If there is a moment to change, it’s when you wake up in a hospital bed and the doctor says you might not see the birth of your child.
A former college athlete who was initially derailed by an elbow injury, Ryan Reeve slowly went down a destructive path that ultimately had him as a Type II diabetic tipping the scales at over 350lbs (160kg) with blood sugar levels so high his life was on the line.
It might have been the most alarming but wasn’t the first time he was hearing that he was dying. Friends and family repeatedly warned him that he was “killing himself with a spoon” and deep-down Reeve knew it too—but after the hospital, it was the first time he was going to do something about it.
With the arrival of his daughter and his wife in mind, Reeve returned to sport and started to make the long trek back to health. Ultimately, Reeve not only stepped back into his competitive athletic self, but he surpassed the person he was, finding strength in vulnerability by openly talking about his journey and not only showing but actively helping others do the same.
Initially, Reeve set his sights on ultra-running but with IT band issues, Reeve took a friend’s suggestion and entered a triathlon. He always loved to run and hike but he didn’t own a bike and didn’t swim prior to entering his first event. His $25, 25lb bike didn’t do him any favours, neither did his lack of nutrition knowledge, and on the 10km run his body, he laughs, started to resemble “a disabled duck”. It was only because a local coach stopped mid-race to give Reeve advice and encouragement that got him to the finish line, dead last and close to tears.
The mindset to keep going seems to be the cornerstone of Reeve’s athletic endeavours. Whether it’s a 28.3km hike or 24hr on an indoor bike (yes, 24hrs non-stop!), Reeve just never seems to give up. Many athletes are motivated by ego, but Reeve isn’t that athlete. Although he always points to his now two-year old daughter as his never-ending source of inspiration, these days, thanks to social media, it’s naturally grown to be more than that.
“I started my Instagram page to have something for myself: this is where I’m at and this is where I’m going. It started helping other people, so it started to transform,” Reeve says. “I definitely do [sport] for myself but if it helps a few people along the way then that’s a bonus. I can use this platform to reach other people. Just to show guys it’s possible.”
“Instagram can be a dark place but there are always eyes watching you and when those eyes finally have the heart to message you and tell you that they’ve been watching you and you’ve encouraged them…” Reeve pauses, truly touched by the community that rallies along with him.
A lot of people reach out to Reeve on social media citing him as inspirational, but he never dwells on that complement. Instead, he always turns it back on them, recognising that he was once exactly where they are and asks them directly how he can help.
“I don’t like seeing people thinking they can’t change. It’s one of those things you just have to open yourself up to it,” Reeve says. A lot of people who contact Reeve just don’t know how to start that journey of change. Reeve admits that he used to believe vulnerability like that, particularly from men, was a weakness. “Vulnerability can be a weakness—around the wrong people,” Reeve says, but “around the right people, it can become a strength between you.”
Everyone who has contacted Reeve gives him more strength to continue, not only in the pursuit of a health but also to keep sharing his story and helping others. Reeve is honest about his own struggles, such as balancing a demanding work schedule, sport, and family time, all the way to the mental health issues of body dysmorphia, but he always stays positive. “No matter how bad today is, there is always tomorrow,” he says.
With his sights set on Ironman Memphis 70.3, the alternate format SOS New York, and even an Ultraman one day, Reeve is all about staying open to possibility and that’s the message he always wants to share: “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”