Ryan Ballou, 23, and his family are making strides to find a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), the disease that has plagued Ballou since age five.
DMD is a disease that attacks the muscles of the body, making them ineffective and eventually leading to death. DMD affects boys, although girls can carry the gene, and those afflicted generally do not live past their late teens or early adulthood, according to kidshealth.org.
Ballou and his family began a charity called Ballou Skies to raise awareness for DMD in hopes of prolonging his life and eventually finding a cure.
“We volunteered at the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and wanted to do more, so four or five years ago my dad had the idea of Ballou Skies charity,” Ballou said.
BallouSkies donates 100 percent of its proceeds to Ohio State researchers.
“We heard about the research OSU was doing with MRI technology to scan the heart to try to prolong the lives of people affected with Muscular Dystrophy. We thought the research was too important to pass up,” Ballou said.
The money Ballou Skies raised aids the researchers in their experimental endeavors.
“They (the drugs tested) are used for end-stage heart failure and, when tested on the mice, have helped improve all muscle functions in the mice,” said Jill Rafael-Fortney, one of two researchers performing these experiments to find treatments and cures for MD.
Ballou Skies has raised roughly $27,000 in the past year to donate to the research at OSU, Ballou said.
“It paid for the research and all research takes money,” Rafael-Fortney said.
To raise awareness and research funds, the charity sells its all-natural peanut butter and its triathlon team competes in the Ballou Skies uniform.
Jeremy Cornman, 31, is in his 12th season of triathlons since 2000.
He began competing for the Ballou Skies team in summer 2009 when Ty Ballou, Ryan’s father and a fellow tri-athlete, approached him about representing Ballou Skies, Cornman said.
“I think of Ryan and use him as inspiration when things get tough and it’s nice to be able to give back and use tris as a platform to do that,” Cornman said.
Triathlons can represent not only a physical pursuit that those affected by MD cannot pursue, but also a selfless act when competing under Ballou Skies.
“It can be a selfish pursuit, but it’s nice to put the selfless component into it by raising awareness and it’s definitely a good feeling,” Cornman said.
Although monetary donations have slowed, Ryan said the triathlon team has continued to gain interest.
“The triathlon team started with four or five athletes and we have about 15 now,” Ryan said.
Ballou Skies has bigger goals in mind for the future.
“It’s kind of cool now in the last year-and-a-half of involvement and how it is growing exponentially,” Cornman said. “We want to make it nationally recognized.”
Nothing specifically new is in the works for this year, Ryan said, but they are always open to new ideas.
“We are going to be as creative as possible this year. Great things have happened and will continue to happen,” Cornman said.
Although the Ballous live in Pennsylvania, they want Ballou Skies to have a following coast to coast.
“Our main focus is to get more people involved anywhere across the country and gain more awareness (for MD),” Ryan said.
As for Ryan, he said he is proud of the way he deals with his disability day after day, but this is not the only accomplishment he takes pride in.
“My best accomplishment is not only volunteering with the MDA, but taking that a step further and creating our own charity to raise money and awareness for DMD,” Ryan said.