ATLANTA — It is easy to see what is magical around us.
Ryland Slaughter was fascinated by the sharks swimming over his head as he walked through the tunnel at Georgia Aquarium.
“Wow," he exclaimed. "The sharks are so amazing!”
It can be just as easy to miss what is magical inside us.
“He goes through a lot at school, sometimes,” Ryland's mom Michelle explained.
Ryland tries not to listen to the kids who aren’t nice to him. Some people miss the chance to look beyond differences. When they do, they miss out on seeing what Ryland can teach us all.
Michelle says he has inspired her.
“He is so strong," she said. "He has been a fighter his entire life.”
Before Ryland was born, he had a stroke. He was preemie with a brain that was bleeding.
“Doctors warned me that there was a big chance he would not survive,” Michelle recalled.
Ryland has been proving them wrong for 14 years.
Name a sport, he’s played it - and he’s played it well. He has an impressive collection of Special Olympics medals hanging in his bedroom.
He’s expressive, excited and hard to keep up with around the aquarium. He loved everything there, but there was one thing he wanted to do even more than see the big tanks of fish or even go to a Braves game.
“Oh, he has been talking about it non-stop,” Michelle said with a laugh. “He has not stopped asking if he’s going to meet Joshua.”
Ryland’s letters have been arriving for months.
The boy who doctors thought would never have the strength or coordination to hold a pencil is writing about the stories that help him have courage. He writes about all the Brave Conquers Fear stories he watches on 11Alive’s Facebook page. When his mom asked him where he wanted to go for vacation, he announced he wanted to visit Atlanta.
They traveled 1,400 miles from Thornton, Colorado to Atlanta because of the connection he feels with Brave Conquers Fear and the child who created it. 11Alive anchor Cheryl Preheim’s son, Joshua.
Ryland had no idea Cheryl let Joshua miss a day of school to spend time with Ryland. The moment they met was a great surprise.
Their connection was instant. They were telling jokes and ordering root beer at lunch. They toured the station and learned to operate the cameras. They talked about the medical challenges in their lives that have revealed strength they never knew they had.
Joshua made up the saying and drew the Brave Conquers Fear logo before his open heart surgery. Ryland still spends a lot of time in the hospital with complications to physical challenges he was born with and developmental disabilities as well.
“Thank you for making up Brave Conquers Fear,” Ryland said. “It helps me so much.”
“It helped me, too,” Joshua replied. “I love that it means a lot to you and I love that you are here.”
They didn’t choose their challenges, but they choose to see the magic and strength inside each other.
“You keep being brave and I’ll keep writing you letters,” Joshua urged, as he gave Ryland a high-five as they said good-bye.
This new friendship, and Brave Conquers Fear, are things they will always share.
If you have a BCF story to share, Cheryl would love to hear about it. Email her at cpreheim@11Alive or contact her through Facebook at www.facebook.com/CherylPreheim.