High school student with rare disorder takes football field for the first time at Potomac Falls as honorary captain

At a high school football game in northern Virginia, many would tell you the player who made the biggest impact didn’t score a touchdown or even make a tackle, but for the first time, sophomore Ryan Alam did take the field Friday night, as an honorary captain for the Potomac Falls Panthers.

His story — much like the game he loves — is one of grit, of ups-and-downs, and above all else, the will to fight.

“He’s dealt with the most horrific adversities that any human being can deal with and he’s met it with a smile,” said Ryan’s dad, Faisal Alam.

After years of mounting health problems, Ryan was recently diagnosed with NBIA, a rare neurodegenerative disease. The type Ryan has, called MPAN, is even rarer — with fewer than 100 known cases worldwide.

Over time, patients lose the ability to walk and swallow while developing dementia and Parkinson’s, and as it stands now, there is no cure.

“The feeling that you get when they tell you that your child has this, I mean I can’t even explain how terrible it is,” said Ryan’s mom, Tuba. “It’s kind of like someone ripped your heart out and you feel helpless.”

But Ryan does not. He said the team is helping him out by making him an honorary captain.

“I almost feel inspired watching them,” Ryan said Friday.

But his coach and teammates said Ryan is actually the one helping them.

“The world would be a better place if there were more Ryan’s around,” head Coach Paul Barnes said. “You just look at him and he motivates you.”

Now, Ryan and his family are on a mission to raise money for research to fight his deadly disorder, all while Ryan remains the happiest, most lively, most inspiring football player Potomac Falls has to offer.

“Just live life to the fullest,” Ryan said with a smile.

Ryan’s fundraiser can be found here. The money donated does not go to his own treatment, but rather to research aimed at helping others who are or will be fighting the same condition.