Monster Jams: Yukon boy surprised with monster truck experience
Flying down the mud ramp, his skull and crossbones flag whipping behind him, Ryker Ammons couldn’t be stopped.
The 4-year-old zoomed around the dirt-packed floor of Chesapeake Energy Arena, racing by some of the most famous monster trucks in the world.
But he hit the brakes once he got to his favorite—Grave Digger. A 12-foot tall behemoth, complete with the huge tires and supercharged engine that sounds like, well, a monster.
Standing up in his own mini Grave Digger, an electric toy car painted with the green and purple grim reaper with shining red eyes on the side, Ryker stood in his seat and screamed in absolute jubilation.
“It looks just like mine,” he shouted. “Yeahhhhhhhhhh.”
Monster Jam, the traveling monster truck racing show, was busy Friday afternoon setting up giant mounds of dirt to provide obstacles and jumps that will entertain crowds at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Saturday and Sunday. But they weren’t too busy to make one Yukon boy’s dream come true.
Ryker Ammons was born with a rare birth defect called gastroschisis where his intestines were outside of his body.
Because of that defect, Ryker developed short gut syndrome, a disorder which causes his small intestine not to function properly and causes him to face a number of health problems.
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To gain any nutrition, Ryker has to be hooked up to different intravenous therapies for up to 15 hours a day.
The family makes a trip to Boston Children’s Hospital every two months where Ryker and his mother go through appointments and rehab for three straight days, often sitting through as many as six doctor’s appointments a day.
“It’s incredibly hard,” said Shawna Ammons, Ryker’s mom. “But you do anything for your kids. And we will do anything for Ryker to make his life better.”
Still, the treatment experience, traveling and being away from home usually leaves Ryker exhausted and frustrated.
But Shawna and her husband, Ryan, say they have found one surefire to cheer their son up.
The family went to a Monster Jam show last year and watched as their son came alive with the kids around him as the 12,000- pound machines soared through the air, doing backflips and wheelies around the arena.
For months, Ryker has become obsessed, asking for toy cars, shirts, posters, stickers and practically anything you can think of that displays the gigantic four-wheel beasts.
“To see him smile while watching these loud trucks fly around,” Shawna Ammons said. “It’s just amazing. It’s like watching him get to be a normal kid for just a bit.”
So when Shawna heard that Monster Jam was headed back to town, Shawna and Ryan knew they wanted to take Ryker again.
But her neighbor suggested a more personal experience and emailed the Monster Jam event staff to set up a meet and greet with Ryker’s favorite truck, Grave Digger.
Brandon Vinson, Grave Digger’s driver, was more than happy to surprise Ryker.
“This is the best part of my job,” Vinson said. “The 30 minutes or an hour here with him as he gets to see this truck, that’s a blessing.”
Ryker and Shawna had just returned from a treatment trip to Boston hours before they were scheduled to get to meet Vinson and Grave Digger on Friday.
At first, it looked like the experience might be a disappointing one as Ryker, who had not slept since 3 a.m. the night before, threw his arms on his mom’s neck and buried his face.
He cried as his dad climbed into Grave Digger and hoisted him up to join him.
But then, a flip switched.
Ryker and Vinson starting racing in the dirt, stomping around in the mud that his 66-inch tires normally roll right over.
“Hey Ryker, we’ve got a surprise for ya,” Vinson said.
“A surprise. For me?” Ryker asked.
The Monster Jam crew wheeled out a big box with a Power Wheels replica of Grave Digger inside.
“This is mine?” Ryker asked. “My own monster truck?”
After some assembly from the arena crew, Ryker was up in the truck and racing around, Vinson chasing right behind him as he motored up onto the giant dirt hill.
Shawna Ammons watched from a few feet away, snapping pictures and laughing as her son yelled and hollered, having an absolute blast.
“We appreciate these moments more than you would imagine,” Ammons said. “We live our days like tomorrow isn’t promised, cause it’s not.