GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — “The movie based on my life, it would be titled: ‘Ryan Fischer, Defender of America.”
If Hollywood ever does make a movie based on Ryan Fischer’s life, it would be a tragically uplifting story.
Ryan, age 17, died March 7 in his sleep from complications due an enlarged heart.
“Initially, it was a sad, hard thing to deal with,” his mother Roni Fischer said. “But as time has gone on, you learn that you truly have to celebrate what you had while he was here.”
And he left behind a lot to celebrate. Ryan was a three-sport athlete (football, hockey and baseball), a 4.0-GPA National Honor Society student, and a leader who knew he was meant to serve his country.
“I really love my country,” Ryan said in a video. “Big patriot.”
He was so certain of his path that in the third grade, he started telling people he was going to attend the United Stated Military Academy at West Point.
“He was big-time USA,” Ryan’s friend Brendan said. “If we ever played a game in his backyard, he would always have to be America or he wouldn’t play.”
That never faded away.
In February, he received his appointment to West Point.
“It was a commitment to serve something bigger than himself. To be part of that really drove him,” his father Scott Fischer said.
But it wasn’t just the military. Ryan committed a lot of time to serving others. He went on four mission trips with his church and logged over 400 hours of community service.
And he was a leader at school. Each year, Grandville Middle School hands out the “Be An 11” Award. It goes to a student to exhibits great character. Ryan won that award in the eighth grade. He strived to be an “11” in everything he did, friends and family said, all his life.
His classmates there described him as “determined,” inspirational,” “brilliant,” and “respectful.”
“He put others before himself,” his classmate Quinn said.
“There was one time, my friends were teasing me and he came over and said, ‘You guys should stop, man. That’s not right,'” schoolmate David said.
“[Ryan] did things good Samaritans do, but others wouldn’t think of,” Brendan said. “It’s so important to live our lives like him because the world was a better place when he was here.”
“A couple of days after he went to heaven, the community of Grandville held a celebration of life,” Roni Fischer said.
Hundreds of people showed up — many who never even knew Ryan. They packed the gym of Grandville High School.
One of the stories told at that event was of a friend from school at church who was having a difficult time. It was Ryan who reached out to him.
“He invited the kid in,” Scott Fischer said. “Not just invited, but made sure he was accepted. Made sure whatever was important to him, was important to the rest of us. And truly brought him in as a friend.”
Revelations like that are a source of comfort for Fischer’s family. They say they know Ryan is assured a place in heaven, and that makes the grief bearable.
“If he had the ability and were asked if he would go back with us here, that he wouldn’t,” Roni said. “Where he is is where he strived to be. And granted, I didn’t want it to be this soon. But I am thankful to know, without a doubt in my heart that that’s where he is. And as a mom, there is no way I would get through this if I didn’t have that knowledge.”
One of Ryan’s final achievements was to lead his hockey team — of which he was captain — to a victory in the state quarterfinals.
“It was all about honor and battle,” coach Joel Breazeale said. “Ryan was the guy that did the heavy lifting. In a military context, he would have been the guy leading the charge.”
The day Ryan died, the Bulldogs were scheduled to play in the state semifinals. Breazeale had a difficult decision to make.
“Coach Breazeale asked me that morning what we wanted to do,” Scott Fischer said. “My response was to bring [Ryan’s] jersey out and hand it to Max and say, ‘Go play.'”
Max Houtman was one of Ryan’s teammates.
“His dad handed me that jersey and asked me to wear it and said, ‘No one else touch this.’ I felt really honored,” he said.
Grandville took to the ice to honor their teammate and friend.
“Every shift, guys were going on the ice with tears in their eyes. That’s pretty hard to do in anything, especially hockey,” Breazeale said.
Grandville lost the game to Detroit Catholic Central, but the score is not what will be remembered.
“I was not sure I wanted to go to that game,” Roni Fischer said.
The Fischers went anyway, wanting to be there for Ryan’s teammates.
“I can’t imagine now not having been there for that moment,” Roni said.
After the final horn sounded, the Grandville players and coaches circled together on the ice to pray.
“We knelt down,” Max Houtman said. “I was about to say a prayer when somebody said, ‘Wait.’ And we saw them coming.”
In a show of compassion and outstanding sportsmanship, the Detroit players gathered, too, and wrapped their arms around the team they had just beaten. Together, they prayed for Ryan.
“I don’t think I made it through,” Max said. “I said, ‘God, thanks for letting Ryan lead us.'”
“I said, ‘There he is,'” Roni Fischer said. “‘There’s Ryan.'”
Now, the West Michigan hockey community is determined to keep Ryan’s spirit alive.
They have created the Ryan Fischer Legacy Scholarship to honor him. The $2,500 scholarship would be presented each year to a hockey player who shares Ryan’s ideals of faith, patriotism and unconditional love for others.
For Grandville freshman Connor Fischer — Ryan’s little brother — earning that scholarship would be the best way to honor Ryan.
“I’ve always strived to be just like my brother. He was that person I’ve always looked up to him ever since I was little. Try to be like him: All the sports he does, the great character, the kid he was,” Connor said. “That’s really what I’m striving to do now and what I always will do for the rest of my life is be the kind of person Ryan was and live life like Ryan did.”
Organizers hope to raise $100,000 to fully endow the Ryan Fischer Legacy Scholarship.
That legacy would help his family and community find closure and move forward.
But it might not be the ending to Ryan’s movie. If more people choose to live like he did, it would be just the beginning.