Opportunity Knocks; Mike Ryan blazed his own path to the NFL sidelines

“I had the school record in the mile, and it was only the second time that I ran the race. It was pretty funny,” he said. “I finished 4th at the state championship and finished 6th at the state open.

I was an all-state 1500m guy, and I think I only ran it a total of three or four times.”

Ryan was hooked, and college scouts began to take notice. As a senior, Ryan placed third at the Class LL meet but fell apart at the state open when he overheated during a long delay at the start of his race. That devastating loss began his unlikely journey through the ranks to the NFL.

“I know that, if I finished in the top 3, it would have changed everything,” he said. “Would that have diverted me from my dream of being an athletic trainer in the NFL? I don’t know. The fact that it was less than ideal, it was probably my best bad race that I’ve ever had. I wish I could go back and do that race over again, but I think that everything happens for a reason.”

The bigger programs stopped showing interest, and Ryan turned his attention to Central CT State University when Mastrianni introduced him to CCSU trainer Karl Klein. Klein had worked at the Olympics. He had contacts that reached into the NFL, and Ryan threw himself into his studies.

“Bob Mastrianni took an interest in me, and he took me to some workshops that really opened my eyes to what was available,” said Ryan. “I had a lot of guys tell me that, if I went to a smaller school, there was no way that I was going to get to the NFL. There were only 28 NFL teams, but I’ve never been one to listen to people and their negative views. Someone said that it doesn’t matter where you are and what you do. If you’re good at it, people will find you. I decided right there that I was going to go to Central to learn from Karl Klein.”

Ryan continued to run track, but he added cross country so that he could train with the best runners. A fractured ankle slowed him for a while with a surgery that required three pins and reattached tendons. Ryan took up swimming to stay in shape, and that led him on a path that culminated in six Ironman Triathlons in Hawaii (1994), New Zealand (1996), Canary Island (1998), Brazil (2000), Idaho (2004) and Austria (2009).

It drove him to compete in multiple triathlons throughout the world. He ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. He raced up the stairs at the Empire State Building. He ran the Boston Marathon and three Escape From Alcatraz triathlons in San Francisco.

“I love extreme sports and any kind of different competitions,” he said. “I’m always looking for different kinds of challenges. I love running, but if that’s all I did I’d be very bored. So I add different events and competitions. It gives you a good reason to do a good vacation.”

Ryan showed the same commitment in his career choice. In the mid-1980s, he joined the NY Giants as a pre-season trainer and physical therapist. That earned him a promotion to assistant trainer for six years with the Giants. When the league expanded to 32 teams in 1994, Ryan was offered the head trainer position for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He continues to be the only one to hold that job for the NFL team.

“Mike Ryan is one of the longest-tenured members of the Jaguars family and that is a testament to his professionalism and his integrity,” said Dan Edwards, a spokesman for the Jaguars. “Mike has earned the respect and trust of countless peers and athletes throughout his career, and he has always kept ahead of changing technology and treatments…As the only head trainer/physical therapist the Jaguars have had, he has had the opportunity to teach and train many others in the profession and has seen many go on to productive careers of their own. Mike Ryan is an example of what a pro is and a great representative of the Jacksonville Jaguars.”

Ryan was an easy choice for officials of the Southington Sports Hall of Fame. For almost four decades he has competed at the highest levels as an athlete, and he had helped hundreds more compete at their best. On Thursday, Nov. 14, Ryan will be honored in an induction ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville.

“The hall of fame is about honoring the town of Southington from an athletic standpoint,” said Mastrianni. “From both standpoints, he does that. Mike was an outstanding distance runner. He’s been a very successful trainer. He’s represented our town very well, and he’s an outstanding human being. He hasn’t forgotten where he’s come from, and there aren’t a lot of people that have attained what he’s attained that have that sort of memory.”

Ryan said he’ll never forget the influence that Southington sports and Southington coaches have made in his life.

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