Tom Ryan coaching against Stanford (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
Tom Ryan has experienced the euphoria of coaching a team to a national championship.
And experienced the heartache and devastation of losing a young son.
Ryan shares his compelling, emotional and inspiring story in his new book: "Chosen Suffering: Becoming Elite in Life and Leadership."
The process to complete the book took a year.
"I'm really glad I decided to do it," Ryan said. "I had been approached about doing a book before, but I didn't think I had enough time. It was something I thought I might do after I retired. But a couple of donors and supporters who are good friends encouraged me to write a book. It was an interesting and very emotional process. The book is about my life story with leadership lessons through what I've learned and mistakes I've made. And it's about some of the challenges that I've faced."
Ryan, the head wrestling coach at Ohio State, has been on quite a journey during a life that has included its share of peaks and valleys.
One of those peaks came when Ryan coached the Buckeyes to their first NCAA wrestling title in school history in 2015.
Shortly after his team wrapped up the championship for the Ohio State wrestling program, Ryan's phone was flooded with congratulatory text messages.
Of all the messages and comments Ryan received and heard on that magical March night in 2015, one stood out most.
It was from actor and former wrestler Billy Baldwin, who helped broadcast the NCAA tournament for ESPN.
"How elated Teague must be for his dad," Baldwin said on the air.
Ryan's son, Teague, had shockingly passed away from a heart attack as a 5-year-old in 2004.
"Billy's announcement shot agonizing pain through my heart," Ryan wrote in the book. "Two types of suffering collided in that moment. Upon hearing Billy's comment, I quickly moved to a quiet corner under the bleachers and dropped to my knees. Searing, gut-wrenching tears burst from the depths of my soul -- the pain of indescribable loss, unfulfilled potential, and erased dreams stung. Eleven years is not enough time to heal deep loss. How is it that pain stirs us more than success? How can a human experience this type of pain? What good can it produce? How could I, in this pinnacle moment of my career and dreams, be both ecstatic yet devastated?"
It was an emotional night of reflection for Ryan, who has emerged as one of the premier college coaches in the country.
"In this summit moment of my career, resulting in extreme joy and happiness, another life track ran concurrently -- the most profound personal grief," Ryan wrote in the book. "Time had passed, which helped but never completely heals. Two sufferings collided -- chosen and unchosen. It takes a deep yearning to find the meaning in unchosen suffering. Chosen suffering I understood and longed for because its roots were deeply embedded in my life. Chosen suffering by so many led us to this national title. Unchosen suffering is different. It's the ever- present reminder that we are here to manage the painful things we didn't cause but happen to us and those we love. Unchosen suffering transformed me. It exposed a blind spot. On this evening, I was present and aware that pain and happiness live side-by-side. While experiencing the gifts from sustained hard work over time, the deepest grief overwhelmed me. Chosen and unchosen suffering revealed. This emotional competition lasted for a few intense minutes. I ached. Then, it was time to celebrate with the men who set the standard for all other teams to follow."
Ryan said the book title applies to many facets of life.
"Chosen suffering is so powerful," he said. "We live in a world where people want everything to come quick, fast and easy, and with no patience, but that's not the way it works. It's the world we live in and it's not anyone's fault. Something worthwhile takes a lot of work and commitment. The suffering I relate to is love and sacrifice. Wrestling is a great example of it. There is no way to progress without constant, consistent suffering and discomfort -- that's the hard work you have to put in to become successful. Part of the suffering also is overcoming injuries and adversity, and learning how to deal with it."
In Ryan's new book -- co-written with author Kirsten D'Samuel -- he walks readers through the stages of his life and shares his moments of "chosen and unchosen suffering."
Ryan talks about, even in his darkest hour, how he and his family discovered joy, peace and hope.
Ryan wrestled under the legendary Dan Gable at the University of Iowa and was an NCAA runner-up for the Hawkeyes. He had a successful run as the head coach at Hofstra University before taking over at Ohio State.
"I have so much gratitude toward Dan Gable," Ryan said. "He treated me extremely fairly. The way he imparted his knowledge and his life experiences to me has helped me so much. It changed the course of my life. I don't know if I get the Hofstra job if I didn't wrestle for Dan Gable. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him."
Tom Ryan with four-time All-American Kollin Moore (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
Ryan has built the Buckeyes into one of the best wrestling programs at the NCAA Division I level. Among the wrestlers he has coached are Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion Kyle Snyder, along with four-time NCAA champion and world champion Logan Stieber.
Ryan tries to keep the success he has achieved in the proper perspective.
"We all have an empty space in our lives -- what are we filling it with? Is it titles and championships?" he said. "I want to win at everything I do, but am I filling my life with relationships and things that matter? What I fill that space with is the hope of eternal life and with my creator. I have found a faith and peace. I still want to win as much as the next guy, but you have to fill that space in your life with something truly meaningful."
In his book, Ryan shares his formula for escaping average and embodying greatness.
"Elite isn't by accident," Ryan wrote. "It's the intentional outcome of chosen suffering."
Teague RyanRyan said in an interview Monday that he still becomes emotional when talking about his son, Teague.
"It always brings me to tears when his name comes up," Ryan said. "Whenever I think about him, it's always painful. It's never easy."
Shortly after his son's death, Ryan developed a strong faith.
"At 36 years old, I began to explore whether or not God is real or isn't real," he said. "The reason I explored it was that I was in such a place of pain that nothing in my life mattered more than getting an answer. I discovered that God is definitely real. I eventually found my answer, but it took some time."
Ryan often shares his personal story when he speaks at churches and schools.
"It's worth sharing it because I think it helps people who are in a bad place and are suffering," he said. "I have talked to so many people who are in the same situation where they've lost a child. We can relate to each other.
"I tell people it's alright to grieve and be mad and hurt. In time, there will be a new normal. I believe Teague's in Heaven and he's in a good place. It took a long time, but I came out of this as a much stronger person. When you get through it and have faith and hope, you can live again."
Ryan hopes sharing his powerful story in a book will positively impact people in a variety of ways.
"I hope people are moved to explore their purpose," he said. "I hope they learn that consistent hard work is non-negotiable. And I hope they find peace and something resonates with them toward having a better understanding of their time on earth.
"I know I had to go through something so deeply troubling to have the perspective I have."
Ryan's book is available in both hard copy ($24.95) and paper back ($14.95).
Books can be ordered at www.chosensuffering.com.
Craig Sesker has written about wrestling for more than three decades. He's covered three Olympic Games and is a two-time national wrestling writer of the year.