Ryan, 93, and her grandson Brad finally reached their 63rd national park, the National Park of American Samoa in the South Pacific, on May 15.
Seven years ago, this grandma and grandson duo decided to embark on a journey to visit 63 national parks. Now, they have completed this adventure. Joy Ryan, 93, and her grandson Brad finally reached their 63rd national park, the National Park of American Samoa in the South Pacific, on May 15. "Reaching our 63rd and final U.S. National Park is bittersweet, with an emphasis on the 'sweet,'" Brad told Good Morning America.
"Standing at the finish line in American Samoa affirms that seemingly impossible goals are in fact possible if you pursue them with passion and pure intention," he added. "Grandma Joy has taught the world that you are never too old to show up and live the adventurous life of your dreams." Getting to come along for the ride "has been the greatest privilege of my life," he said.
Joy and Brad started this journey in 2015 when Joy worked as a minimum-wage worker at a deli in Duncan Falls, Ohio. But she wanted more from life: adventures and experiences. Brad discussed with PEOPLE how his relationship with his grandma grew even stronger "She had a huge, adventurous spirit, but never really had the means to do much in her life," Brad said. "Her connection to the world was really through watching the Travel Channel."
What started as just a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains became such a fun experience that the duo wished to visit more national parks. "We got to the park around 1 in the morning, and it was pouring rain," Brad told PEOPLE. "She had never been in a tent before, but she held the umbrella over me and I put the tent together. We blew up the air mattress and she fell off a couple of times, but she laughed through every bit of it." They climbed up the mountain together. "That's really when I started to realize that she was giving me just as much as she felt I was giving her," Brad said.
This bond between the grandson and grandmom was not the same from the beginning, Brad's parents had gone through an "ugly" divorce and he had not stayed in touch with Joy. "Seeing her, I thought, 'Wow, this is going to be the guilt that I have to carry with me the rest of my life; that I stopped speaking to this grandmother who I was close to, and she's about to die,'" he said. But their relationship healed with time and effort, and then, they took on this journey. "Every time I post a photograph, somebody comments, 'Is it just me, or does she look visibly younger than when you started when she was 85?'" Brad said. "And I don't think that's an optical illusion. I think that the experiences that we've had have literally unlocked the fountain of youth in her."
"He's taken me places that I see on the Travel Channel, and I never dreamt I'd end up there," added Joy. "It's been the most amazing journey."