Without Restraint: How Skiing Saved My Son’s Life
By Robert Delena and Ryan Delena
Without Restraint had me hooked from the beginning. It’s a book about skiing, but it’s also a book about parenting. The book takes the reader on a journey into the difficult childhood and ultimate redemption of freeskier Ryan Delena.
Written by Ryan’s father Robert Delena, Without Restraint is co written by Ryan with first-hand accounts of his educational and skiing journey added throughout.
As a parent, I was horrified to hear that Ryan was subjected to “restraints” while at school. Basically, he would have an emotional outburst and the next thing you know adults would slam him to the ground and restrain him. While it seems obvious that such physical manhandling would be detrimental to a child, apparently in the state of Massachusetts (and elsewhere) it’s a thing.
The beginning of the book reads like a sequel to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as Ryan is forced into a series of awful “therapeutic”schools that abuse him physically through a series of unfortunate parenting and professional missteps.
As a parent, I could never imagine consenting to the physical abuse of one of my kids, but the main author (Ryan’s father) Robert Delena takes responsibility for the parenting decisions leading to years of trauma for Ryan starting in preschool.
While reading Without Restraint, I found myself extremely angry at Ryan’s parents for a string of terrible parenting decisions that led to PTSD inducing behavior modification in a variety of institutions that amounted to houses of horrors for children who don’t adjust well to normal schools. That said, it’s easy for me to armchair quarterback the parenting of others.
Robert, the dad and primary author, owns his mistakes as a parent. While we never hear Ryan’s mom’s voice in the book, in the beginning, I felt that between the two of them Ryan’s parents committed some grave parenting sins that led to real harm to their child. Then, as I progressed through the story I had more compassion for Ryan’s parents who basically made the mistake of listening to the so-called experts who were hell-bent on institutionalizing their son.
As a parent I respect other parents who admit when they make mistakes. Being a parent is a challenging job and nobody is perfect. That said, we must fight for the well being of our children even if it means rejecting the advice of experts. Who are these experts who promote the use of restraints in children? Maybe they should be restrained, just to see what it feels like.
As the story unfolds, I took a more sympathetic stance towards his parents. Their biggest mistake was listening to the experts, all of whom had PhDs and other fancy degrees. These experts seemed hell bent on institutionalizing Ryan and giving him horrible drugs that took his emotions away and made him gain weight.
I found myself asking how many other children in our education system are subjected to similarly abusive behavior modification programs while in school. Luckily, Ryan’s parents started to question the experts as they began to view the use of physical restraint with growing skepticism.
Where the book really gains traction is when Ryan discovers skiing. This is when Ryan and his dad Robert begin to understand that all the things that make Ryan a challenge to manage in a classroom are his greatest strengths while skiing. Reading how Ryan progresses from beginner on the magic carpet to world class free skier in short order makes Without Restraint a badass redemption story made for Netflix. I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a movie at some point.
Beyond Restraint is an inspiring redemption and adventure story and that’s why it’s officially a Badass Book.
- Robert C. DeLena was raised in Revere, MA, and is a graduate of The Governor’s Academy, Trinity College, and Northeastern University School of Law. Rob lives in Sudbury, MA with his wife, Mary Beth, and his daughter, Abigail. He spends time skiing with his son Ryan and the great friends he’s made during his journey from beginner to reluctant adventurer. Rob has skied all over the United States, internationally in Canada, Chile and Argentina, and even survived a backcountry expedition in Antarctica.
- Ryan C. DeLena is widely known in the outdoor community through his social media presence as “Extreme Ryan.” He was pictured on the cover of Backcountry Ski Maps (2020) and has conquered many of the world’s signature ski runs including Super-C Couloir in Chile, Little Couloir in Montana, and Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire. Ryan has climbed and skied additional peaks in Oregon, Washington, Utah, California, Nevada, Wyoming, and Antarctica. He is an enthusiastic rock climber, ice climber, and avid hiker, summiting the Grand Teton twice and has recently completed the “Hundred Highest” hiking peaks in New England. Ryan has earned advanced certifications from the American Mountain Guides Association and the Professional Ski Instructors of America.