For a man who’s been to most of the home games in Real Salt Lake history, attending Saturday’s 2016 MLS home opener against the Seattle Sounders doesn’t seem like it’d be such a big deal.
But for longtime RSL supporter Ryan Terry, seeing another MLS match at Rio Tinto Stadium–something he’s done countless times over the years–will mark a major milestone.
A little over two months ago, Terry was fighting for his life. The 36-year-old fell ill just before the New Year and, with his condition worsening, he checked himself into the hospital on Jan. 2.
Almost immediately after he was hospitalized, Terry’s liver and kidneys failed. His pancreas was in bad shape, too, and he developed an intestinal infection and contracted pneumonia. Doctors transferred him to the ICU, where they intubated him. Things got so bad that Terry was put into a medically induced coma.
After about a week of being under, Terry stabilized. Doctors brought him out of his coma, and he was able to leave the ICU. He was going to be alright, but he and his wife, Shelby Holden, were staring at a mountain of medical bills.
Enter Hiba Issa, a friend of Terry’s and Holden’s and a fellow RSL supporter. She visited the couple in the hospital shortly after Terry left the ICU, and spoke with Holden about their concerns about paying for Terry’s treatment and recovery.
Issa came up with the idea of setting up a GoFundMe page to support Terry. A gregarious, outgoing guy easily recognized around Rio Tinto Stadium for his huge beard and the signature mohawk he dyes red and blue for matches, Terry has been a fixture in the RSL supporters’ community for years. A lifelong resident of Salt Lake, he’s well known among RSL players and staffers, and has plenty of friends from various supporters’ groups around the league.
Issa recognized that, and figured a GoFundMe page would help Terry and Holden deal with some of their expenses. She put up the page on the night of Jan. 8, and quickly spread the word to another friend of Terry’s: RSL color commentator and national MLS voice Brian Dunseth.
Dunseth shared the GoFundMe page on his Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts, as well as on the social media accounts of Bumpy Pitch, the soccer lifestyle clothing company he co-owns.
The response proved immediate–and incredible. Real Salt Lake quickly pushed the page on the team’s social media platforms. Supporters of all stripes—including those of other teams, who Terry had met on various away trips—got in on the action.
Even MLS players and coaches pitched in. Seattle Sounders defender Brad Evans was the first player to donate, followed quickly by Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Nat Borchers, Mike Magee, Will Johnson, and Jason Kreis, along with RSL’s own Nick Rimando, Javier Morales, Tony Beltran, and Yura Movsisyan. RSL head coach Jeff Cassar contributed, and Donovan even sent Terry a direct message on Twitter.
They all helped pass the GoFundMe’s initial $10,000 goal in less than 24 hours.
“That was about the first thing I remember after waking up, actually. My wife telling me, ‘Hiba started a fund for you,’” Terry recalls. “I saw Dunny and Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore and I was seeing Seattle fans and Philly fans and New York fans. I mean, I knew there were a lot of people in Utah that would get involved, but I had no idea that outside of Utah it would be so amazing.”
For Dunseth, the response was a fitting tribute to a supporter who he says goes out of his way to make sure every fan, regardless of their allegiance, feels welcome at each RSL home match.
“If you go out to any kind of pre-match get together at Rio Tinto Stadium, Ryan is at the forefront of making it super inclusive for any level of fan, especially for the away fans,” says Dunseth. “He makes sure to go out of his way to introduce himself, to make sure the away fans that had come were comfortable, were excited, were ready. That’s kind of Ryan in a nutshell. It’s always about everybody else, making sure everyone was having fun, having a blast and flying a flag for the supporters of Real Salt Lake.”
Terry left the hospital in late January, and spent the next few weeks on bed rest and hooked up to oxygen at home. He recently returned to his IT job at a Fortune 500 company in Salt Lake, and even attended RSL’s CONCACAF Champions League home match against Tigres on Mar. 2.
The tremendous online response got an in-person touch at that match, with plenty of RSL supporters–some of whom he knew, some of whom he’d never seen before–seeking Terry out to wish him well. In a few cases, they even handed him money to help contribute to his medical fund.
While Terry is doing better, he’s not yet near full strength. He lost 30 pounds while in the hospital, and had to leave last week’s CCL match midway through the second half due to sheer exhaustion.
He’s hoping to make it all the way through Saturday’s game against Seattle, but just how long he stays won’t really matter. The important thing is that he’s healthy, and has the peace of mind that most of his medical expenses are covered. (The GoFundMe drive, meanwhile, remains open.)
“It was surreal, it was surreal,” he says. “I had no idea that that many people would recognize who I was. I mean we’ve talked to other supporters’ groups and we have our small groups, but I had no idea that all these people that I follow on Twitter, that I look to for news, that they even knew who Salt Lake was. It was wild to see that they were all coming together for me.”