom she is.”
Ryan will continue his football career next year at Washington & Jefferson College, and plans to study geology. His goal is to work for an oil or alternative energy company in the future. And though Ryan may be heading to Pennsylvania next year, his story will continue to inspire people in the Western New York area for years to come.
Sean Wright is a junior at Clarence High School.