Without Restraint: How Skiing Saved My Son’s Life

Today’s guest authors are Robert and Ryan DeLena

Robert was raised in Revere, MA, and graduated from The Governor’s Academy, Trinity College, and Northeastern University School of Law. Ryan is currently a junior at Northern Vermont University studying Outdoor Education. He is widely known in the outdoor community through his social media presence as “Extreme Ryan.”

As a toddler, Ryan had difficulty controlling his emotions and was placed in a therapeutic school that relied on detrimental methods of behavior modification, such as physical restraint. Over the next four years, he was restrained hundreds of times at school, and we were advised to restrain him at home. He was also heavily medicated and was voluntarily committed to a mental hospital for further evaluation. Then, in 2010, my wife and I were counseled to place him in a group home. We refused.

Two years earlier, after an impulsive decision to take Ryan skiing, I discovered a different child than the version experts were so sure about. By his second day of skiing, Ryan was executing advanced runs, and with each conquest in the winters that followed, I began to question the path laid for him by the professionals paid to judge him. I eventually convinced my wife to fight the medical and educational complexes over Ryan’s care and school placement, and we fostered the freedom Ryan needed to pursue his dream of becoming a professional ski mountaineer.

Ryan tells it better than I can, so here is a brief summary of the book in his words:

My dad and I wrote this book together over the course of the last few years. The overall premise of the book is my life story told through his eyes and mine. While I’m fairly open about my deepest emotions and experiences on social media, promoting this book is something I’ve been dreading for a long time.

Over the years, I’ve put in a lot of effort in closing a chapter of my life that I rarely talk about. When I was younger, I struggled a lot in school, and when I was five years old, I was moved to a therapeutic school that was supposed to be a better learning environment for me. However, a large part of that school’s philosophy used violent physical restraints as a means of punishment for students who acted up. I was eventually pulled from that school after four years, but my time there came with permanent implications. No school that didn’t rely on restraints would accept me as a student, and the damage from the PTSD I developed persisted into every interaction I had with adults moving forward.

School administrators and doctors told my family my future would consist of minimal education, group homes, prison, or worse.

Once I left that first therapeutic school, I began an 8-year journey of fighting to regain control of my future, including a hospital visit that almost ended with my family losing control of my care and reaction to a medication that could’ve killed me. And even after all that, it still took years of meetings to convince school administrators to let me back into public school before an eventual return to my local high school proved everyone wrong.

As you can probably guess from the cover, a huge part of Without Restraint is the role skiing played in helping me put my life back together. It started during those first few trips to New Hampshire and Vermont when my dad first realized my school was hurting, not healing me. For much of the next decade, skiing was my only source of hope during the darkest times in my life and evolved into a vessel for discovering my true potential as a person and exploring the wildest reaches of the planet. I’ve been lucky enough to ski all over the United States, Canada, Chile, Svalbard, and even Antarctica, but my love of the outdoors was something that worked for me.

I know other kids will need to find a passion that works for them, and I wish schools and parents spent more time helping neurodiverse kids find things they love rather than focusing only on compliance.

Without Restraint is a book for anyone who’s struggling in their life, chasing a dream no one else believes in, and for every misunderstood kinesthetic learner made to feel inadequate by an inflexible school system.

I truly hope all of you find inspiration in this story when it comes out.

Ryan DeLena, January 2023

Pre-order the new book today!

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