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Mitchell native Ryan Hanks pays it forward with charity lift-a-thon at USD

Apr. 5—VERMILLION — Ryan Hanks knows life is finite, and believes the best thing someone can do is use their acquired knowledge and pay it forward to someone else.

It's what has driven him through his fitness journey. Now, Hanks wants to pay it forward for a cause close to home.

The University of South Dakota Wellness Center is hosting the third annual Ryan Hanks Lift-a-Thon in conjunction with the USD Department of Physical Therapy on Saturday, April 6. Proceeds raised from the powerlifting event will benefit Special Olympics South Dakota.

Hanks, who grew up in Mitchell and attended Ethan High School, felt tied down to the repetitive nature of college life during his final year of completing his masters degree at USD in 2022. Wanting to find motivation to complete his physical therapy education, the idea of holding a charity event was born.

"If we're being completely honest, I felt like I was going through the motions," he said. "I wanted to start something that meant more to me, and give me more fire and passion to push through school, and help others."

Hanks chose to make the event a powerlifting competition, having competed in previous events himself with modest success. Recruiting others who committed to competing in the first lift-a-thon, Hanks recalls removing the Wellness Center equipment by hand to make room the day before the event, and set a personal goal to raise about $8,000. The first lift-a-thon raised more than double the amount.

Fast forward to the present day, the lift-a-thon has grown to the point where the Department of Physical Therapy has stepped in to oversee the event. Hanks, who is now based out of Sarasota, Florida, maintains communication with the organizers, where his passion for helping others resonates with those up in Vermillion.

"It's been very good getting his input on who's the best to reach out to and a good person to bounce ideas off of," said event coordinator Ashton Hallsted-Kallhoff. "But he's been mostly focused on raising money for the Special Olympics more than anything else."

The Special Olympics is a cause Hanks holds close, remembering his mother volunteering to help with the annual Special Olympic basketball games at the Corn Palace as a young kid. Seeing the enjoyment on everyone's faces further motivated him to create an event once he obtained a platform to pay it forward.

Moreover, Hanks says powerlifting represents a healthy competition and a close group for people to be around. While the lift-a-thon will have prizes on offer for the competitors, everyone who powerlifts will be rooting for each other to outlift their previous season marks. It also draws people from all walks of life, wanting to make their own contribution.

"It's been really impressive to see how tight-knit they are," Hallsted-Kallhoff said. "They always have someone in mind who might be willing to help us out. Other individuals just volunteer their time. Moving forward, the hope is for more of those individuals to help and branch out (of Vermillion)."

From the unknowns of the first event to where it is now, Hanks is proud to see the growth of the lift-a-thon in a short time. Much like everyone else who's helped put it together, he wants to see it continue to get bigger, and to have it be around longer than his time on Earth.

"It always feels good to create something that you know it's going to live on," Hanks said, "It's going to help, and when I'm gone, I hope this gets even bigger and becomes a mainstay for a charity like the Special Olympics. ... I'm pretty honored that my professors and the Wellness Center took this by storm and wanted to push it even farther."

The third Ryan Hanks Lift-a-Thon begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 6, at the USD Wellness Center in Vermillion. Additional donations to benefit Special Olympics South Dakota will be accepted by the Wellness Center until Saturday, April 20.