Maple Valley man running for hope and healing in New York City Marathon
By KRIS HILL
Covington Reporter Assisitant Editor
September 14, 2012 · Updated 12:20 PM
Ryan Light’s first 26.2 mile event is the New York City Marathon.
Light, who lives in Maple Valley, has never run a marathon and now he’s preparing for one of the biggest events in the world.
Oh, and by the way, he also has a goal to raise $5,000 for Go For Hope, a Renton-based non-profit started by his friend Joe Hafner.
“I didn’t think I was going to get into the race,” Light said. “I’ve done half marathons. Just to get in is pretty incredible. You pay your $11, you put your name in. I was like, ‘I’m not going to get in, so I’m spending my $11 and that’s it.’”
But, he did get in, and running this race will be about more than just his first marathon.
Light grew up in the borough of Queens. It was a tough life. And a significant portion of the race route goes right through his old neighborhood.
In many ways, this will be an opportunity to confront the ghosts of his past up close, yet with fundraising it will also be a chance for him to give back, a chance to right some wrongs.
“When I got in, I guess I got a little nervous and emotional because it goes right through the neighborhood where I grew up,” Light said. “In that particular area, that was not really a good place for me. I grew up with alcoholic parents. My step-dad was in the mafia.”
To top it off, he hated school, Light said, in large part because he was placed in special education due to his behavior. He was acting out because of his home life and because what he knew was addiction and violence. Once he was placed in special education, Light began to act out more.
Following his high school graduation, Light joined the United States Army because he was completely opposed to the concept of further education, college seemed like an extension of the humiliation he endured as an adolescent.
“Anything to do with education, I flipping hated,” Light said.
After he was discharged from the Army, he went home, but he found himself unhappy in New York City. While in the service he connected with people who led what could be described as a negative and destructive lifestyle.
He packed up one night and left the city without telling anyone. Light got in his car and drove. Eventually he ended up in Dallas. He re-connected with others affiliated with the movement he was drawn to while in the Army which had fulfilled a need he had for acceptance and a sense of family.
While there, he went to ITT Tech and started studying computers.
Then, in that time, something went sideways in the group he was involved with and Light decided it was time to change his life.
He moved to Seattle. He met his wife, Jessica, who was a nanny for a man who was successful. Light admired her employer, his lifestyle, and wanted to learn how to have that kind of life.
In the meantime, he finished his associate’s degree at ITT and got a job working at Microsoft, plus he became Christian.
Hafner’s foundation is about education.
It wasn’t what the Renton man had envisioned for himself but thanks in part to the economy Hafner found himself on that path.
“When the recession hit, it was a slow painful train wreck,” Hafner said. “Ultimately we lost everything including our personal home. When we lost the home rather than crying in our soup about what to do next, we decided to go on an adventure, so we went to Nicaragua. When we went to Nicaragua we initially went for cultural immersion.”
Hafner said he and his wife felt it would be a great learning opportunity for their children as well as an eye-opening experience for the family.
They arrived in Nicaragua and didn’t know anyone. They didn’t have a plan. They didn’t speak Spanish.
“But, we trusted in a higher power that everything would be taken care of along the way,” Hafner said.
Somehow, it all worked out. Hafner said they learned about poverty on a level they never experienced before and yet he observed, “in contrast how rich they are in relationships and community and many things that we’ve kind of lost here.”
As he prepared to leave Nicaragua, he reflected on the time his family spent there, in an effort to determine what the purpose was of that chapter in their lives.
After they returned to the states, Hafner said, he spent six months trying to rebuild his career but he never felt fully committed to it.
“I felt like there was another calling for my life,” Hafner said. “One thing led to another. I went to a ministry function in Bellevue. I didn’t want to start something new … but I had this idea bubbling up in my head.”
While in Nicaragua something Hafner said his family felt was important was education.
“We just believe that education is what keeps hope alive in a child’s heart as they’re growing up,” Hafner said. “So, this seed of an idea for Go For Hope was percolating. Ultimately we made the decision to start Go For Hope about eight months ago.”
The mission is to address the fact hundreds of thousands of children drop out of school before sixth grade every year in Central America.
The plan is to support local efforts to keep kids in school, starting in Nicaragua, thanks to the network of contacts Hafner developed while living there.
“We’re not bringing in or imposing our own external solutions, but instead coming alongside and providing them with the resources they need to do more of what they do,” Hafner said. “The intent is to show dignity and respect for the individuals who are passionate about what they’re doing.”
Close to a decade ago Hafner and Light met through mutual acquaintances. The Lights used Hafner as their real estate agent when they bought a house. For a time, the two families attended the same church.
But, it was while Hafner was in Nicaragua that the friendship strengthened.
“I wrote a post on Facebook when I was down in Nicaragua about how I struggled with depression about losing our house,” Hafner said. “That really resonated with Ryan.”
Light began running to deal with anxiety and OCD.
He knew Hafner and his wife ran.
“I said to myself, ‘I’ll start running. If they can do it, I can do it,’” Light said. “So, about a year and a half ago I started running hoping it would help. In that process I wanted to pick a race I could run, like a full marathon.”
And now, he’s preparing to run the New York City Marathon.
Running, especially this event, has and could provide some healing for Light.
“Joe and what he’s doing reminded me of what I did as a kid,” Light said. “If someone had reached out to me as a kid like he’s doing in Nicaragua, things would have been different. I life with regret. Maybe I should have gone to college. The first book I ever read, I was 28 years old, now I’m 40. I want to do some healing for myself while I’m there, but, in the process do something that is bigger than myself. That’s part of my giving back.”
To support Light’s fundraising efforts, visit http://fundly.com/ryanlightnycbound
To learn more about Go For Hope, log on to www.goforhope.org
Contact Covington Reporter Assisitant Editor Kris Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or (425) 432-1209, ext. 5054.