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Stories from the Field: Mental Health and the Outdoors

May 2, 2023

Ryan DeLayna shares his life experiences and the journey that led him to co-write his memoir with his father, "Without Restraint." Ryan shares how he spent most of his academic career in therapeutic schools due to behavioral challenges where he experienced various medications and restrictive interventions, including regular physical restraints. After voluntarily committing to a psychiatric hospital, his parents were advised to place him in a group home until adulthood. However, his father began to question the authorities overseeing Ryan's care, and everything changed when they discovered Ryan's dream of becoming a professional ski mountaineer. Ryan shares the mental health impacts of high-risk adventure has been for him and the turning points in his life. He also shares how he and his father co-authored their remarkable book, "Without Restraint: How Skiing Saved My Son's Life," and how he transformed to become a well-known ski mountaineer known as "Extreme Ryan."

Season 16 is focused on how high-risk adventure impacts mental health and is underwritten by

Here is Ryan's bio from his website: Ryan DeLena is currently studying Outdoor Education at Northern Vermont University. For years, he’s posted content as “Extreme Ryan” – a nickname given to him by his father, after he became obsessed with skiing. A decade later, Ryan is believed to be the youngest person to ski tour in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, having completed expeditions in Antarctica (2018) and Svalbard (2022). 

Ryan was featured on the cover of Backcountry Ski Maps, and he’s climbed and skied peaks in Oregon, Washington, Utah, California, Nevada, and Wyoming, while also conquering many of the world’s signature runs including Super-C Couloir in Chile, Little Couloir in Montana, and Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire.

When he’s not on skis, Ryan is an enthusiastic rock climber, ice climber, and avid hiker, summiting the Grand Teton twice and completing the “Hundred Highest” hiking peaks in New England.

He plans to ski and rock guide professionally and has earned advanced certifications from the American Mountain Guides Association and the Professional Ski Instructors of America.

If you are unfamiliar with Ryan’s struggles as a boy, here is an excerpt from Without Restraint…

If I was offered the chance to have my childhood over again, growing up like a normal kid, I’d say no thanks. Despite all the pain and hardship, I now appreciate that I’m strong enough to handle anything. I bet there are not too many eighteen-year-olds who feel that way. So, in a weird way, maybe I am lucky. But, if you ask me whether another child should go through what I went through, I will say no way. In fact, the only reason that I wanted to work on this book with Dad was to help parents learn from my story, so they wouldn’t make similar mistakes with their children.
If your son or daughter is different from other kids, that is okay. For some reason, we are taught to admire men and women who challenge the status quo, yet, when a child acts differently, parents instinctively try to change them. They even seek out doctors and experts to help break the misbehaving child. Well, take it from me, if you do that, you will not only break your child of bad behavior—you will break them entirely.
I came as close to that breaking point as a person can experience. Had Dad decided to take me to Home Depot on January 2, 2009, instead of skiing at Nashoba, I’d be sitting right now in my room at a group home, bloated by medication, staring out a window, watching the world go by. Instead, the world will spend a lifetime watching me go by, as I bring people with me to ski, climb, and explore every inch of this amazing planet.