By Ali Thompson
Almost Heaven… that is our state motto but I disagree with it. West Virginia IS Heaven, in every sense of the word! Growing up here was an honor. As a child, I would run freely through the fields, play in the creeks and steal a snack from the garden. I always felt such peace and most of all completely and totally safe. Neighbors were more like family as no one locked their doors and as a skinny child, it was the goal of the neighborhood to fatten me up so I was supplied a meal everywhere I went.
What I wouldn’t give to go back to this magical time.
My love of my state carried on into adolescence and adulthood. The first celebrity I ever heard of was Jerry West and of course the beloved West Virginia University. Many tears have been shed over losses by both the football and basketball teams and of course, much joy even as my father ripped the ceiling fan from its place after jumping for joy when the men’s basketball team made the Final Four in 2011. The stigma of my state has never bothered even me. Upon hearing I am from West Virginia, some people’s gazes turn to my feet to see if I am wearing shoes. My response has always been, “This is my very first pair. Am I doing okay with them?”
My father’s response to this has always been that the stigma is fine with him as it keeps undesirables away from our beautiful state. Unfortunately, a gang of them were roaming the streets of Morgantown on November 7, 2009. A Virginia native who chose to further his education at WVU met an unspeakable fate this morning. Ryan Diviney’s life was forever changed in such a senseless tragedy that to this day is still difficult to come to terms with.
I along with many friends travel to Morgantown every year to attend either a football or basketball game. We too have ventured out in the wee hours of the morning to a convenience store to satisfy a craving, just as Ryan did. The people we encountered were so friendly! One, dressed up as a Mountaineer, even picked me up, spun me around and kissed me on the cheek! That’s just how WVU fans are! We love our state, our team and each other!
I don’t personally know Ryan or the Diviney family but their pictures tell a story of a young man very happy at WVU, with close friends and a love of West Virginia sports. That this tragedy happened in my state let alone at all is horrifying. Especially knowing others egged it on and did nothing to stop it. Had myself and my friends been there, we would have done everything in our power to protect Ryan as he was and remains to this day one of us, a proud Mountaineer through and through.
I think of him and his family every day. I am so familiar with their blog I have their daily routine down pat in my mind. As I am preparing for work I say to myself, “I bet Ken and Ryan are deep into their therapy session by now.” I feel such a deep connection that I have never felt with anyone I don’t personally know. I feel this is due to the one thing we share, our love of West Virginia and WVU.
I donate monthly to Ryan’s Trust Fund but feel compelled to do so much more. Therefore, the one thing I can do which, is what his father Ken says means the most, is to keep Ryan Relevant. I share his story with everyone I know and will continue to do so until Ryan completely recovers, no matter how long that may be. Once a Mountaineer, always a Mountaineer and we NEVER give up on each other. Ryan will ALWAYS be “One of Us.”