'

From Bedrest to Big Win: How Water Skier Ryan Dodd Recovered from a Life-Threatening Head Injury to Win a World Championship

by | Jan 30, 2019 | Overcoming Injury, podcast | 3 comments

You have to want to do your best more than you want to win.

or find the direct download at
http://traffic.libsyn.com/hopesports/HS04-Ryan-Dodd.mp3

Listen with your favorite podcast app:

About This Episode

A farm in rural Canada doesn’t exactly seem like the perfect breeding ground for a world class water skier (or two!). But a lot of digging, water, and a cow pasture would become a man-made lake large enough for a speed boat, skis, and the start of a legendary career for Ryan Dodd. At age 10, he began skiing recreationally with his father and grandfather in the water reserve that they kept for their cattle and it quickly became clear that he had the talent to excel. Growing up in a family with a very successful horse-trainer for a mother and businessman for a father, Dodd understood the value of a strong work ethic and thrived on the pressure to also make something of his career.

Dodd was a rising star in his sport when a night of celebrating took a sharp turn for the worst. It was his “first and absolutely last bar fight,” and he woke up not recalling exactly what had happened. Thinking he was just a bit beaten up, Ryan got on a plane and flew home. Upon landing, however, he realized that his injuries were far worse than he had originally believed. Upon rushing him to the ER, doctors discovered that he had a skull fracture and bleeding in three places in his brain — an injury so severe that he was lucky to be alive after not seeking immediate medical attention. He stayed at the hospital until the bleeding stopped and narrowing avoided surgery, but the road to recovery would be long. Dodd was required to lay flat in the dark for three months to allow his brain to fully heal. He wasn’t allowed to go outside, have caffeine, read, look at screens, or do anything that got his heart rate up. And most definitely not water ski.

Ryan shares, “it was definitely the most life-changing experience that I would never have asked for.” The months in the dark forced him to make drastic changes not only in his physical health, but also in his mindset towards himself. He had to overhaul his nutrition and sleep patterns in order to recover. No more caffeine, sugar, alcohol, staying out late, or sleeping in. He became more intentional with his time, giving space for reading, self-improvement, meditation, and reflection. When he was ready to take steps towards training again, he got in contact with a sports psychologist and a performance coach to help him stay holistically healthy. Finally, eight months after his injury, Dodd strapped on his skis for his first competition and scored a personal best. That milestone was followed shortly after by a first place victory at the the US Masters and a world title.

During his recovery, Ryan read a book that encouraged him to “turn obstacles into opportunities.” He used to view defeat or challenges as negative experiences, rather than moments to evaluate and grow. This shift in his mindset enabled him to take his recovery day by day, and has marked his career ever since. He learned that focusing on doing his best would always take him further than dwelling on the next big win. Performance goals remain important, but he has found that small, attainable goals in all areas of life are actually more rewarding and motivating. Although he’s back to skiing professionally, he shares that he is dreaming bigger than just gold medals and championships – he wants to help evolve the sport, encourage others, and mentor younger athletes. He currently trains with his dad, who has was titles in the Over 55 water skiing circuit himself, and looks forward to bettering himself at each competition in the coming year.

Read Episode Transcript

Laura:

[00:00:54] Ryan Dodd welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast. We’re so excited to have you on. Welcome!

 

Ryan:

[00:01:00] Thank you. Glad to be here.

 

Laura:

[00:01:02] Let’s just get right to it. Now, you started skiing fairly young and not in a very typical location. Can you tell us about how you got started?

 

Ryan:

[00:01:11] Yeah a little bit of how I started. I started from Canada on a cattle farm actually. My Dad and Grandpa and family used to ski recreationally. And when I was 10 years old my dad actually built a dam with a tractor in a cow pasture as a sort of reserve or backup for cattle water. And we started skiing so I skied you know all summer on the Partyville and then played backyard Olympic. Been busy.

 

Laura:

[00:01:40] That’s awesome. Now you have a friend Jared that you started training with when you were pretty young and you said he was kind of inspiration from the beginning. I have to tell you I was reading this article and I love this quote you said about him. The thing about Jared is he works harder than anybody I’ve ever seen in this sport. But he does it with this carefree joy. Whether he’s preparing for your event or rehabbing an injury that might in most careers. He does it with the energy and enthusiasm of a guy on holiday. Now what kind of impact is training with a guy like that had on you?

 

Ryan:

[00:02:12] I was in the same room as a kid you know every single thing you do just from the way I carried themselves to the. You know the way you trained and competed and whose family life was a definite inspiration and you know they got me heavily.

 

[00:02:28] But that. That kind of point that one that I pointed out is the hardest. Its sort of it seems for me to be the hardest thing. But it’s also when you kind of get in that state where you can know everything flows and you can be relaxed but you’re also working hard on anybody and performing at a high level in a dangerous sport like. Then you can carry on a life that’s you know you can carry on great family life because you know and business. And you can just be fun to be around and that’s kind of what was always blowing me away the most about him. And honestly, anyone that stands out to me you know if you’re working hard but you’re in a bad mood and resenting it and you’re grumpy. Whatever. I mean what’s the point of that?

 

Laura:

[00:03:12] Exactly. Exactly. Now I have to ask you about your dad because I’m a mom and I’ve been a fairly successful athlete too and now I have a daughter who’s fallen in love with my sport and that makes me nervous. Now your dad Bruce was a world champion water skier. And how did that affect you growing up? I mean was did it inspire you or was it like a weight to prove something? Like, Tell me about that?

 

Ryan:

[00:03:34] Well kind of the odd thing is he was never a professional skier. He was always a farmer. He skied for fun in the summer. He competed but actually like he’s a senior World Champion. So like in the in the 55 and up and he just did that like I think five for the first time. So It was not. It wasn’t really that way like I’d ever had. How you kind of go on him saying he wasn’t actually a professional skier. He was to set a record. Somebody in the senior ranks.

 

[00:04:06] He’s actually excelled the last 10 years. So now he is. The pressure was more with how successful you know my family both my parents were. My mom was actually you know a horse trainer and she competed against the guys and she rode. You know she’s one of the tops in the country. And my dad you know it was his business success. You know grew on a family farm from one cow to 9000. He’s a pretty successful guy. So yeah I had pressure but you know for me the pressure was never and it still isn’t like something that scares me or holds me back. That’s why I thrive on. Like if I don’t have pressure then I don’t do as well. The more. Seriously the more the better. So.

 

Laura:

[00:04:48] I love it. So did you guys have to ask then did you guys train together.

 

Ryan:

[00:04:53] We actually train together right now. He’s got his next senior world championships in three weeks in Santiago Chile and I’m just. My season is kind of winding down but I’m still training. I’m testing some stuff. I’m testing you know some stuff on my boat but he has to get ready for next year and he’s preparing for that. So you know all a hop in the boat and watch him know a couple of times a week and help him out and vice versa. So springy.

 

Laura:

[00:05:17] Oh I love it. It’s like family goes right there. That’s awesome. I have to ask you. You had a life-threatening head injury and it sidelined you from competition for like eight months. Can you tenet take me through that?

 

Ryan:

[00:05:34] Yeah. It’s a. Actually without a sport, It was not one of my most proud moments but I wanted to give that to our partner to set the bar and I got beat up and the first time I’ve been in a fight and hopefully last with them. That’s not my forte. So I was you know I kind of woke up not knowing what happened and beat up pretty bad and actually flew home. I didn’t know how serious it was. And then the next day I started freaking out like my head like gonna explode and other members basically the emergency room and my skull was fractured and my brain was bleeding in different spots like a subdural hematoma. And then like Oh my God you’re lucky to be alive. I was right beside this major artery blood. I was. Insane! They didn’t do surgery. They just kind of let it sit for a few hours and then the bleeding stopped. And you know I was basically just laying in bed for three months. I wasn’t allowed to go outside in the heat. I was about to get my heart rate up with my caffeine. I wasn’t allowed to read Green. Watch. I was basically to sit there in the dark for a long time and you know the hope of being able to compete again and all that was kind of the last of my mind. But as I got going and got feeling better and so to see things a little different. And about 5-6 months I started working out a little and pushing it to bed you know. Seven months I got back on the water and was stronger and lighter than I’d ever been. And I definitely work with some you know some experts in sports psychology. And I got a performance coach kind of helped me you know that my career. And then next thing you know eight months after the injury I had the first competition I had a personal best. And next when I won the biggest game of the year the U.S. Masters. And since then it’s been a steady ride upward all the way to last year world record and two world titles.

 

[00:07:25] It’s been definitely a life-changing experience they don’t want to like ask for but. I read this book I read this one book it was I forget the name but it was kind of like some of it was just basically turning your obstacles and opportunities and I never really thought of things that way. I just thought they were like bad when some bad happened or something went wrong. But since that moment even big or small I’ve said it immediately. This is the moment I’m learning something and this is for the best and it’s gonna help me and that’s nice. So.

 

Laura:

[00:07:57] So in those months that you were kind of stuck in the dark like you said. I mean what got you through that? Did you have that mindset then? Or like how did you? I mean I just can’t even imagine as an athlete and somebody so active being scourged. Yeah. Like how did you and with the brain keep going?

 

Ryan:

[00:08:07] No. So weird. It’s terrible.

[00:08:11] I mean moving now there’s more research and more guidance but I’ll just kind of the doctor’s like go home and rest and read stuff online. It was basically just the way it was. It was so counterintuitive for me because with the brain. Whatever it was with rest your body you exercise it. It gets stronger. You break it down and get started with a brain injury. You push it. It gets weaker and it doesn’t. You actually have to just do nothing for it to get stronger. It’s not like strong healthy brain you stress and they get stronger with better spirit, not injury. You basically just have to sit there.

 

Laura:

[00:08:48] Well like what did you? I mean what I think about it and who’s? I mean cause there’s a lot of time to just sit there like I can’t even fathom where my brain though.

 

Ryan:

[00:08:56] It was so weird but after a while I just it’s actually just kind of thought OK. Because I’ve never done it in my life. I’ve always been so busy and worked so hard. And I started to kind of just look outside and pay attention to things. And be more present and watch the clouds and listen to the sound. I started meditating and I got a coach to kind of teach me some breathing exercises and guided meditations. And I started doing that every morning and create a little kind. I change my diet and I stopped you know sugar or I stop caffeine and alcohol and I just definitely cleaned clean everything out and actually started to feel better than normal. Even though I wasn’t doing stuff. [00:09:40] So it was pretty neat. It was crazy.

 

Laura:

[00:09:43] That’s so wild. It is amazing those things happen to you. You don’t ask or you don’t want but it can change you in a good way. Right?

 

Ryan:

[00:09:49] I wouldn’t have gone without you know a slap in the head basically.

 

Laura:

[00:09:53] Yeah. I get that.

 

Ryan:

[00:09:55] And now it’s like how do we go to that place of like you know disparity or need without having to have something traumatizing happen. How do we how do we dig that deep in ourselves to be a better person without it? That’s that’s the challenge because it’s. We can change. Like I used to sleeping and so tired till noon and you know my whole body clock has changed and I get up with the sun and I go to bed with the sun and I feel the dust before. Yeah. Everything is so weird but it’s totally changed.

 

Laura:

[00:10:27] That’s cool. That’s very cool to see what affected you that way. Now you’ve been telling yourself since you were 10 years old that if you put in the work and stay on the path you would be a world champion. I mean you had mastered titles, Pan Am Games titles, other pro titles but when you got second at Worlds in 2013 you said you had a brief moment of doubt. You just wondered if you’d been living a lie. If you were chasing something is never gonna happen. Tell me about it?

 

Ryan:

[00:10:51] Yeah. That’s pretty terrible.

[00:10:55] Yeah. That was like a nasty moment because I felt like I could win when I was 18. You know I was like top 10 in the world and then now I’m like pros 30, 29 years old and I’m like sitting there so ready. I’d won all the events leading up and I even went down to the site. I jumped and I went way further than unnecessary when I did that. Top seed going into files and then the guy before me didn’t even go like you know the jump and not like that far. Like you know 9 out of 10 jumps at that point would have done it. I basically just completely blanked out and screwed every jump up. And it was like I basically like I’d never heard of my life. This was just kind of blanked out when I turn. And next thing you know I had no sense of what was even going on and then it was over and it was like literally over and it’s over for two years. So I really start to wonder. I’m like I could have been more prepared. There’s not. But what. It’s you know as you know as an athlete everything’s mental everything’s in your brain you know your body everything else is prepared. And I even thought I was mentally prepared but kind of the biggest moment.

 

[00:12:08] It was kind of the next year. I don’t remember exactly what happened but my biggest change was instead of like competing against you know my biggest competitor which is Freddy Krueger at the time and trying to win. It just became caring more about the things that I need to do to be my best. And if you can actually whether you’re tricking yourself or you actually believing it. You know you can want to have a great performance more than a win. You know if you can truly want that best job for that bus run or whatever sports, eating or whatever you’ve got a business that you can want that more than the result. You can actually create got morning program herself to work that way. That’s the moment that it becomes like I was saying with Jerry with ease. And it doesn’t need this heroic like out of body experience to make it happen because of you just kind of do anything. And you’re that good at that point. So something changed I kinda let go you know taught when. And then didn’t make sense but when you let go trying to win you start winning every time. So I.

 

Laura:

[00:13:18] Wisdom right there.

 

Ryan:

[00:13:19] It takes me so long to like you know to put when I do it’s definitely built in. So.

 

Laura:

[00:13:27] That’s very cool. Now when you finally did win that World title two years later how did that make you feel? Was it everything you hoped for or not?

 

Ryan:

[00:13:39] Yes. In a way? And then also not in a way because the one you know. I’m saying I’m not there to just win but like I wanted to be my best which I was. But I also wanted to compete against the best. Part of me wanted to like and Freddie was injured that year in 2015 and he’s still the number one competitor. I mean he didn’t make it. So it’s kind of like Oh man really? Like my brain. I was like you know the other best guy would have a gorilla performance and I come out and I muster up the courage and do it. Right?

 

Laura:

[00:14:14] Right. The best of the best. Right?

 

Ryan:

[00:14:14] This is a game in your head. But at the end of the day, I went out. I was prepared. I did my job. And I totally killed it and I won my first jump with 3 attempts. And it was amazing. But part of me was like Oh no I wish it was this. But after a few months, I’m like I just won the World Championships. But yeah I was insane. You know when it finally hit me it was like you know I think that some things really started to change and I start to believe in myself. And I was like wow it’s not you know I haven’t been lying to myself forever. I can actually do this. Because with anything that we do before we’ve done it we’re telling ourselves it’s possible with no proof of it being possible. So inhale I can read every line of the song. It’s like oh well I guess I can keep imagining things and making them happen.

 

Laura:

[00:15:06] Well I think you. I mean it’s it’s so interesting to me because you had won so many things. And you were already so many athletes dream of being you know? You’d won so many titles and second at worlds and that’s still amazing before you won the world.

 

Ryan:

[00:15:20] But in my brain said I’m gonna be okay. I’m going to be a world champion. I’m gonna hold records. So it’s all you know for me it was all nice and fun but that’s what I was here to do. So.

 

Laura:

[00:15:36] Well so I guess it’s kind of a fine line right? Like you need to have those goals. You need to push yourself like no this is my goal I’m going to keep going. But at the same time, it’s so easy for us as athletes to get sucked into that mindset of like our importance and our identity is all wrapped up in the results of our performance. Like how do you separate those? Because it’s important to have those goals but you can’t get just totally sucked into those all consuming goals right?

 

Ryan:

[00:16:00] Yeah I mean we need. So like we need performance we don’t need them. But like I like to have performance goals such as a score or a win or a result. But like the best way to stay sane and live a good life and feel successful on a daily basis is to from my experience is to have goals that are within our actual control. Goals such as dietary goals, lifestyle goals, the amount of sleep you know. Spend time with your family and friends you know. The hours you put into your training you know. Your ability to not be emotionally or I guess like energetically set back when things don’t go your way right? If you can keep. If my goal can be to stay as motivated when things aren’t going my way is when they are. If you have goals like that? Then at the end of the day, the results are going to come pouring in. The challenge is when they start pouring in for me to not just get excited about them and forget what got me there. And it’s like that’s still my battle like last year is the best year of my life on the water and you know and I’d say everything. And this year I just go. I’m like Oh let’s keep doing that let’s keep winning. That was awesome! And then I forget how to turn I’m like oh my god I’m like all the things that made me have a great year. I’m focused on the results again. It’s like really?

 

[00:17:26] But that’s. It’s so hard as you know because that’s like what everybody talks about. Everybody you know that’s a people post on Facebook. That’s what they talk about. The first thing they say oh that the world champion. It’s like oh you’re not a person like hello I’m just a human. Deep down it’s like we want the results. But like I say we feel better when we just feel like a normal person and where we live a normal life. So that’s the that’s the challenge.

 

Laura:

Right. It’s the balance right?

 

Ryan:

Yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:17:56] OK. So now you just mentioned it. You’ve got a world record. Now you have 2 world titles because you won last year as well. And you got four Masters titles. What? 45 pro wins?! And you’re still going. Where do you see your career going from here? And how do how do you keep motivated?

 

Ryan:

[00:18:13] Honestly like that’s that’s the next step for me. That’s what I’m sitting here right now. There’s actually one more event left this year in 2 and a half weeks in the last month. I’ve been kind of wondering do I do it? Do I rest? The last two years I’ve taken the whole kind of winter off. But I’m like You know I’m like sometimes for me you can’t sit here and you know when you ask me that question I can’t just come up with the answer. Sometimes they just come like my motivation has just come to me in the past. You know an opportunity has been presented. That’s kind of helped create it. Right now I’m sitting here and my wife and I are chatting. I was talking to my dad last night and I’m like I’m trying to figure out what is next? Because I don’t. I mean you know I’m afraid and I don’t want to be the guy that’s sucked into like you said these goals and results. You know on that 45 pros and just go for 100. You know last year actually I set a goal was to win all the events right? Well, I lost the first event. I set this year goal to win all these events like haven’t. I won the first event so I’m like you know maybe goals like that aren’t what I need, you know. Is that a sign? Do I set it next year and then be mad all year if I don’t do it? No. Like so I need to move. I need to figure it out. And you know maybe it’s maybe it’s something different. I don’t know.

 

Laura:

[00:19:42] You know what I love about this? Is you are so accomplished and you’ve done all these things beget you’re still figuring it out. Like that makes me feel more sane because I feel like I’m in the same boat. So thank you for making me feel like a human.

 

Ryan:

[00:19:54] Oh yeah. You’re welcome.

 

Laura:

[00:19:56] Now, of all these things. Like what do you want to be remembered for? What do you want people to take away and like remember about you?

 

Ryan:

[00:20:08] I mean I want to be remembered for innovating in the sport. Like as you know with my you know what I do as an athlete but also you know for the sport. And that’s the step that I haven’t. You know that for the sport haven’t taken yet but I’ve kind of you know kind of started. Which would mean evolving the kind of the rules and you know the ramp and the boat and kind of working on that? And then you know as a person part of the reason that I coach and do some other things is because I want to inspire people to be you know to be their best and find that they love to do and commit to it. And so I guess whenever I chat with someone I want them to feel like you know they know that I care about them and I want to help them figure it out.

 

Laura:

[00:20:59] I love it. I love your hashtag Aspire to Inspire. Like I love your whole mantra. It just it resonates with me. It’s very cool.

 

Ryan:

[00:21:06] Thank you. Thank you.

 

Laura:

[00:21:08] On your website you say that your mission is to kinda uncover your potential as an athlete into inspiring give back to people along the way. And working with Homes of Hope in Mexico to build and donate homes that’s one of the ways you kind of stay true to that mission. How did you get involved in that? And like what does that mean to you? Why do you keep doing it?

 

Ryan:

[00:21:27] Yeah. I have a. It’s actually my performance coach so sort of my mental coach. He who I started working with when I had my head injury who’s now been a big part in helping me recover and come back and have a good life. He for a few years was like Ryan you got to give back. You’ve got to you know he’s kind of helping me figure out all the pieces of the puzzle. And he’s like you should give back. You should find a way to donate to something. And he’s like you should you know maybe give 10% of your winnings to something. And I’m like I don’t want to give my money away like it seems meaningless just to donate money to something. Like he’s like oh here’s this link you can set. I’m like No! Like I just kind of got mad like I don’t wanna do that. I want something I have meaning I want to kind of see it and feel it and know that it’s real. And I just kind of had this weird like thing about like just donation. It’s like I thought it was something people just do to feel better about themselves more than like for other people.

 

[00:22:23] So I was very hesitant. Many introduced me to a friend of his who’s also a friend of my wife’s. And then like a family friend of hers just like a bed talk. He’s also a skier and he works with homes of hope in Mexico. He’d done like I think 7 years in a row of these builds that we had. We got a call. And I kind of just told them Hey I want it. I want to connect my performance to giving back to something. You know I want. When I do. I want to be motivated to do well not just for me to stand there and hold the medal but for me to have more to go back and give to somebody. Because it’s nice you win an event. You go home. We got more money for your family. It feels cool. But it’s like a family is everything OK. It’s like it’d be really nice to like you know if I want and like you know whether it’s 100 bucks or a thousand bucks or whatever it is to like give to somebody who’s like having trouble getting food. There’s no roof over their head. So we, he kind of told me what he did. I told him what to do? And somebody on the call he’s like Hey why don’t we work this out? Boom! I said I’ll give 10 percent of what I win this year. And I’ll casually you know kind of under the radar offer it to people to match any portion of it. Because I didn’t want it to be. I wanted it to be this fine line of not where it’s marketing right? That Ryan is a good person because he’s doing this but like. So I just did one Facebook post say hey I’m doing this Homes of Hope Mexico can build a house. So you know I’m going to donate this. You know hit me up if you want to match a portion of it. Super casual. And then I think at the end of the year we had 10 or 15 people and donate some money and I think we’re about twenty thousand bucks. And I was like Oh my God this is insane. The house is you know a lot less than that.

 

[00:24:10] And it was overwhelming without really any effort. So I was like. Then we went down and built the house and it was way above and beyond my expectations. And I dropped on my weird like stigma like you know money being hidden in some charities and all this weird stuff I had in my head for no reason. And I was like this is unbelievable! The coolest thing I’ve ever done. And it blew my mind and then the next year which was last year we built two homes and this year where we’re going to. I don’t know if I’m gonna make it this year but I’m supporting it because my wife she’s pregnant so I might just stay home with her. So yeah. It’s going pretty cool.

 

Laura:

[00:24:52] That’s fantastic. I love it. I love it. When you get your hands like in it too and you see it. Kind of like you said is there some weird thing like you actually see it and you see the results of it. Yeah. Very cool.

 

Ryan:

[00:25:04] It was a very special opportunity. And I recommend it to anyone and I think it’s the best way to connect with a family and even yourself. And you know just kind of come down to reality and pretty real.

 

Laura:

[00:25:19] Well, I love that how you started it just by kind of a simple donation hey if you want to join me. And it was kind of a ripple effect on all these people got involved in it. It’s made such a big impact. I mean that’s just. That’s a beautiful thing. That’s life right?

 

Ryan:

[00:25:31] And then another group actually tied on one of the girls that participated in the US with my build. She went and kind of did the same thing. So of donating got other people in and then kind of breath. So we’ll move on there’s a whole secondly side going on and it’s pretty neat. So it definitely like it’s something it’s a good way for things to kind of go viral.

 

Laura:

[00:25:54] Yes. Definitely.

 

Ryan:

[00:25:55] Like let’s give it. Everybody and doing something good. So yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:25:59] Well and you kind of mentioned you guys have some exciting news and I love how you announced it on Instagram where you’re holding a pineapple. When is baby Dodd due?

 

Ryan:

[00:26:10] March next year.

 

Laura:

[00:26:11] Congratulations! It is so awesome. So awesome.

 

Ryan:

[00:26:14] Thank you. Thank you.

 

Laura:

[00:26:15] Now because you’re fantastic and we’re so inspired and encouraged by you. Where can we follow you online to kind of keep up with all your adventures and everything that you’re doing?

 

Ryan:

[00:26:26] Once I get better than of my website it’ll be on InspiredByRyan.com it’s brand new. About my Instagram @rdodd260. That’s kind of I’d say where I post the most often and then Facebook. So yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:26:43] All right. Fantastic! Well thank you so much for taking the time to just share your inspiring story with us and we wish you the very best of luck.

 

Ryan:

[00:26:50] Thank you very much.

Dive straight into the feedback!
Login below and you can start commenting using your own user instantly