Senior Montgomery mixes education with adventure

Montgomery faced high altitudes, freezing temperatures, flooding and blisters as he ran in Bolivia as an impossible2Possible youth ambassador.

Ryan Montgomery had to think for a long moment recently when asked if he has ever failed at anything. Finally, he offered, weakly, “I’ve never been able to master wakeboarding — the board just slips out from beneath me and I go down.”

It’s unusual for the 18-year-old honor student and athlete to crash and burn at anything.

Last year, Montgomery traveled to the salt flats of Bolivia, where he ran the rough equivalent of five marathons in six days as an impossible2Possible youth ambassador. He and his four fellow runners served as human chemistry experiments. Scientists from Simon Fraser University studied the athletes while their bodies adapted to running at 1,200 feet above sea level. Periodically, the athletes would stop and Skype with students in classrooms all over the world about their experiences and experiments.

The challenges abounded. Prior to the event, while training at home, he developed an intense case of tendonitis in his right leg that made even walking painful. He trained with low-impact workouts in a swimming pool. His peers and coaches tried to get him to abandon his crazy quest.

“Everyone was telling me this was a bad idea — they were concerned about my safety and my health,” Montgomery said. “But, I felt a strong conviction I had to do this.”

His leg healed and he forged ahead, flying to Bolivia for the expedition last May. Sipping Gatorade from his HydroPack, he ran about 20 miles each day lugging a four-pound tracking device and a microphone. Team scientists took blood samples regularly.

At night, the temperature dropped to below freezing. Montgomery’s down jacket wasn’t enough and his Gatorade froze. He came home tanned and muscular, albeit lighter, with a story to tell.

“I don’t regret a moment of it,” he said. “It was the best experience of my life, hands down.”

Another memorable accomplishment came last month when he traveled to Washington D.C. for the United States Senate Youth Program. In the nation’s capitol, he and other delegates met President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, senators, congressmen and ambassadors.

Montgomery, who is president of the senior class, won the honor after competing with other students in Oregon. As one of four finalists, he traveled to Salem to interview at the Department of Education.

In D.C., meeting the president put the teen in a state of awe.

“Here was the most significant, most influential person in the world standing before me,” he said. “My face lit up.”

He said Panetta also made a profound impression when he addressed Montgomery and his 103 fellow delegates during a breakfast at the Mayflower Marriot Hotel. A quote from Panetta is now on a 3x5 card taped to Montgomery’s bathroom mirror: “Democracy is dependant on people who want to get involved and find consensus ... that is the glue that holds our country together.”

Montgomery, a standout PHS cross-country runner who competed at State, also is a game hunter who bagged a buck on television in 2011. The trip, sponsored by the Friends of the National Rifle Association, came out of his participation in the National Youth Education Summit, held in D.C. in the summer of 2010.

Montgomery’s mother, Amy English, said her son has always found ways to excel even as a young boy. As a 5th grade crossing guard in Washington, he wore his orange vest with pride and took his job seriously. Ryan’s demeanor caught the eye of his principal, who nominated him for the AAA Safety Patroller of the Year, a national honor. Montgomery won the prize — a trip to New York.

“Ryan is confident and solid in who he is,” English said. “He’s not a kid who is worried about what other people think of him.”

Sue Ruth, Montgomery’s honors English teacher, said the teen is an outstanding student who also cares about other people. The student has such a unique blend of talents, she can envision him in an important leadership position, maybe even as President of the United States.

“From the moment I met Ryan, I knew he was someone pretty special,” Ruth said. “I can’t wait to see where he goes next.”

Montgomery will attend Brigham Young in Provo, Utah. He hasn’t yet decided upon his career path — he’s narrowed it down to either business or medicine. Stay tuned.

And in the future, don’t be surprised if he eventually masters the wakeboard.

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Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0810.

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