When he was four, Bryan Monahan asked the Make-a-Wish Foundation to send him to Disney World. They obliged. Seven years later, still fighting recurrent neuroblastoma, a rare children's cancer he's battled since being diagnosed at age 2, Bryan wondered if he could have another go.
"We were in the hospital a couple weeks ago," his mother Sandra remembers, "and Bryan said "Do I get another Make-a-Wish?" I said, "No, you only get one in your life." He said, "Well, if I could get one more wish, I want to meet Aaron Ross."
"Aaron Ross? Who's Aaron Ross?" she asked.
Bryan knew all about the four-time International X Games Street BMX medalist, one of the sport's most innovative athletes, known for his vividly colored bike and visionary lines. "He's the best street rider in BMX," Bryan replied. "If I could meet him, that's my wish."
Up well after midnight so that Bryan wouldn't see, Sandra found profiles of Ross online and fired four shots in the dark, sending letters to each of the editors whose contact information she could pull from the websites, hoping someone could help her find her son's favorite rider. The next day a special delivery found her inbox.
"Hi. My name is Aaron Ross. I think I'm the person you're looking for."
The world is filled with people. 6.77 billion, give or take. Ross was shocked to be the one Bryan Monahan wanted to meet. "It was completely out of nowhere. I just go outside and ride bikes and I have fun doing that," he said. "You don't ever expect to be that person who will make someone's day. Even before I was done reading the email, I was like, "I'm doing this."
To meet at a competition near their home in West Islip, NY for a quick handshake would have been enough for the Monahans, but Ross realized the timing presented a unique opportunity. If they could get Bryan to LA, Ross could make this an X Games for the ages.
Fast forward a few weeks, to this past Wednesday. Ross rounds the corner from the elevator on the fifth floor of the Sheraton Four Points three miles north of LAX, a massive black duffel bag stuffed with action sports swag in tow. He sees Bryan's head sticking out from his room, brown hair poking out beneath an oversized Yankees cap. Bryan's eyes grow Mega Ramp large and he gets so excited he hops back in the room and accidentally closes the door behind him.
"Hey!" Ross laughs.
Once inside, Ross introduces himself to Bryan, his family, and his buddy Michael. It's Christmas in July for a group who understand the value of special moments more than most will ever know. Bryan pulls a seemingly endless number of gifts from the duffel; T-shirts, bike parts, hats, a pair of Ross' new signature shoe from Etniessize six, of coursefinger bikes (including one for Ross' signature model, so new Ross himself doesn't yet own one), stickers, sweatshirts and more. Call it the Everlasting Gobstopper of swag bags, fueled by an amazing on-the-fly response from Ross and his sponsors.
Bryan has the excuse, and he doesn't use it. This makes me want to go outside and use every day of my life to the fullest.
But it isn't all about stuff. Ross and Bryan talk BMX. About how Bryan had his bike perfectly kitted out until it was stolen by a punk from the neighborhood and how Bryan, like a lot of BMXers, doesn't like wearing a helmet and prefers to remove his brakes ("The brake lever cuts my finger," he notes). Ross gives him tips on the best ways to construct a trampoline bike -- information Sandra probably wishes he'd keep to himself, considering Bryan is already bugging Sandra's fiancée to build him a foam pit in their backyard. Bryan used his new fingerbike to demonstrate a tailwhip to Sandra. They talk tricks and videos, and about this week's BMX Street comp at Home Depot Center. It's enough to overload Bryan's senses, but not his smile.
For the next three days, Bryan will get the royal treatment at the HDC. He'll watch Thursday's qualifying round for BMX Street and the rest of the events through the weekend. Other riders, having learned about his story, are waiting to meet him.
He walked the red carpet with Ross and Michael at the premiere of ESPN's X Games 3D: The Movie. Ross changed his travel plans to allow the two of them to spend a little extra time together after the curtain comes down on X Games 15.
Wish granted, and more.
Bryan Monahan has cancer. His life has been filled not just with school and friends but pain and chemo. It has not been easy, nor will it be in the months to come. Illness, though, doesn't define him. "Coming back from chemo," Sandra says, "he'll throw up in the driveway, jump on his bike and off he goes." The Monahans are here cheering for Ross today because they can't guarantee tomorrow. To deliver for a kid deserving of something special was a no-brainer for Ross, clearly as affected by meeting Bryan as Bryan was meeting him. "He's been through more in his short life than I'll ever go through, I hope," Ross says. "Bryan has the excuse, and he doesn't use it. This makes me want to go outside and use every day of my life to the fullest."
Pushing himself to land more complicated tricks than he probably needed, Ross finished ninth in Thursday's BMX Freestyle Street qualifier and won't ride for gold Friday afternoon. But it's safe to say he'll be leaving LA with something more valuable thanks to an 11 year-old boy from West Islip.