Ryan was born and raised in the blue-collar town of Janesville, Wisconsin, to father, Paul, a lawyer, and mother, Betty, a house wife. He was the youngest of four siblings.
The Ryans were an established and well known family in the community, chiefly due to Ryan Incorporated Central, a construction company started by his great-grandfather, Patrick, in 1884. The company, which employs many of the locals, is currently one of the largest earthmoving firms in the United States.
Tragedy struck in 1986 when his father died from a heart attack. Reports suggest that the 16-year old Ryan discovered his body at home after school.
The family’s life immediately changed thereafter. His grandmother moved in to help care for Ryan and his siblings while his mother enrolled into college in order to better support them. Ryan started working part-time at McDonald’s to supplement the family income.
At school, Ryan maintained his grades and became class president. He was also voted prom king in his senior year. During summer the following year, Ryan worked as a camp counselor at Camp Manito-wish YMCA in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin. It was here that he developed a fondness for the outdoors first cultivated during his younger years, when the family would spend their holidays hiking in the Rockies.
Ryan enrolled in Miami University, Ohio, in 1998, and paid for his education using the Social Security Survivors benefits he had saved the preceding two years.