Ed Ryan’s Long Career in Athletic Training Keeps Bringing Him Back to USA Women’s National Team
In the last two-plus decades, when there has been a big USA Basketball Women’s National Team event, there’s a good chance Ed Ryan has played a role as an athletic trainer. It’s a journey that has taken him from national team camps to the Olympic Games and FIBA World Cups, all in service to the athletes.
“I’ve been fortunate to make a living in doing something I really love to do, so it’s hard to say that it’s work,” said Ryan, who first started volunteering his time with USA Basketball in 1983. “It really is a passion.”
Over the years, Ryan has served in various capacities with USA Basketball, including as women’s national team athletic trainer at four Olympic Games and four FIBA World Cups. Outside of basketball, he’s also worked with other major sports organizations, including a 21-year stint on the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s Sports Medicine staff.
So why has he been able to stick around?
“I think the biggest word is respect,” said Carol Callan, USA Basketball Women’s National Team director. “People respect him. He’s always there for us, so he is dependable.”
Ryan, a native of Massachusetts, first got involved with USA Basketball in the early 1980s. Three years after graduating from Northeastern University with a degree in physical education, he took a role as an athletic trainer for the 1983 USA Basketball Men’s Junior World Championship Team.
Two years later, he received his master’s degree in exercise and sport sciences at the University of Arizona, and he continued coming back to USA Basketball.
Prior to 1992, Ryan was working mostly men’s basketball events. But when the U.S. women’s team took home a disappointing Olympic bronze medal in 1992 and another bronze medal at the 1994 World Cup, USA Basketball introduced a yearlong residency program ahead of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Ryan’s boss at the USOPC told USA Basketball it would support the program, and Ryan was put in charge with making that happen.
“That was really my first direct work on the women’s side, leading up to the ’96 Olympic Games,” Ryan said.
Ryan was the medical coordinator for the historic 1995-96 USA Women’s National Team and the athletic trainer for the 1999-2000 team. In addition, he traveled with the women’s team as athletic trainer for the 2000, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games — all of which the U.S. won.
“We like to say we want our best players to play again and again and again, so we have four- or five-time Olympians, and that’s why we’re successful,” Callan said.
“You can say the same thing about Ed. You have key people you want involved over and over and over again, and an athletic trainer is a huge piece of that. He gains the respect and the trust of the athletes, and they feel comfortable when they come back and know that Ed is around. They have a relationship with him, and he’s critical to our success.”
Along the way, Ryan has served in important roles for other sports organizations and at other sporting events, including as Team USA medical director and head athletic trainer for five Olympics and one Paralympics. He’s also worked with the U.S. Tennis Association and USA Track & Field, among others.
However, through it all he keeps coming back to basketball.
“I think the best part about the opportunities and directly related to the support of basketball is the people you get to work with,” Ryan said. “Certainly, the USA Basketball staff, which are a bunch of pros, and I like to work with pros, people who know what they’re doing. Then clearly the coaches that I’ve had the opportunity to work with, and more directly the players. The level of players who are performing at the highest level of competition, they’re pretty special people.”
Ryan specifically mentioned longtime national team veterans Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi as some of his favorites.
“You don’t get (to the top) by being a jerk,” he said. “It’s actually a privilege and an honor to help those athletes in achieving their goals.”
Callan, who first met Ryan in the early 1990s, has watched him become a key contributor for USA Basketball.
“I think he’s a trusted advisor, and when he works with our athletes, whether it is as an actual trainer or as a resource for drug testing and just health issues in general, we know that he will always give us the best advice and we will have researched all angles,” Callan said. “He has been so critical to our success in keeping athletes healthy, helping them to rehab and also helping them to understand all facets of drug testing — you can’t measure that.”
Ryan’s day job these days is as director for athletic medicine at the Andrews Institute in Florida, where he works with tennis players at the USTA National Campus. He’s also an accomplished speaker and author, and also does consulting.
Now 61 years old, Ryan certainly has plenty to keep him busy at home, but he says he’ll always make time to work with USA Basketball.
“As long as they are willing to have me,” Ryan said. “I don’t have a retirement plan. Not to say that I can’t retire, but I don’t have a retirement plan. Again, I’m having too much fun doing what I’m doing.”