Don't treat me differently!

Even though he trucks around in a wheelchair, Ryan McConnachie is making his own significant contribution to the Human Story.

Ryan was born with cerebral palsy 22 years ago, and as a result, has had to contend with some serious setbacks all his life. Physically, he has no real use of his legs, and must use a wheelchair to get about. Intellectually, he has some major challenges as well, but he hasn’t had to handle them alone. Up until four years ago, Ryan attended the Bel Porta school in Claremont. And with the unrelenting support and love of his family, he’s realised many goals and ambitions that even some able-bodied individuals would struggle with.
He is still not able to read and write, but he is always happy, always smiling and has an amazing sense of humour.

For the last nine years, Ryan has fastidiously studied karate at the Milnerton JKA Karate Centre in Cape Town. He is full of praise for his instructor, Sensei Debbie Evans, and his fellow students who, he says, pull no punches in his training.

“They take me out of the chair, put me on the ground, get me into submission and basically sit on me. I have to fight my way out,” says a bemused Ryan. Naturally, with his super-strong arms and upper body, he’s quite capable of doing that, and more. “They don’t treat me any differently to any other person,” says Ryan.

Qualified to instruct
He has developed and honed his karate skills to such an extent that he’s graduated to a 1st Dan Black Belt, and is qualified to instruct 3rd Dan Black Belts. He often trains with Sempai Hermann, an older member at the Milnerton Dojo who, despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease, is still actively involved in the martial arts.

During another training session, Ryan was distressed by the sight of a six-year-old little girl having an epileptic fit. “I’m so glad there’s nothing wrong with me,” he confided to Shane later.

Last year he attended a JKA Instructors course in Mossel Bay, and had the pleasure of watching one of South Africa’s great karate masters, Sensei Stan Schmidt, perform a kata demonstration for the participants. Afterwards, Ryan was seen deep in discussion with Sensei Stan Schmidt, and was apparently heard to quietly critique a faulty foot action in his performance. The Master openly praised Ryan for spotting it!

Two Years ago Ryan also went to the South African Championships in Johannesburg to represent the Challenged Division started in the Western Cape and did a demonstration in front of thousands of people and brought a tear to many an eye. He got a standing ovation.

At the time of writing this, Ryan is about to take part in another JKA competition. Some minor adjustments have been made to his fight format. He will have numerous coloured ribbons attached to his uniform to represent vulnerable body areas, and his opponents must try to pluck them off while Ryan blocks and counter-attacks. He must fight from his wheelchair, which makes it all a little more difficult. But he is excited, motivated and determined to succeed.

In April 2006, Ryan celebrated his 21st birthday, an important coming-of-age in any young man’s life. It’s evident that this milestone was made possible by a lifetime of love and nurturing from his parents Sandy and Richard, and especially from his older brother, Shane. “We’re like two peas in a pod,” says Shane. “Sometimes I don’t quite realise how much Ryan loves me.”

They do have the odd tiff now and then – they are sibling brothers, after all. But Ryan’s devotion to his brother is deep and unwavering, and selflessly reciprocated by Shane; and now also by his fiancé of two years, Clare.

“When we met, Shane never told me about Ryan’s CP,” says Clare. “And when I first met Ryan, I thought, ‘I don’t know how I’m supposed to react to this.’ At first I found it difficult to understand him. But soon he was opening my eyes to so many things.

“He doesn’t see colour or race or gender or age. Ryan only sees people. I started taking him with me to places, on outings and excursions. It’s been difficult because he’s not very mobile in the wheelchair. But he has begun to chat to me, to confide in me almost like a sister. I feel privileged to be the person he’s chosen to talk to.”

Ryan’s latest venture is the Cherub Project, a self-help skills development programme that’s been running for just three months. The purpose is to enable mentally challenged adults to earn an income from the sale of versatile beadwork articles like bookmarks, coasters, bracelets, ornaments and other knick-knacks. Most of the money they make is being ploughed back into the business to buy more beads and stock.

Glenda, a family friend, hopes to get a website online soon to promote the Cherub Project and its beadwork products. Glenda’s 18 year-old daughter, Storm, who has Downs Syndrome, is helping Ryan with the manufacturing.
There are two other young adults joining him soon. We are taking this project to Johannesburg at the end of the month with another Mom who has a son with Cerebral Palsy.

Ryan enjoys listening to music a lot, and when he’s not doing that, he’s helping his Mom Sandy with chores around the house. There’s only one other important female in Ryan’s life right now and that’s Amber, his beloved St. Bernard.

Ryan is an inspiration to everyone who touches his life.

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