By William K. Alcorn
Ryan P. Bailey found a way to fulfill his dream of serving his country and swimming competitively at the college level.
The Boardman High School senior accepted an appointment to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Ryan, who has a 4.0 grade-point average and this year won the 100-yard butterfly and was fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke at the Ohio State Athletic Association’s Swimming and Diving meet, could have gone just about anywhere to further his academic and athletic career.
In fact, before his fateful visit to the Naval Academy, he had narrowed the field to The Ohio State University, the University of Kentucky and Yale University.
At one point, his father, Jerry, was convinced Ryan was headed to OSU.
“Ryan had been the biggest Buckeye fan since I took him to OSU-University of Michigan swim meet when he was 10. Up until two years ago, that was all he talked about doing. Then the recruiting process started with the academy when he was a junior,” said his father, a project manager for A.P. O’Horo Co.
“I did research. As a parent I knew what he might be getting into, and I didn’t know if he was cut out for it.
“But, we (his mother Chris and I) dropped off a boy for his first visit to the Naval Academy. Three days later we picked up a man,” his father said.
Ryan not only matured on that recruiting trip, he changed his career goal.
“He had always wanted to be a doctor. But, that first visit ... changed his whole philosophy of life. He wanted to serve his country,” his mother said.
“As a mom, I was a little nervous at first because it’s the military ... five years of service after school. But when my husband and I toured the academy, we were blown away. It’s so him. He has always been so neat and everything in order. I’m just very proud. I could cry,” Chris said.
“Certainly, I have concerns about him going into the military with the world always changing. But as a father, I couldn’t be more proud that he would step up and serve his country. I can’t express my joy to see how he has developed. What he’s given up to take the next step in his life is just remarkable,” Jerry said.
Ryan was 8 when he started swimming at the Boardman Tennis and Swim Club, and quickly realized he wanted to swim in high school and college.
Ryan, whose grandfather, Jerry Bailey of Austintown, served in the Marine Corps, said that growing up he had always been interested in the military, and paying back the military for protecting the country.
Since he made the decision to attend the Naval Academy, Ryan said he has had no second thoughts: “I know I will have a lot of great experiences along the way.”
After graduation from the Academy, he will fulfill his five-year military obligation as a Navy or Marine Corps officer. He said he hopes to be in aviation or the submarine service.
“Right now, I plan to make it a career. Serving my country is just something I have in me,” said Ryan, who is a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish National Honor Society and the LINK Crew, a group that mentors incoming freshman, at Boardman High School. He also participates in community projects.
Ryan said he is inspired by the life lessons his father has tried to teach him.
“I taught both of my kids to look at the end result and then plan to get there. Ryan doesn’t need me to remind him of it; he knows what he needs to do and just does it,” Jerry said.
When he was 8, Ryan was an average swimmer.
“It was hard work and dedication and great teachers and coaches and trainers and baby sitters who got him to where he is. I want to thank everybody. It truly has taken a village,” his mother said.
“He is a determined kid. When he puts his mind to something, he is very focused and determined. I’ve never had an issue with him in 18 years. He is also a role model for our daughter,” Chris said.
Brooke, 15, is also a 4.0 student at Boardman and an elite swimmer, qualifying for state in 2012 and 2013. They go together to Youngstown State University at 5 a.m. every day to practice in the pool there. They are very close, Chris said.
After winning the state championship, Ryan said it was the “best thing I have ever experienced” and that he was “excited” to bring the gold medal back to Boardman and “surprised and pleased” to see the Boardman police waiting to escort the team bus.