93-year-old Ohio grandma overcomes loss, illness to inspire social media with world travels

Grandma Joy has ziplined in West Virginia’s New River Gorge, gone white-water rafting in Alaska, rolled down 100-plus-foot sand dunes in Colorado and survived a moose charging in Montana

Joy Ryan has survived the death of her husband, all three of her sons, a severe illness in 2008 and a recent bout with COVID. She’s outlived so many friends and family, she’s lost count.

That may be why, at the age of 93, Ryan is living life more fully than most people half her age.

Just last month, Ryan – who goes by Grandma Joy – became the oldest known person to visit every single one of America’s 63 national parks. Along the way, she’s ziplined in West Virginia’s New River Gorge, gone white-water rafting in Alaska, rolled down 100-plus-foot sand dunes in Colorado and survived a moose charging in Montana.

Now Grandma Joy is setting her sights on her next big adventure: Visiting all seven continents and gazing at the tallest mountain peaks on each of them, starting next month with her third continent: Africa.

“It's never too late,” Grandma Joy told USA TODAY on Tuesday from her hometown of Duncan Falls, Ohio. “If you only get a week, so what? What would you have if you had just stayed at home that week?”

Grandma Joy faces the wind and cold head-on in Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska in September 2021.

Healing old wounds

Ryan does all her adventuring with her 42-year-old grandson, Brad Ryan, a veterinarian who has dThe pair's travels together began in 2015 after they'd been estranged for a decade over a family dispute stemming from what Ryan said was his father's adultery. It was a college classmate's suicide that inspired Ryan to reach back out to his grandmother, who he said is the one who taught him love of nature and adventure.

He had previously learned Grandma Joy had never seen a mountain or the ocean, and decided it was time for that to change.

ocumented their travels on Instagram on an account called Grandma Joy’s Road Trip.

“I'd be sitting on the front porch crocheting if it wasn’t for him,” Grandma Joy said as she sat next to Ryan.

"I called her and I said, 'Do you want to go see your first mountain?' Her answer was: 'What time are you picking me up?'" Ryan recalled. "A lot of grandparents, they'd have answered like, 'Are you kidding me? I'm 85, go camp with somebody your own age. She said, 'Absolutely, I will go.'"

Brad Ryan and Grandma Joy of Duncan Falls, Ohio celebrate their visit to Maine's Acadia National Park in 2019.

The two drove through the night to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, arriving at 2 a.m. in a rainstorm. They set up a tent but struggled with the air mattress.

As they were blowing up the air mattress, the plug came out. Grandma Joy crawled underneath it to help set things right.

"And then I couldn't get out, and I said, 'It's like one of them Laurel and Hardy movies,' and then I got to laughing," Grandma Joy said. "We finally got that figured out, and then when I got up on the daggone thing, I kept falling off. So I said this, 'Enough of this crap, I'm sleeping on the ground.' So that's what I did. And it was a fun weekend, it really was."

Not only did Grandma Joy see her first mountain, but she climbed it, trudging 2.5 miles up a steep trail that follows the edge of a ridge in sections.

It was all a bit more exciting than crocheting on the porch.

Grandma Joy is pictured in Badlands National Park in South Dakota in 2017.

Health scare

Since that first trip in 2015, Grandma Joy and Ryan have slowly made their way to every other national park, ending on May 16 with the National Park of American Samoa, nearly 7,000 miles away from home.

She's seen so much, it's hard to believe that she was worried about seeing even the next day amid a health scare in 2008. She had become severely ill, lost a bunch of weight, and no one thought she had much longer to live.

"I went from one doctor to another doctor to another doctor, and finally I got to the end and I said, 'This is it, I'm doing no more,'" she said. "My brother came in and I said 'Harold, I think I'm going to die and I don't care.'"

In a last-ditch effort, Grandma Joy went to Louisiana to stay with her sister-in-law, a hospice nurse. Though she never got diagnosed, her sister-in-law and some local doctors began caring for Grandma Joy until, miraculously, she fully recovered.

"I came home and I was still upright and I decided you know, don't waste anymore days because you don't have that many more days," she said. "It just gave me a new lease on life. You live every day, every bit of it, as best you can."

Grandma Joy began volunteer work, making lunches for and reading to schoolchildren. She also continued to maintain a positive and optimistic outlook on life, and to be generous with her smiles.

"You try to look on the good side of everything," she said. "And try to give anybody a passing compliment, smile at them. Maybe that's the only smile they're going to get all day. You can either be a gloomy Gus or you can smile."

Grandma Joy smiles in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and gives a Shaka sign, which loosely means, "Right on."

Kenya and beyond

When Grandma Joy spoke to USA TODAY, she was just getting over a bout with COVID that hospitalized her for two days.

"The doctor said, 'If you hadn't had the vaccine, you would have died,'" she said. "I ached all over. It was like somebody beat me with a club. And then I had pneumonia and I got a blood clot in my leg ... So I got everything over all at once."

It's a good thing because Grandma Joy has places to go.

Next month, she and Ryan will fly to Kenya for a packed, eight-day itinerary.

They'll start by going on a safari at Amboseli National Park, where they hope to have a view of Mount Kilimanjaro. Then they'll go to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, which is a refuge for critically endangered species like the black rhinoceros.

They'll then fly down to Maasai Mara National Reserve to watch the great wildebeest migration from the Serengeti before the trip ends at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's orphanage for elephants whose parents have been killed.

"I think that'll be a really fun trip," she said.

Grandma Joy crawls around at the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado in August 2017.


Grandma Joy's travels with her grandson have gained nearly 90,000 followers on Instagram and counting. Their followers say the 93-year-old has helped them aspire to live more adventurous lives.

"You inspire me, Grandma Joy," wrote one fan on a recent post. "I am 55 and have been inactive way too long. I want to explore, too! Thank you for sharing your adventures."

Another said that Grandma Joy looks "suffused with joy."

"I will forever want to be Grandma Joy as I age and I've got 40 years to go to get to her age!"

The last mountain Grandma Joy climbed was also her first but she still hikes when she can. Ryan said he's so glad they started their adventures when they did so at least she could bag one peak.

"What she taught me is that if you can climb a mountain, go do it now."

Grandma Joy and grandson Brad Ryan can't stop grinning on the way to Channel Islands National Park off the coast of California in September 2019.

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.