Analy wrestling coach Ryan Stevens battling cancer

Analy wrestling coach Ryan Stevens, left, and wrestler Ryan Rypka hold up a pennant celebrating the school’s first Sonoma County League wrestling title since 1975. (Photo by Analy High School)

Analy wrestling coach Ryan Stevens, left, and wrestler Ryan Rypka hold up a pennant celebrating the school’s first Sonoma County League wrestling title since 1975. (Photo by Analy High School)

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ryan Stevens has worked hard to make the Analy wrestling program healthy. Now he’ll have to apply the same focus to his own body.

Stevens, 35, has been diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma skin cancer, and doctors have found cancerous areas in his brain, liver, lungs and lymph nodes.

He is midway through a 10-day radiation treatment, and has just begun a round of chemotherapy.

“I’m kind of learning along the way what I need to do,” Stevens said between appointments Wednesday, sounding remarkably upbeat. “We’ve got a good group of doctors really pulling for us. We’ve got lots of great people through the Sebastopol community, through the wrestling community. I’m surprised to see how many came out and are willing to help. It makes me feel loved.”

Healdsburg coach Scott Weidemier is pleased to see the wrestling crowd come together for Stevens, but he’s hardly surprised.

“There’s a familiar saying. If you’re in wrestling circles, you see it all the time,” Weidemier said. “It’s by (legendary wrestler and coach) Dan Gable. He said, ‘Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.’ Basically, once you’ve wrestled, you’re part of that family. Even guys who weren’t very good wrestlers tend to think of themselves as wrestlers. There is some bonding there.”

Coaches like Weidemier, Windsor’s Rich Carnation and Ukiah’s Gary Cavender are getting involved in the effort to raise money for Stevens’ expenses.

Helping with all the burdens

Stevens, a Spanish teacher at Analy High, has solid insurance through Kaiser Permanente, but it doesn’t come close to footing the entire bill for his medical procedures and tests. And there are travel costs, too. Stevens has been receiving care at Rohnert Park Cancer Center, but will soon begin clinical programs at UC San Francisco.

Stevens is married with four children, ranging in age from 8 years to 9 months, and he is understandably concerned about their financial well-being.

Family and friends have set up a fund through youcaring.com. If you go to that site and search for his name, you can click through to his home page and find the Give Now button. Meanwhile, Analy students have organized a drive-through spaghetti dinner at the high school, April 7 from 3-7:30 p.m.

[DONATIONS WELCOMED: Click here to donate to coach Stevens]

Well known in the Empire

Stevens is well known to local wrestling insiders. He was a terror at 103 pounds when he competed at Rancho Cotate, winning two North Bay League titles and advancing to the state championships as a senior in 1996.

Stevens wrestled at Ricks College (now known as BYU-Idaho), and returned home to become assistant coach at Rancho, then at Casa Grande. He started teaching at Analy nine years ago, and took over the wrestling program two years after that. Ryan’s father, Jim Stevens, is even more established here; he coached at Piner and Rancho Cotate, and ran the program at Comstock Middle School for 40 years.

Ryan Stevens has done wonders at Analy. The Tigers were a last-place team when he took over. This season they shared the Sonoma County League title with Healdsburg — Analy’s first league wrestling banner since 1975.

Weidemier marvels that while other programs have seen their numbers steadily drop — Healdsburg had just 17 wrestlers this year — Stevens has been able to build up the Analy team to 30-40 kids. He also has managed to change the Tigers’ mind-set, making them believe they can compete with the area’s best.

“He cares about the kids,” Weidemier said. “He doesn’t denigrate kids, he’s not in their face when they do something wrong. He talks to them like an adult. I think he’s done a great job of working with them. I think he does things the right way — whatever the ‘right way’ is.”

Cancer returns aggressively

Stevens was first visited by melanoma two years ago. He had a skin lesion on his left jawbone and some lymph nodes removed, and seemed to have completely recovered. But Stevens was coaching at the North Coast Section championships less than a month ago when he began to feel a sharp pain in his side. Doctors ran a sonogram and a found a tumor on his liver, along with some swollen lymph nodes. Soon after, Stevens complained of severe headaches, and another scan revealed several brain tumors.

“Everything seemed clear,” Stevens said of his false remission. “You’re always hoping nothing will come out of it. I try to stay out of the sun as much as possible. And I find out later that it can show up in other parts of the body. So it’s a shock. But I’m trying to stay healthy, stay positive.”

Fighting it however he can

Stevens is fighting the cancer on several fronts — with invasive radiation and chemotherapy, with holistic herbal remedies researched by his family, and with prayer. Stevens, who lives in Santa Rosa with his wife, Jaredel, belongs to the LDS church.

Stevens was in excellent physical condition when he was diagnosed, and seems to be holding up well under the circumstances, though Jim Stevens said the radiation has affected his son’s short-term memory. Ryan misses his students, and he hates leaving unfinished business. In addition to teaching, he is Analy’s yearbook advisor, and his staff will have to complete the project without him this year.

“Before he got sick, we got a charter from USA Wrestling to start a club at Analy,” Jim said. “The paperwork is done. But now everything is on hold.”

A lot of things in Ryan Stevens’ life must remain on hold for a while, until he can escape from cancer’s grip.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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