LAKE ASBURY - Ryan Heath’s Lake Asbury house could very well be a museum of Clay County sports history if one were to search hard enough amidst all of the sports memorabilia and toys for three year …
LAKE ASBURY - Ryan Heath’s Lake Asbury house could very well be a museum of Clay County sports history if one were to search hard enough amidst all of the sports memorabilia and toys for three year old daughter Ella.
“When Ella was born, I was saved,” said Heath, 42, and a much-tested volatile athlete of many sports since his graduation from Clay High School in 1993. “I was all over the place until she came along. My fiancee Wendi made that happen and a chance meeting with an Air Force recruiter were all part of a plan.”
Heath, who was an outstanding football and baseball athlete at Clay with a duo-sport scholarship offer coming from Missouri Valley College, has been on a mission to find his way since those energetic days as a Blue Devil.
“I could do just about any sport back then,” said Heath, who had turned down a full ride football scholarship to Texas Christian University to be able to play both sports in college. “The only sport I wasn’t really good at, but tried, was wrestling. I wasn’t disciplined enough for that.”
After a shoulder injury ended his sports aspirations, Heath endured a tumultuous decade or more of flailing emotionally, physically and psychologically. Heath, via a choice meeting in a bar with an Air Force recruiter and a future first wife, found a reason to change his life.
“Since five, I’ve always had sports. After I got hurt in college, I was lost,” said Heath. “I just didn’t know what to do. That’s when I discovered softball and flag football and some semi-pro baseball, but everyone who was a has-been was also there.”
The mission to find his niche came to an emotional halt just a month ago when Heath was inducted into the Jacksonville Guns N Hoses Boxing Hall of Fame at the Jacksonville Arena. Heath also proposed to wife-to-be Wendy in the same ring he was presented his Hall of Fame trophy and ring. Gun and Hoses is an annual boxing challenge between Jacksonville area firefighters and policemen.
“This ring; both rings if you think about it, have brought me around to accepting that my bad previous life choices all finally got me my due,” said Heath. “I was all over the place trying to find what I was supposed to be. My life would have been very different if I had found boxing early in my life.”
Heath’s athletic endeavors over the past 20 years have ranged from college football, college baseball, amateur flag football, league softball and even swimming, tennis and basketball. The consistent theme in all of his actions was internal.
“I wanted to prove to someone that I was a really good athlete,” said Heath. “I was most of the time number two; Clay football behind Bolles. Clay baseball until we finally beat Bolles in my senior year. Bad kharma just kept me from winning something big.”
In the fateful bar that Heath had holed up in 1996 after returning from college injured, broken and emotionally unknowing of his future, Heath was approached by an Air Force recruiter who asked of his life intentions.
“I was at a friend’s wedding reception and he started talking about the Air Force and I told him I didn’t think they would take me,” said Heath. “Later on, I found out my grandma, Lois Sheehan, had set up the meeting, but that, and, two days later, I met a pretty woman that just smiled at me while cashing a check at a bank. I went home and pretty much asked myself what was I going to do with the rest of my life. It all changed from there.”
Heath went to the recruiting station, signed on, married the woman and became an Air Force firefighter.
“The recruiter had asked what I wanted and I told him I was athletic, a team player and a go-getter,” said Heath. “He said you are a firefighter.”
Heath finished his Air Force commit in 2001 and signed on first with a Savannah National Guard unit, then 13 years at Mayport before ending up at First Coast Navy Fire Rescue at NASJAX the past few years. Heath had two certificates for saving two lives as firefighter.
Heath’s first Guns and Hoses fight came in 2007, at age 32.
“You may laugh, but I cried my eyes out after I won that first fight,” said Heath. “The emotion of being back in a sport and then overwhelmingly winning with a knockout just blew my mind. The adrenaline was so intense.”
Heath’s boxing came to a screeching halt in anticipation of a second fight when a broken hand left him rehabbing for nearly two years. Heath finished with two more fights; in 2009 and in 2016 and both wins, before retiring from the sport with seven knockdowns, one knockout and one TKO.
“When I don’t fight, I train other athletes and our fire department Guns and Hoses record is 11-6 now,” said Heath. “Coaching is definitely one of the next steps I’d like to try. And I want to be a parent.”
Heath becomes visibly emotional when talking of his Ella.
“She makes me cry,” said Heath. “Ella grounded me and she is the first girl in five generations in my family and I want her to be the best at whatever she wants to be. I’m at a better place because of her and Wendy. The good kharma; Wendy and Ella, finally caught up to me.”