For Ryan Wood, 2011 is going to be a tough year to beat. The 26-year-old product of the Mammoth school system was married, graduated law school and passed his bar exam, and returned to Mammoth to work at his father’s (Rick Wood) law firm. As far as both father and son know, Ryan is the first Mammoth kid to go away for school and come back to town specifically to practice law.
While he wasn’t born in Mammoth, Ryan moved here with his dad in 1990, halfway through his kindergarten year, so he experienced the full gamut of the local school system. While he admitted that the small system had a limited number of AP and Honors classes to offer him once he got to the high school level, the now very composed adult pointed out that hard work pays off no matter where you are.
“I was always competitive with my peers, plus ski racing helped a lot,” Ryan, who skied competitively [and is good friends with Johnny Teller] growing up, said. “Throughout high school I missed 172 days, so I had to do a lot of independent study. You have to work through a lot of stuff on your own, which sets you up well for college.”
Ryan also credits his history teacher, Erin LeFrancois (formally Kittle) with preparing him well for the subject that he chose as a major.
But higher education wasn’t a complete cakewalk. Coming from Mammoth, Ryan did have to overcome a few hardships that go along with being from a small town.
“It was different for many of us [he and his peers who also went away to college] to meet new people because we grew up with all the same people,” he said.
Another biggie: going from being a big fish in a small pond to just your average Joe.
“I was absolutely overwhelmed,” Ryan said of his first year away at UC Santa Barbara. “I always did well in school, but everyone is smart when you leave, that’s why they are at the same good school. Law school was even worse.”
However, like most other things in his life, Ryan took a practical approach.
“It’s a very tough environment initially, but you start at the bottom and work your way up,” he said. “You get beat back but you figure out your surroundings and learn to thrive.”
Ryan, knowing that an undergrad degree was not his final step and that he was in school for the long haul set goals and expectations for himself.
“You trudge along and it gets easier along the way,” he said. “In law school they always said that in your first year they scare you to death, in your second year they work you to death, and in your third year they bore you to death.” A process that Ryan believes is similar to the steps you take along the way in high school and undergrad as well.
He’s fully aware that many products of Mammoth schools go away after high school graduation and return home before completing their undergraduate work, but he doesn’t believe this is a Mammoth-specific issue.
“The big city kids were more sheltered than we were,” he said. “We got to do a lot more stuff on our own growing up because it is safer here.
“Plenty of people go away to school and don’t make it,” he added.
Obviously, Ryan isn’t one of those people. He has been living back in Mammoth for five months now and has no anticipation of ever going somewhere else.
“Like every 18-year-old I couldn’t wait to get away from home to go to college,” he said. “But then you go away and grow up a little and you recognize what a wonderful place this is. I love the environment; I love running into people I know at Vons; I love the 90-second drive to work. This is very much where I want to be.” And after traveling to 40 some odd countries, he can say that with confidence.
And, believe it or not, he loves working with his dad.
“We’ve always been close and we have an outstanding relationship,” Ryan said. “I would have to say he was a subtle influence on my decision to practice law; there was no direct encouragement. I think my brain is just wired for it. I like to advocate for people and solve problems. I like working hard.”
Ryan isn’t concerned about being stuck in his father’s shadow, either.
“We’re all a team here and I’m the least experienced so I’m starting at the bottom and working up,” he explained. Currently he is an associate at the firm.
While he has no immediate plans to pursue local politics, (his plate seems to be quite full at them moment) he didn’t say it was completely out of the question.
“Luckily for me right now I can just shout my opinions down the hall,” Ryan said with a smile, referring to Rick’s current position on Mammoth’s Town Council. Rick has served as a Council member, and as mayor many times over the years.
“But, being lawyers we like to raise our concerns,” Ryan said. “We have no fear of getting involved.”
For now, outside of work you can find Ryan focusing on the things he developed a passion for during the year he took off in 2007 between undergrad and law school: his new wife (another product of Mammoth, born and raised here) Sarah Wood, formally Butner, and coaching ski racers at Mammoth Mountain.
And of course, you can find Ryan hanging out with his childhood friends, another one of the perks of returning to his hometown.
“A lot of my close friends are still here today,” he said. “Growing up in Mammoth taught me the importance of having a close, tight-knit group of friends. I really value that as I get older.”