What began as an effort to start a healthier lifestyle for Vietnam veteran Ric Ryan, has turned into a decadelong passion to raise funds for injured veterans.
“I like to walk,” Ryan said. “I’ve been walking since I was 12.”
Yet, 10 years ago, walking changed for Ryan.
“I saw something on the TV about Operation Mend, so I thought I might try to help (veterans) by counting waves from folks as I was walking.” For each wave he would take 25 cents out of his own pocket to put it in a fund he had set aside for Operation Mend.
University of California, Los Angeles Operation Mend was established in 2007 as a groundbreaking partnership among UCLA Health, the United States military and the Department of Veterans Affairs to help heal the wounds of war. Operation Mend provides advanced surgical and medical treatment, as well as comprehensive psychological-health support for post-9/11-era service members, veterans and their families at no cost. The program is available to eligible soldiers injured during combat operations or while training for service.
Ryan claims that walking for the veterans also helps heal some parts of himself.
“Walking keeps me on an even keel and helps with my PTSD,” Ryan said. “It also gives me a chance each day to talk to the man upstairs; I thank him every day, I thank him for saving my life.”
Now 10 years and 8,000 miles later, Ryan has raised and donated more than $100,000 to Operation Mend.
“The people in this community have been so supportive. People stop and give me money now that they know who I am and what I am doing,” he said. Ryan paused, and, with tears forming in his eyes, continued, “Some people stop to tell me their stories; stories of loved ones who served and loved ones they lost.”
It’s the veterans, the families and the community that keep him going.
And time has proven that not much can hold this 72-year-old veteran down.
In 2013 and again in 2015, he had knee replacement surgery. In 2016 he had his left hip replaced. “I only recovered for a couple of weeks and I was back walking,” Ryan said. He said it was much to his wife Joanne’s dismay.
On Aug. 1, he was struck by a car in a crosswalk in Murphys.
“I hurt every day,” he said. “But that hit wasn’t going to stop me from walking for very long, it hurts, but I do it for the vets.” Ryan has had to reduce the length of his daily walks since the accident.
“The Marine Corps was my first family, and veterans, especially those at Operation Mend, are my heroes,” Ryan said. “I’m going to walk for veterans until I can’t walk anymore.”
In 2014, Ryan and his wife Joanne were invited to walk with Operation Mend in the New York Veterans Day Parade, a highlight of his life.
“When we walked by the main stage I could hear the announcer say, ‘And here is the Walking Man of Murphys, Ric Ryan.’ Imagine that, all the way in New York to hear my town’s name announced.”
He has been invited, once again, to walk with Operation Mend in this year’s Veterans Day Parade.
“I will miss being home, but I am excited to go,” he said.
On Sept. 22, 10 years to the day that Ryan began walking for veterans, he will start his walk at the Chevron in Murphys at Highway 4; a milestone in an honorable man’s life.
Ryan has donation cans in Murphys at the Spice Tin, Tanner Tasting Room, Murphys Motorcycle Co., Shell, the Red Store and Sierra Nevada Adventure Co. Additional cans are located in Arnold at Autosmith and Napa Auto Parts.
Those wanting to donate to Operation Mend, checks can be mailed to: Ric Ryan, P.O. Box 1674, Murphys, CA 95247. Memo: UCLA Foundation/Operation Mend.
For more information on Operation Mend visit operationmend.ucla.edu.