Few high school students have gone as far or as high as Ryan Howard. The 6-foot self-taught high jumper fought his way to the AAU Junior Olympics in 2015, overcoming a broken back and pelvis, and a serious heart condition. As a junior in high school, he was one of the youngest competitors, vying mostly against college freshmen, and placed 13th nationally in the high jump event. Now this rising star is training to qualify for the 2016 games with an eye on the 2018 Olympic games in Tokyo.
Ryan began his jumping career as a 7th grader a Munford Middle School. The track coach spotted him playing “Jump the Creek” during recess and encouraged him to try out for the track team. He was a natural at the long jump and expanded into the high jump when he got to high school. But without anyone to coach him, he turned to Youtube to improve his technique. He was sidelined during a track meet in 9th grade from an accident that fractured his back and pelvis. However, during that track meet, he set a long jump and high jump score that no one could match during the rest of his tenure. Throughout his recovery and over the next two years he was ranked #1 in the state.
“I would run for only a couple of minutes and then my heart would be beating out of my chest.”
In Ryan’s sophomore year he continued to excel at his sport, but a heart issue he had since birth began to hold him back. At age 13 Ryan was diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation, a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to other health conditions. This meant that a small amount of exertion would leave him with an alarmingly high heart rate. “It was tough at times. I couldn’t do most things, especially cardio. I would run for only a couple of minutes and then my heart would be beating out of my chest.”
In 11th grade he opted to have heart surgery to correct the issue and was pulled out of high school to be homeschooled during the procedure and recovery period. Doctors performed ablations on six areas of his heart and were able to fix the problem. Ryan was cleared for exercise after one month, but now being homeschooled, he had no access to equipment and had to be his own trainer. Without practice or a coach, qualified in the long jump, triple jump, and high jump for the AAU Junior Olympics in just three track meets.
Most students compete as part of a team, but since Ryan was on his own, he made up his own team name, Feeling Froggy, and from there his brand was born. The phrase originated from his parents who would always ask him before a meet if he was “feeling froggy” since he only competes in jumping events.
After his success at the 2016 AAU Junior Olympics, Munford’s Mayor, Dwayne Cole, honored Ryan with a Mayoral Proclamation for his achievements and declared September 19th as Ryan “Feeling Froggy” Howard Day. Ryan and his family hope to encourage others to get outside and walk, move around, or jump to help fight obesity.
Ryan’s achievements also caught the attention of two local Olympians, Rochelle Stevens and Hollis Conway. Conway will be mentoring Ryan in the high jump as he begins training for the 2018 Tokyo Olympics.
At the end of a very successful high school career, Ryan has received offers from notable schools, such as University of Alabama. The recent graduate also just wrapped up filming the new series, Million Dollar Quartet, as a stand-in for Chad Michael Murray. For now, this rising star will continue training for the 2016 AAU Junior Olympics and has a busy summer ahead of him.
To help support Ryan Howard’s journey to the 2016 AAU Junior Olympics and the 2018 Olympics, visit http://www.gofundme.com/FeelingFroggy or to purchase one of his signature “Feeling Froggy” T-shirts ($12) or hoodies ($25), email FeelingfroggyHoward@gmail.com.
By Christin Yates. Photo by Philip Murphy.