Image: Shelly King
When 10-year old Ryan Neighbors brought home a permission slip for a field trip, her mother, Shelly King, was preparing to disappoint her daughter. The trip, to the ‘Falls of Ohio’, involved a hike across rugged terrain to reach a fossil bed. The rugged topography meant it was not wheelchair-accessible. And Ryan had spina bifida, a condition in which the spine or spinal cord aren’t formed correctly, which left her paralyzed from the waist down and wheelchair-bound.
But in a kind-hearted gesture, 4th-grade teacher Jim Freeman offered to carry her through the field trip so she didn’t have to miss out on any of the fun.
And he made good on his promise. Freeman carried her in a specially-designed backpack for nearly an hour in 90-degree weather so that she could experience the Falls with her classmates. Despite the fact that she weighed 55 pounds, given that she couldn’t even wrap her legs around her, Freeman said he was happy to take on the physical challenge.
Image: Shelly King
King expressed immense gratitude in a Facebook post, with pictures of a happy Ryan and Mr. Freeman. The teacher hadn’t even known her daughter too well, King said, and had never taught her, but stepped in regardless. The post has since garnered thousands of likes, comments, and shares.
Ryan has, because of her condition, undergone over 32 surgeries, but the young girl is striving to live as independent a life as possible. King said that Freeman’s decision to carry her has helped her assert that independence, and he unwittingly showed her that she will not be left behind.
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Ryan attends Tully Elementary School in Louisville, Kentucky. The school has always been considerate and inclusive, said King, making sure Ryan felt included and involved in every possible way. She has previously praised the school on the Facebook page she runs about her daughter’s journey called Team Ryan.
Ryan considers herself unstoppable and is a child advocate for disabled people. She is a pageant queen as well. She was the first to compete in the Kentucky Festival Pageant Association in a wheelchair when she was just 7 years old. She has collected thousands of toys for other kids like her in the hospital. She ran a lemonade stand earlier this year to raise money for The Children’s Miracle Network. And she goes through multitudinous painful medical procedures with a smile on her face.