Ryan Levinson is 36 year-old athlete who has been a cyclist since he was a child. At the age of 15, Ryan won the State Championship of Florida for the Junior cycling category. Twenty-one years later, he is still competing in Pro 1/2 cycling events on the road and track as well as in professional triathlon and XTERRA events. Ryan has been on the podium, including the top step, in all of these disciplines on a state, national and world level. He is also an avid kiteboarder, scuba diver, sailor and surfer. Ryan is personally sponsored by Specialized Bicycles, Oakley, ZOOT Sports, Challenged Athletes Foundation, B+L Bike and Sports, Vittoria, Quiksilver Clothing, and Impact Engine. He has received many honors, including his induction into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. As if that wasn't enough, Ryan is an M.D., thus, he is officially the son or son-in-law that every Jewish mother dreams of having.
You would never know it to look at his race resume, but believe it or not, Ryan's M.D. stands for muscular dystrophy (though he is an EMT and pre-med). Ryan has had muscular dystrophy since the age of 23. This means that over the past 13 years, Ryan has excelled beyond many "able-bodied" men and women throughout the world in several sport's disciplines even though he is missing entire sections of muscle mass. Since Ryan is a member of the tribe, all Jews should feel free to bask in his accomplishments.
Here is a transcript of Oy Velo's recent interview of Ryan Levinson:
Oy Velo: Thank you again for agreeing to speak to the relatively unknown (outside of my immediate family) Oy Velo. We really appreciate your time.
Ryan Levinson: No problem, thanks for having me, your site is classic.
OV: Obviously, your story is amazing, I mean, how is it that a young Jewish boy was able to become such an adventurer? You have quite the resume of dangerous sports, I doubt your parents ever slept.
RL: Actually, I didn't start doing most of that stuff until I left the house. Still, my parents couldn't have stopped me even if they knew what I was doing. I kept a good cover, they were actually surprised when I was expelled from my prep school for doing a strip dance in my English class after my teacher told me to take off my "offensive" shirt, which said "sex wax," a type of surfboard wax.
OV: Sounds to me like she was asking for it. I guess the more amazing part of your story is that you've been able to excel in sports that require strength, technique and endurance, in spite of having muscular dystrophy. Plus, you accomplished all of this against the medical advice of the time, which was to take it easy and preserve your body. What was the reaction of the medical community to your plan of ignoring muscular dystrophy and continuing to live your life balls to the wall?
RL: They warned me that it could make my situation worse. When I told them I planned on living my life and was going to start exercising even more intensely, they asked if they could monitor me. I became their guinea pig. I guess they figured that as long as I wasn't going to take their advice, they would observe my self-destruction or progress. (ed. On Ryan's webpage, www.ryanlevinson.com, Ryan explains "A team of experts followed my progress. They recorded an increase in overall aerobic fitness and strength in non-diseased muscles. More importantly, there was no obvious accelerated loss of strength in the diseased muscles. This stunned the medical community.")
OV: It's amazing to me that muscular dystrophy has been studied for over one hundred years, yet it is still incurable. In my medical opinion, which is not authorized by any board of medicine, your approach seems to be the best on the market for people with Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy (FSHD). (ed. FSHD is one of nine classifications of muscular dystrophy - google it).
RL: Well, it depends on the person. This is America and some people don't mind taking it easy. I'm not one of those people. The doctors still think I am an anomaly and are hesitant to recommend vigorous exercise to all people suffering from muscular dystrophy, especially since there are so many variations and manifestations of the disease. On the other hand, when a young kid wants to keep playing sports, the doctors recognize the quality of life issue and often send the kid my website. I've communicated with and helped a lot of other people with M.D. through the internet.
OV: Any hope of a cure on the horizon?
RL: The focus of the medical community is isolating the gene that causes muscular dystrophy and fixing it rather than finding a cure. Still, medicine is improving all of the time, so hopefully it will be fixed some day.
OV: Okay, let's talk cycling. What do you like? Road races, crits, time trials, track events, mountain biking?
RL: Everything. I was a sprinter from a young age though, so I'm use to sitting in the pack and unleashing my sprint at the end. I have always liked really fast technical criteriums. Relatively recently, I took up track racing and have been very successful with it. I also love triathlons, both regular and XTERRA (off-road triathlons), though the running portion always hurts my back since half of my abdominal muscles have withered away, leaving my core weaker. As my muscle loss progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult and sometimes painful to swim and bike as well. I had to take some time off last year, but I'm getting back into it now. I'll be racing St. Anthony's in St. Pete, Florida in a few weeks.
OV: I'm 20 minutes away from St. Pete, I'll buy you a beer when you're in town. Switching topics, have you had any spectacular crashes?
RL: Surprisingly no, I've haven't crashed since I was a junior. I've been to crits with over nine ambulance emergencies, but I've never gone down.
OV: Wow, I'd say you're lucky, except for the whole muscular dystrophy thing.
RL: WTF! It's not luck, I got me some skillz.
OV: I stand corrected. Switching topics again, do you have a Bar Mitzvah picture?
RL: Not anymore, I don't know where those are, but I'll send you one if I find one. I do have a picture of me in Israel shooting my Orthodox cousin's Uzi machine gun.
OV: That's a fine substitute. Okay, here's the fun stuff. It's time for
"6 Questions" with Oy Velo
(In case "The 5 Questions" with Craig Kilborn is trademarked):
1) Q: Which is Kosher, a giraffe or a dolphin?
A: A dolphin
OV: Nope, giraffes and scaled fish are kosher, but dolphins, whales and shellfish are not.
2) Q: Better holiday, Purim or Tu Bishvat?
OV: Incorrect, you're an outdoorsman, you have to go with the tree holiday.
RL: I thought you were making up Tu Bishvat.
OV: No way, this interview is all seriousness. Tu Bishvat was the one day of the year in Sunday school when we got to plant a tree outside instead of learning Hebrew inside, it's a great holiday.
3) Q: Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld?
OV: Assuming you don't have HBO, that is correct. If you do have HBO, that is still an acceptable answer, but it should have been a difficult choice.
RL: I don't have HBO, who is he?
OV: Co-creator of Seinfeld, the inspiration for George Costanza and main character of Curb Your Enthusiasm - you should relax a little and check it out.
4) Q: Kugel, with or without raisins?
A: With raisins, the white raisins. I love that stuff. People in California think that's crazy.
OV: Correct, plus you get a half point bonus for naming the unique raisin.
5) Q: What's better in a game of dreidel, Hei or Gimel?
A: Gimel, because the Hei is half.
OV: Damn, you're on fire.
6) Q: Bugsy Siegel or Meyer Lansky?
A: Siegel, no Lansky. Am I allowed to change? I like them both.
OV: That is the exact answer I was looking for, that's a tough question. You get 4.5 Stars of David out of 6 - Mazal Tov!
RL: 4.5 Stars of David is more than my religous grandmother would have expected, I'll take it. Thanks again for tracking me down. I'll see you in a few weeks, and beers on me.