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There and back again

FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS: After college and Marines, young man is home studying for rad tech career, says he plans to stay

Sean Ryan takes a break from his freshman year at North Country Community College to talk about his journey home. (Enterprise photo — Amy Scattergood)

SARANAC LAKE — Sean Ryan, 27, pulls out a chair at the Hotel Saranac upstairs lobby, takes off his Buffalo Bills mask and sits down. He’s taking a break to talk about his first semester at North Country Community College, where he’s a freshman in the Radiologic Technology department.

He doesn’t take breaks very often, though you wouldn’t guess how busy he usually is by his extremely laid-back demeanor. As he talks about his life, you realize that it’s the kind of calm that is grown into — achieved rather than accidental.

Ryan grew up in Bloomingdale, where his parents still live. He went to Saranac Lake High School, where he played a wide variety of sports, most notably downhill skiing, football, lacrosse and track and field. After high school, he got a two-year degree from Hudson Valley Community in human services, and then did a five-year stint in the Marines as a tactical air defense controller, serving mostly in North Carolina and also overseas. He’s vague on where: “I’m not actually allowed to say,” he says, diplomatically.

In 2018, he came home, joined the local rugby club — the Mountaineers won the Can-Am social division in 2017 and 2018 — and went back to school at NCCC, where he took classes and became an emergency medical technician.

“The original plan,” says Ryan with a grin, “was to do two years and then go to chiropractor school.”

Instead, Ryan got hooked on the EMT classes, “kind of fell in love with the human body,” joined the Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad and got into the Rad Tech department instead. He’s using the GI Bill, and, he says, “I’m a freshman again.”

Going back to school during a pandemic has put a strange spin on things, as they have for everyone.

“I’m so new, I didn’t know what it was like to be an EMT before,” he says about life before COVID-19. “We’re checking temperatures, we’re keeping distanced, and when we can’t, we’re fully gowned,” he says about his evenings going out on calls.

“It’s a close-knit community. If I need help with something, there’s a thousand people I can call,” he says about coming home to the place where he grew up.

With that return came perspective.

“I think it’s important for everyone in a small town to get out,” he says. “To explore, even if it’s just six to seven months living away. It’s important to see what the world has to offer.”

Ryan credits the Marines with teaching him how to know when and how to ask for help. “You learn how far you can truly push yourself,” he says, noting that although his father is a musician, his uncles and grandfathers were in the service.

Ryan also credits his girlfriend, Rachel Dalton, who teaches fourth grade at Petrova Elementary School and who spent the summer preparing for a return to in-person learning for her students.

“We have the (geographically) largest school district in the state,” Ryan says about the Saranac Lake Central School District. The ground the rescue squad covers is pretty large, too, he says. “That’s what it’s like here. We’re a self-sustaining people.”

“I think we did a really good job of adapting,” says Ryan about, well, pretty much everything. “No one plans for this,” he says about the pandemic. “No one knew what to expect. So you plan for the worst, hope for the best.”

His family drew him back, as did his friends and the outdoors. But coming home is very different than never having left.

“It’s important to see what the world has to offer. Drawing connections from different cultures, you grow as a person. You take a little bit from here, a little bit from there, and try and incorporate it into yourself.”

Coming back home was difficult. He moved in with his parents for a time, and he admits it was hard seeing the friends he grew up with moving ahead of him.

“But you chose a different path; you took your time to do something else equally as important,” Ryan says. “You have to get out, even if it’s living on your own in Plattsburgh for a little while. It’s all perspective. Sleeping on the dirt without a bed gives you perspective.”

Now Ryan says he’ll likely stay here. He’s about to buy his own home in Saranac Lake, and he’ll finish up his latest degree and become a radiologic technologist.

“I can 99% say I don’t think I’m ever going to leave again. It’s home.”

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